Computers have been doing all sorts of useful things with words and numbers since day one but it's only recently have they been able to handle graphics and complex images. It began back in the late 1980s, following the launch of the 386 family of microprocessors and version 3 of the Windows operating system. However, PCs and pictures really got going with the development of the Pentium processor, cheaper memory chips and the arrival of Windows 95.

Over the next two weeks Boot Camp is devoted to still image processing on the PC. In part one we're going to take a close look at that often overlooked utility Microsoft Paint. Next week it's the turn of PaintShop Pro, a powerful graphics program that no PC should be without, but more of that next Thursday.

You have probably discovered Paint already, if not you will find it by clicking on the Start button, then Programs and it should be in the Accessories folder. Double click the Paint icon and if the desktop doesn't fill the screen use the maximise button, (next to the Close button), to expand the window. Make sure the Tool Box and Colour Box options are enabled on the View menu. By the way, most versions of Paint are broadly similar though the one included in Windows 98 has a few extra bells and whistles, including the ability to work with compressed JPEG images. Earlier versions included with Windows 3.x and Windows 95 are limited to bitmap (*.bmp) and PCX (*.pcx) files, (see Jargon Filter). The best way to get to know Paint and what it can do is to play around with it.

Start by drawing a few squiggles with the paintbrush, experiment with different brush sizes and colours. It's easy to draw lines and shapes using the various tools. Try the paint can, this is used to fill in an area with colour, the airbrush can be used to give subtle shades and the eye-dropper picks up a colour from any area of the picture, for drawing or painting. Notice that if you click on the letter 'A' in the Toolbox a re-sizeable box appears on the screen, into which you can type text. A dialogue box appears that allows you to choose the typeface and font size. Now try editing your image, the eraser is especially useful. For really precise changes use the zoom facility, at the highest magnification levels you can easily change a single pixel.

Now it's time to put those new found skills into practice and do something useful with Paint. Here's how to turn your signature into an image file. Writing with a mouse is difficult so draw a large version of your signature on a sheet of paper and trace it with the mouse, using a simple pointer -- a matchstick or cocktail stick -- stuck to the mouse with some sticky tape will do the trick. When you're happy with it give the image file a name and save it. Now use the rectangular Copy tool to put a dotted box around it, then copy it to the clipboard using Ctrl + C or the Copy function on the Edit menu. Now you can add your signature to a fax cover page, or a standard letter template by pasting the image (Ctrl + V or Paste on the Edit menu) into the open document. Once it is in place use the mouse to re-size the image by clicking on the corners of the outline box.  You can use Paint to create a simple logo or letterhead design, and don't forget the facility to include text in your design. When you've finished, make sure you name and save the file somewhere you can easily find it.

Our second little project is a response to the many requests we've had to repeat an earlier Tip of the Week. We're going to have a fiddle with the annoying 'Please wait….' And 'It is now safe….' shutdown screen that appears when you exit Windows. The same techniques can also be used to modify or even create your own opening and closing screens.

The two Windows closing screens are called 'logos.sys and logow.sys and they are filed in the main Windows directory. The opening Windows 95 and 98 clouds screen is called logo.sys and it too lives in the Windows folder, though on some PCs it may end up embedded in a file called io.sys, and you won't be able to get at it using Paint. However, any suitable image file, with the name logo.sys, placed in the root of the C: drive will override the original clouds image, but more about what that entails in a moment.

The first thing you must do is rename the original image files, otherwise you won't be able to restore them, should you ever wish to do so. Open Windows Explorer, find the picture file you're going to work on and either right click and use the rename option, or left click on the file icon to highlight it, wait a second and click again to activate the name field. Change the .sys extension to .old or something similar. Now back to Paint, open the image file and immediately rename it with its original .sys extension, using the Save As command.

You will notice that the image looks a bit odd, it's squeezed horizontally into a 320 x 400 pixel shape, but it assumes its correct proportions when shown by Windows. Now you can do whatever you like with it. Have a doodle, add your own witty message, use the paintbrush, fill can or airbrush. You can erase or change the shape of the clouds by picking up the blue or white colour with the eyedropper and using a paintbrush or airbrush.

Why not create your own opening or closing screen from scratch? That's easy too. The only points to bear in mind are that any image must be saved as a 256-colour 320 x 400-pixel bitmap. You will find the latter option on the Image menu, under Attributes; the 256-colour designation is on the Save As window listed under 'File As Type'. The same parameters must also be applied to any other image you want to use as an opening or closing screen. You can use photographs but you will find that the limited number of colours makes it look a bit messy, it works best with simple images and designs, but the point is you decide.  Have a go; it's very liberating, putting you back in charge of Windows!

Next week: working with PaintShop Pro




Picture file format used by Windows and many PC applications


Joint Photographic Experts Group, compressed picture file format used for photographic images


Picture Exchange format, a type of common image file, used by a number of drawing packages, allowing files to be easily exchanged


Picture Element -- the basic building block in computer imaging, effectively a single dot on the screen or printout. The greater the number of pixels in an image the finer the resolution



Having problems with your printer?  You may be surprised to know Windows 95 comes with a sophisticated printer troubleshooting program. It's on the CD-ROM, you can find it with Windows Explorer, click on the D: drive icon, then open the Other folder and inside you'll find a folder called Misc, open that and then the Epts (enhanced printer troubleshooter). Click on epts.exe and the program starts, first analysing your printer set-up, it then asks a series of questions and suggests remedies to help you solve the problem. 

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