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Summary: GIMP has enough point-and-click plugins and gadgets that will keep non-artists satisfied for hours. Here then is a simple guide to what you can do without doing so much as even drawing a rectangle.

Kai's Power Tools and Alien Skin's Black Box have a nice racket going in the Photoshop plugins business, what they do is write software that gives point-and-click solutions to non-artists who want to do a page curl or drop-shadows. What they do behind the scenes, most of the time, is chain together a series of traditional graphics operations that Photoshop, or whatever paint program you have, is already capable of doing on its own. The reason these plugins are purchased is for the convenience - you don't have to learn how do do all those channel operations yourself.

In competition with Photoshop, various developers either working directly as part of the GIMP team or as independent plugin and script authors, have written a gaggle of plugins and macros that mimic a number of those pioneered on Windows and the Macintosh. Most of those that have been ported to OS/2 are already included with the GIMP package. Others are available to be downloaded. When it comes to stock-and-trade fancy effects (including the Four Horsemen of the Web Apocalypse; 3D Text, Drop Shadow, Lens Flare and Beveled Edge), GIMP is nicely equipped to handle all with mere push-button ease.

The Scripts

GIMP has two means of third party enhancement; scripts and plugins. Scripts, written in a language called "Script-Fu," are mini-programs that work the features already built into GIMP. For most, you will fill out a dialog box with whatever preferences apply to the script you're using, then click on "OK" and watch it construct the image or effect as you watch. All of these effects can be replicated by hand, and probably were at first, before the author of the script understood the process enough to automate it.

For the purpose of this article, there are also two different kinds of script. Ones that will create a new canvas from scratch, and ones that will add to, or modify an existing picture that you already have open. When you first start GIMP, you can run any of the scripts that appear in the "Xtns" menu of the toolbar. These will all create new canvases with artwork drawn from scratch. Many of them are for creating fancy text and headlines, prompting you to enter your caption, what font you want it rendered in and maybe also what colors and patterns you want. Something to watch out for is what font the script chooses by default, since it's often one that didn't come bundled with XFree86 for OS/2 (or GIMP). The fonts you have installed in OS/2's own Workplace Shell may not necessarily be installed in XFree too, and the simple dialogs that the scripts present are not sophisticated enough to list what fonts are installed and recognized by X. If you don't remember what you have installed, try "Helvetica" or "Utopia."

To begin with, try the 3D Outline[open in pop-up window](.GIF, 29K) script that you'll find listed under Logos in the Xtns -> Script-Fu menu of GIMP's tool palette. It's a good example of the classic, fancy-schmancy 3D text effect (First Horseman of the Web Apocalypse) that web designers go crazy for. It's also dirt easy to use, just type in your headline where it prompts for it, then pick a font. What it renders is slick, outlined, textured, drop shadowed, evil, and very 3D. If you want to change the pattern that it uses to fill the text, open up the "Patterns" dialog (in File -> Dialogs), select the pattern you want, then make a note of the name of that pattern. You'll need to type that name in the script's configuration dialog, since it's not sophisticated enough to figure that part out on its own.

Also included in the same menu, as you will have noticed, are an ice-cream list of other effects intended to be used as quick and easy means of creating logos or headlines in fancy type. Since I'm confident you'll try them all, I'll move onto the other type of script: the ones that modify and embellish existing pictures.

Drop shadows are a piece of cake as long as you remember to put what you want shadowed on a separate layer. If you right click over a canvas and go down to the dialogs menu you'll find an option called Layers and Channels that will open a new window. You'll see a palette of layers that are in the image (only one, called "Background", if you've just created a new canvas) and a row of buttons near the bottom for manipulating them. The one that looks like a single sheet of paper will create a new layer, so in the interests of stepping you through an example you should create one now. Once done, use the text tool in GIMP's main palette to add a headline of your choice. With that done, right click over the canvas, pick Script-Fu -> Shadow -> Drop Shadow from the menu and tell the dialog what kind of offset and blur intensity you want.

This effect is, of course, not limited to text. It may also choose to re-size your canvas if it thinks it needs the room to put the shadow in, something that can be avoided by narrowing the offset.

The Plugins

Stepping up in sophistication, both for functionality and interface, are the plugins. GIMP actually moves a heavy part of its standard functions into plugin form, probably to reduce the complexity of the main code as well as make it possible to assemble a lightweight version of the program. Nearly all of the import and export filters are implemented as plugins and so are most of the image processing filters. But aside from the ones that a non-artist wouldn't be interested in (such as gaussian blurs and edge detection filters), there are a number of gadgets that will appeal to even the laziest of push-button operators.

The 'Page Curl' filter

One such gadget will come of instant recognition to those who had Kai's Power Tools: the page curl. It's hidden in the Filters -> Distort menu of GIMP (when you right-click over a canvas), although to be truthful the page curl is actually a decoration rather than a distortion. It doesn't "bend" your image, it just adds some nifty shading and gradients to get the classic "crome" look.

Another classy embellishment, found in the Light Effects menu, is called Supernova. You point at a thumbnail of your picture to determine where the supernova "explodes" from, then click on "OK". The visual effect it creates is not only better looking than a lens flare, but it also has yet to show up on a few hundred million web pages yet.

More To Download

Not included with the basic GIMP package are a few more plugins that have been ported to OS/2. The first is a package of three plugins bundled together called Graphics Muse. They include a more advanced rotation tool than is included with GIMP, a tool for drawing arrows[open in pop-up window](.GIF, 12K) (with different styles of head and tail), and another for tiling an image until it's suitable for printing on standard business card stock. This last one seems extremely odd to me, since it's smarter to just do it with a desktop publishing program and GIMP consumes boggling amounts of RAM and time to display and process a 11 x 8.5 x 300dpi image.

Dynamic Text is a worthwhile plugin to grab if you want to do paragraph text - a basic that's beyond GIMP's own text tool. The Dynamic Text plugin, which you'll find in the Filters -> Render menu once it's installed, can do multi-line text and even import a plain text file too.

Graphics Muse Tools

by Michael J. Hammel
download from The Hobbes Archive (178K)
Registration: Free

Dynamic Text Plugin

by Marco Lamberto
download from The Hobbes Archive (26K)
Registration: Free

Copyright © 1999 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
April 1, 1999