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The Doodles of Bessyboo


8/16/11 07:38 am - PODFIC COVER TUTORIAL SERIES: The Basics (Part 2)

  1. The Basics (Part 1)
  2. The Basics (Part 2)
  3. Base Images
  4. Cut-Outs
  5. Coloring & Contrast
  6. Text
  7. Advanced Techniques: Masks, Blending, etc.
  8. Complete Cover Walkthrough
  9. What makes cover art good or bad? A discussion on composition.

So, now that you've all had a bit of time to play around with your chosen graphics program, time for some basic terms and concepts!

Like I previously said, I'm going to assume that you've got at least a passing familiarity with your tools. The ones that you'll want to be especially familiar with for purposes of podfic cover art are Zoom, Crop, Selection (both Polygonal and Freehand/Lasso), Flood Fill/Paint Bucket, and Text.

Got the basics of those tools? (If you don't, don't worry, you will! With the exception of the Selection and Text tools, I think all of those should be pretty self-explanatory and intuitive ~.^) Then let's start with layers.


Now, anyone who's got any experience in any of the programs I mentioned in my last post can probably skip this section. Layers are a fairly basic concept which provide a TON of different functions, and are generally just Very Helpful.

Think of a bunch of transparencies. Each transparency has a part of your final image, and when you put them all together, you can see the whole thing.

For example, here's a layer breakdown of my cover art for "A Very Luthor Wedding":

Layer 1: Background

Layer 2: Whiskey

Layer 3: Red Wine

Layer 4: Pepsi

Layer 5: Coke

Layer 6: Pink Gin

Layer 7: Beer

Layer 8: Tint

Layer 9: Text 1

Layer 10: Text 2

Layer 11: Text 3

Layer 12: Text 4

Layer 13: Text 5

And when viewed all together, it looks like this:

So what's the purpose of layers? Well, for one thing, it allows us to move individual elements around on our canvas without affecting the other elements. It also allows us try something on a new layer, and, if we don't like it, delete the failed part without messing up the parts that we're already satisfied with. It lets us pile things on top of one another, and choose which bit we want in front. It lets us change the opacity on certain elements, and use layer blend modes (more on both of these later--and in the case of layer blend modes, a future tut). Basically, IT LETS US DO A WHOLE SLEW OF AWESOME AWESOME THINGS THAT WE COULDN'T DO OTHERWISE.

Seriously, embrace the layers. Learn to love them.

And on that note...SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, DO NOT FORGET TO CREATE A NEW LAYER!!! You will want to kick yourself when you've spent 20 minutes meticulously hand-detailing some text work, only to discover...you're still on the background layer, and CAN'T MOVE THE TEXT AROUND. DOH!

Relatedly, I always try to preserve as much as possible using layers, especially if I'm merging multiple layers or, say, doing something that alters the base image directly. It's not hard to duplicate the layer, and tuck the duplicate behind your bottom background or base image layer, and if you change your mind about something later, there's a good chance you'll thank yourself for this habit.

Okay, enough about layers. Let's switch gears to...


Now, unless you've done some serious playing around and/or research OR are already at an intermediate level, you're probably going, "...the FUCK does that mean?!"

Anti-aliasing is the "feathering" effect you get on an edge or line which makes it appear more smooth.

For example: here are two red, squiggly lines.

They were both drawn with my freehand pen tool, set on a width of 10 pixels. However, the one on the left had antialias checked, and the one on the right did not. Let's look at those a little closer, shall we?

Here's those same two lines at 400% zoom. Notice how the one on the left (with antialias ON) has the soft "feather" effect, while the one the right (antialias OFF) is all jagged pixels.

Here's a comparison of the lines at both 100% and the zoomed-in 400%. Notice how that feathering effect on the left makes the line look much smother when viewed at 100%.

So, how does this affect your graphics? Most of the time, you're going to want antialias turned ON (checked). THIS IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT FOR TEXT AND CUSTOM SELECTIONS FOR CUT-OUTS!!! The BIG exception to the "ANTIALIAS ON!" rule is perfectly vertical or horizontal lines. With these you usually want antialias off, because you actually WANT the lines to be nice and clean and sharp. Here, look:

Once again, pen tool, size 10, left is antialias on, right is off. It's a very subtle difference, but the right line is a bit crisper and cleaner. Also, notice how the antialiased line extends past 10 pixels--it's actually 11 pixels wide, and the solid part is 9. So, turning anti-alias off for straight (non-diagonal) lines keeps both your lines clean AND ensures more exact control over what you're drawing (or selecting--antialias should pretty much always be off when using the rectangle selection tool, trust me, it'll save you a lot of headaches when trying to select an exact area!)

For a practical example, here's a zoomed-in section of my cover for "Girls Like Mystery" (with awesome art by orianaborealis):

The red arrows point to sections of the graphic where antialias was OFF, and the blue arrows point to where it was ON.

So, in conclusion: rule of thumb for antialias? MAKE SURE IT'S CHECKED, UNLESS YOU'RE DOING VERTICAL OR HORIZONTAL LINES. There are a couple other small exceptions on both sides of this, but those are usually on an individual basis, and you'll get the hang of it as you go along.


Opacity is, obviously, how opaque/translucent something is. It's measured by percentage, so it's on a scale of 100. This is helpful for when you want something to not pop quite so much--just turn the opacity down. Or, alternately, put something OVER it and turn the opacity down on THAT (kind of like a scrim). There are actually roughly a bazillion practical uses for this, and most of them have to do with stuff that'll be covered in future tutorials, so I won't go into all of them now. For now, you mostly just have to know what it IS ;) Here, have an opacity gradient for visual aid:

And a couple of practical usage examples:

@ 35% opacity ->

(other stuff)

@ 40% opacity ->

(other stuff)

So, got a basic idea of opacity? Yes? Good, because it's like 8 AM and I haven't been to bed yet >.<

Podfic Cover Specifics

In terms of general stuff specific to podfic covers, I've just got a few notes.

First off: All of my covers must be square. No exceptions. This is a personal thing, but I AM SERIOUSLY ANAL ABOUT IT. (No srsly, if you provide a cover with your podfic and it isn't square, after I download it I will copy your cover into my graphics program and make it square, usually just by adding solid bars on the top & bottom or sides in a coordinating color. SERIOUSLY. ANAL. XD) And while there's no widespread, hard-and-fast rule, I've found that most podfic covers tend to be square. This is probably because music album covers (and most audiodramas & professional audiobooks as well) are square, and so that's the default display in programs like iTunes and on players like iPods. Given this, I would recommend sticking to the square format. However, if you want to fight the establishment, by all means, go right ahead *g* (I will just "fix" your covers for my own personal use when I come across them. Because as previously mentioned, SO ANAL! >.>)

Another "default" I've noticed has been that many podfic covers are 300x300 pixels. I was discussing this with lunchy_munchy, and we concluded that this probably came about because that is the size that GarageBand, Audiobook Builder and Chapter & Verse resize your covers to automatically. This is one that I DON'T go along with, for one main reason and one secondary one. The main one is that I? Am a total resolution snob, and can visibly SEE the difference when looking at a cover on my iPod between one that is 300x300 px and one that is, say, 500x500 px (the default resolution I use). Because of this, when I go and fix the tags for an audiobook after I build it, I go and add in the cover manually, since iTunes DOESN'T resize your covers.

The secondary reason is that, depending on the size of my base image(s), I usually work in original sizes much larger than 300x300 pixels, and while there is a point at which your cover just does not need to be that big (like, say, 800x800), I've found that 500 pixels square (or somewhere thereabouts--some of mine are slightly larger, some are slightly smaller) is a pretty good size at which your image is small enough to not take forever to load, but large enough that you're not really losing anything resolution-wise.

And lastly, stuff you really have to put on there: some earlier podfic covers don't list the reader, just the author. I don't think people do this much anymore (unless they're just using a pre-made cover that goes with the fic), but still. This makes me sad. I ALWAYS put the title, author(s), and reader(s). The only exception to this is if there is more than THREE of either authors or readers (mostly this happens with large compilations), in which case I leave off whichever I have too many of. (See: too many authors, too many readers, too many of both.)

Okay, I have to be at work in like 5 hours and I feel like I'm leaving something out, but, uhmmm, IDK? Poke me in the comments if you ANY questions or need further explanations of anything, or are like, "BESS WHY DID YOU LEAVE THIS OUT, THIS SHOULD TOTALLY BE INCLUDED IN THE BASICS!" XD Like I said. 8 AM. Sleep deprived. Ya'll know how it is XD SO YES I shall see you all in (hopefully!) several days, when we'll start delving into *gasp* ACTUALLY MAKING COVERS! Starting with BASE IMAGES :D
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