Free Image-Editing Tools
For serious graphics editing, you probably need to invest in a software program such as Adobe Photoshop, PhotoDeluxe, or Microsoft Picture-It. However, for quick or last-minute touch-ups, a number of free Web sites can tune your graphics so that they look better and download more quickly. Optimized graphics can make a big difference in how quickly your Web pages display, which will help prevent your site visitors from becoming impatient with your site's performance.
GIFBot is a tool for optimizing Web pages by reducing the size of the GIF and JPEG images on the page. Enter the URL of any page on your site containing images, and GIFBot will present a number of optimized variations to your originals. When you view the results, you can select the best tradeoff between image quality and file size and then save the image for your use.
Although you can check just one individual image, the real value of this tool is checking all the images on a given page at once.
Enter the URL of either a single online image or a Web page that contains a number of images. Select the type of output you wantin other words, should GIFBot turn any JPEGs on your site into GIFs, or leave them in their original graphics file format? The results page will list all the images contained in your Web page. Click on an image's file size to reduce it with GIFBot; this resulting page will show you the reduced variations on your original (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 When you view GIFBot's results, you see how much you can reduce your graphics' file size before the quality is affected.
No registration is required to use this tool. You can provide your e-mail address to have the results sent to you via e-mail instead of waiting in real-time. If you supply your e-mail address, you can also click a checkbox to receive a monthly site tips newsletter.
Big spender: Although the GIFBot service is free, the NetMechanic site also heavily promotes its HTML Toolbox tune-up services that start at $69.99 a year.
Part of the MediaBuilder suite of online graphics-creation tools, GIFWorks lets Web designers select, process, and create animations online using a standard Web browser interface.
You can animate, optimize, and apply special effects to any GIF that you choose. Because all the processing is done on the remote server, you won't need to download or install any software.
GIFWorks includes some 20 effects that are similar to those found in professional graphic-design applications, including chalk, emboss, oil paint, and watercolor. You can turn any GIF into a Web button (see Figure 3) and text using any one of six fonts, specifying the font size and color you want. The "smart crop" feature lets you automatically crop the background out of a GIF, leaving just the image. You may select a color anywhere in the GIF and replace it with another to match a page's border or background. Additionally, you can click on any color in your image to make that color transparent (so that the background shows through) or return it to its original color.
Figure 3 You can give any GIF file a three-dimensional appearance for use as a button graphic on a Web page.
A row of drop-down menus on the GIFWorks home page directs you to choose your file and specify effects to add. Follow the instructions on the home page to load your image and then manipulate it. No registration is necessary to use GIFWorks.
Big spender: No premium services.
Spinwave's GIFCruncher and JPEGCruncher
Spinwave's free online utilities can greatly reduce the size and download times of your images, whether they're currently on your Web site or stored on your hard drive. Both products are also available in a desktop version with additional features.
GIFCruncher can optimize the size of single GIFs for you, one at a time, for free. JPEGCruncher image filters clean noise and hard-to-compress information from your images automatically. You can create optimized JPEGs from other formatssuch as BMP, PICT, and TIFF.
Enter the location of your image from the Web or your hard drive, and GIFCruncher or JPEGCruncher will generate several optimizations of your image from which to choose (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 When you reduce the size of your GIF and JPEG files using Spinwave's utilities, the graphics should display more quickly on your Web site.
If you wish to download any of the images to your hard drive, you may do so by holding down the right mouse button over the image (if you use Windows) or by holding the button down for several seconds (if you use a Mac).
No registration is necessary to use the online Spinwave utilities. You can subscribe to the Spinwave image-optimization newsletter for tips, tutorials, and product-update notifications.
Big spender: JPEGCruncher Desktop is sold for $27.50; GIFCruncher Desktop retails at $49.95.