Monday, May 30, 2011 Review

I was recently asked to review, a popular stock photo website. I spent a month using the site, and overall, I enjoyed it. Here are my thoughts.

You can choose from either a subscription plan, or a credit bundle. The subscription plan (which I had) lets you download a certain number of credits worth of images each day. Since vector files cost more credits, you can't download as many per day as you can with raster.

There's also a bundle plan, where you buy a bunch of credits and then download files at will, rather than being limited to using a certain number of credits per day.

Once I had some items in my lightbox, I couldn't figure out how to download them. The website was seemed to be pointing me toward purchasing credits, but I had a 1-month subscrition. It seems that if you have a subsciption plan, it should automatically select the "Subscription License" for each photo, rather than have me choose between 6 or 7 different licenses and sizes. I'd like to have the checkout/licenses selection process a little easier. When I have a bunch of items in my cart, there are literally hundreds of radio buttons on the page (about as many as 8 for each image). It would be a little easier to use if all of these options were in a dropdown menu for each image, rather than having all the radio buttons.

I liked how there was a dropdown menu to enable me to select the same license type for everything in the cart. Ironically, I didn't find this dropdown menu until my subscription had ended. Perhaps that's because the dropdown is very small, gray, and located waaaaayyyyy at the bottom of the page.

I also liked the option to create a zip file for everything in the cart. If you select that option, you'll be emailed an encrypted link to the zip file containing your images.

How I'd Make it Better
I think overall, the interface needs to be simpler. There should be bigger buttons, so it's more obvious for those of us that skim the page rather than reading all the details (think or

I wish the thumbnails in the lightbox were a little bigger. On my laptop screen, the little thumbnails were about 1/4" square. They have a nice big pop-up comp image when you mouse over each thumbnail, but if the images in the lightbox are similar colored to one another, it can be a little tough to find the one you're looking for.

I'd make the free photos easier to find. Their marketing material says they offer a lot of free images, but when I typed in "Free" in the keyword search, I got pictures of horses, dandelions, and smiling children. I couldn't actually locate any of the free images.

The pricing is more affordable than other stock photo websites. The user interface is not as slick as other stock photo websites, but the price is definitely better. What I especially like is that you can choose the number of credits you want to purchase. That way, if you only need 14 credits to buy the image you need, you don't have to purchase 25. That is a great consideration for price-sensitive, budget constrained organizations.

Would you like to try Fotolia? They gave me a coupon code for a 2-week subscription, with 3 image downloads per day. But I only have one code. So if you'd like it, please email me (kelly at documentgeek dot com)  and I will send the code over to the first person who asks for it. Once the code is gone, I'll post a note in the comments indicating that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Simple Explanation of How to Make a Seamless Illustrator Pattern

I learned this trick at the Print and ePublishing Conference, courtesy of Dan Rodney. Years back he met an Illustrator engineer and she explained how to create seamless pattern swatches, and Dan was kind enough to pass the info along to me.

Illustrator Patterns have baffled me for years and I have always avoided them. But now I no longer have to be afraid of and frustrated with them. Here is a tutorial for making a simple fishscale pattern.

What's different about this method is the order you do the steps. Most pattern tutorials have you start with a square (clipping mask), and then tediously fit all your objects within the square. But with this method, you can just make a design that looks cool, and then get the measurements you need to make the correct sized square/clipping mask. Its much more designer-friendly.

1. Create an object.

2. Duplicate it a few times.

3. Group the objects.
4. On the group: Effect > Transform > Horizontal (write down the increments you used for the horizontal transform)

5. Make a second effect: Effect > Transform > Vertical (Write down the increments you used for the vertical transform.) "This will apply another instance of the effect." Click OK.

6. Make a no-fill/no-stroke rectangle using the measurements you wrote down from the horizontal and vertical transform.

7. Drag the rectangle to over your objects. Anywhere is fine. It doesn't really matter where. Just make sure it's not too close to the edges.
8. Send the rectangle to the back.
9. Select both the rectangle and the group of objects and drag the whole bunch into the swatches panel.
10. Drag out a new square and fill it with your new pattern swatch.
11. Celebrate!

One of the coolest parts about this method is that because it uses live transform effects, you can edit and change the pattern design with a live preview, BEFORE making the Pattern Swatch. Simply double click to go into the group and they can edit the pattern live! Then when you are happy with the design, you can create the pattern swatch by Option+dragging whole bunch over your old pattern swatch to redefine it.

Just by changing the colors of some of the circles, and scooting them around a bit, I got a totally different pattern.

This pattern uses a square, but you can use a rectangle, too. Just be sure to use the measurements from the transform dialog box. (Negative transform numbers should be used just like positive numbers when calculating your rectangle size.)

If this peaks your interest in Illustrator patterns, here are a couple of other good resources I found: