Alot of people have asked me how I do the graphics in my reports. I'll try to answer a few questions here that I have heard alot.
Q: What software do you use?
A: Photoshop 5.0 for edited pictures, ULEAD Gif Animator for GIF animations, and a combination for marquee animations, like above.
Q: How do you do those graphics?
A: I do this kind of thing for a living, and it was my major in college, so I have practice. It doesn't take being a natural artist to spice up an image though.
Q: How'd you do that GIF animated battle in the FFA report?
A: It's a 10 minute process with GIF animator, and I'll go into detail below.
Nobody expects a person to spend a ton on Photoshop if they aren't working professionally at graphics. There are several other packages that will do the job for much less moola.
I suggest taking a quick stop at www.tucows.com and searching for graphic editing packages. PaintShopPro is available there for $100.00. Another similar package is $70.00 and offers a free 30 day trial period. You are going to want a package that can deal with layers and has multiple selection tools.
ULEAD GIF Animator is available for about $40. Heartcutter works at a company that sells some of these packages over the net also.
Basically you could get away with spending around $110 and do anything I've ever done in any report. You could even take advantage of the 30 day offer to spend less. Many scanners also come with a basic photo editor, and often, those will work for your needs here.
If you just want to crop and convert shots into JPGS at a low compression, those programs are available free at www.tucows.com.
Compression and size:
I've found that a width of 500 pixels is ideal for this battle report format. A full screen shot really throws the frame off and makes the report harder to read, because you have long lines of text.
A picture at 500x300 compressed into a JPG at a (2-3) quality level will often be under 50k. This is a good size for a 3-4 picture collage too. You are often going to want to crop and shrink the most important part of your screen captures to fit this format.
If you are going to write over your pictures, or combine images, you might want to consider the following.
Here is an acceptable example, but it could easily be better.
If these pictures had come from the same map, you'd have a really difficult time seeing the edges. Also note how the type doesn't have enough readability to make a reader happy.
Now this, is a better way of making your collage more interesting. Use borders! Use basic shapes effectively.
You can see it and read it without going batty.
To make a speech balloon:
1 - Create a new layer.
2 - Lasso an oval.
3 - Add a point with the angular marquee lasso (in most programs, holding down shift while selecting lets you add to the other selection.)
4 - Fill the selection with black.
5 - Contract your selection by one pixel.
6 - Fill it with white.
There are other ways of course. Here I have provided a picture that you can right click on and save to your computer for use. Just select out the green and copy/paste it onto your new layer. In most programs, you must be in RGB mode or higher to use layers. Refer to your help section and search for layers.
You must have screen shots taken at the same place for this to work. (minimap is always in the same spot though, so for minimap animations, you don't need to worry)
Use the Animation Wizard in GIF animator to import all of your screen captures or all that apply. Set your frame time as fast or slow as you like. Make sure they are in order from 00 to whatever... Right click on the image, choose crop, select the area or minimap and apply it to all the images. Optimize the gif and reduce the colors to 32 or 64. Save it and you're done... should be under 100k.
Visually, graphics can really add to a report if you use them well. If you use them poorly, the report suffers.
Other ways to visually improve your report include coloring and bolding your sections. You only need to know a little bit of HTML to pull this off.
Consider the best pictures to show, what to show from those shots, and where you might like to show them if you have that capability. Screen captures also help you to remember the battle you watched or played in.
I realize that some of this information is too advanced for some people who have no experience with graphics at all... if that's the case, don't dispare... There are very good reports that don't include pictures!
Hope this has been helpful. I recommend reading Mark4 and CattleBruiser's guides to report writing if you already haven't.