Thursday, March 4, 2010

Graphics Toolbox

At a local homeschool support group meeting one night a member coined the phrase, "tool in our toolbox" to describe an opportunity from which she had benefited. I remember thinking it a great phrase to share as all homeschool families do not look alike. Curriculum, field trips and other opportunities which seem amazing and irreplaceable for some may seem boring or frivolous to others. Graphics Toolbox is an incredible graphic design program currently being marketed to the homeschool community, but it may or may not be a "tool for your toolbox".

I received a free copy of Graphics Toolbox as a member of the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew in exchange for this review. Initially overwhelmed by the program I had the opportunity to attend an extremely informative training session offered by program creator, Lynda Holler. The training was offered to help me ease through the learning curve of becoming a graphic designer. Holler recorded her training sessions with the crew and offers them free of charge on the Graphics Toolbox website,

"Graphics Toolbox is my brainchild. I worked for over 25 years in NYC's fashion industry and I used the apparel and textile software Colour Matters for all my design and presentation needs. I also used it for all my personal graphics needs, like making invitations, thank you notes, photo editing and more....About three years ago a lightbulb went on and I realized that most people didn't own a professional-level graphics program that was easy to learn and use", said Holler in a recent press release.

"I began working with William Tsao, the developer of Colour Matters to create Graphics Toolbox. We removed most of the fashion features leaving the intuitive and creative graphics tools, while adding new functions that could benefit the personal user like our Daily Life Color Cards, Fancy Lines and Colorful Ribbons"
, she added.

Graphics Toolbox is a comprehensive design program that operates with a raster graphics editor. This means Graphics Toolbox is similar to Photoshop and Paint programs which work with a grid-like template enabling users to design in pixels. According to Holler, Graphics Toolbox works at a 300 dpi; a very high resolution equal to a photographic quality resolution. Controls and design options within the program are extremely visual making use of symbols instead of words. Holler explained this was purposeful so students would not have to be familiar with design terminology in order to use the program.

In addition to helpful training videos on the Graphics Toolbox website, a complete training manual is included with the program. Users only need to right click their mouse to find a help message linking them to page 2 of the users manual; a PDF file linked to various topics. For example, if struggling with re-sizing an image, right click, choose "re-size image" in the index, click on the topic and instantly access the portion of the user manual which explains how to complete the task.

When I first looked at Graphics Toolbox I had a hard time imagining using it in our homeschool. Even after my helpful training session I felt overwhelmed and a bit intimidated. I understood Graphics Toolbox could help my children create wonderful school reports, play with photos, design personalized invitations and other stationery and even be used for blog design elements. I was however, having a hard time embracing the technology so I did what every smart homeschool Mom does and assigned my 12 year old daughter to the task.

Micah is our family's designated card maker, bread baker, and constant source of creative entertainment. She loves to work with digital photography to create unique still photos, gift cards and mini movies. Feeling helpless to offer instruction I simply told her to visit the Great Software Tools website for training. She watched three different videos and chose to create an invitation as her project. She cut an image from an old photo, added ribbon elements and shadowed text to test out the aspects of Graphics Toolbox. It took her 3 1/2 hours to create her custom invitation shown below.

I interviewed Micah so she could share her experience as a student with Graphics Toolbox.

How would you compare this program in relation to traditional scrapbooking or card making ?

"I could have done most of this project with scissors. I guess the only thing I couldn't have done is save paper and ribbon".

Do you think you will use Graphics Toolbox again for projects?

"Yeah, I think so, because I can access everything really quickly like the pictures and ribbon and words. Some things I could have done on Microsoft Word, but Graphics Toolbox lets me do everything in one program".

What aspects could you not have done with Microsoft Word?

"Cutting out images, adding a shadow effect to the words, things like that"

What do you think about the learning curve needed to become familiar with Graphics Toolbox?

"I guess it really isn't that hard, but finding the right buttons and the right frame took me some time at first. Some things were a bit overwhelming until I got the hang of it."

How long would a project like this take you next time you used Graphics Toolbox?

"I'd say about an hour now that I've learned how to use the program. When I got stuck in certain parts it took me a long time to figure out what I was doing wrong and find the answer. I think that's why it took me so long the first time."

What is your overall impression of Graphics Toolbox?

"I like that you can cut out certain pictures. For example you could have a human head on an animal or you could put people in photos who weren't really there. My little brother loves Ben 10 so I could use this program to put his head on Ben 10's character for his next birthday card. I also like all the colors and choices for ribbons. It's definitely worth using Graphics Toolbox for projects for school and making cards for other people".

Graphics Toolbox retails for $149.00 on the Great Software Tools website. Its unique features can be put to work for business or school use. For those interested in trying before buying, Great Software Tools offers a FREE 30 day trial of the software accessible through instant download.

Although I am still struggling to understand how to incorporate Graphics Toolbox into our homeschool my children are not. They are ready to make it a "tool in their toolbox" as they bring fresh ideas and creativity to their school projects.

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