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Designing Award-Winning Signs: Photo Manipulation in CorelDRAW X7

Methods for stretching, skewing, distorting and rotating images

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It’s late in the day when your salesperson finally returns from a sales call that will no doubt require that a photo survey be done. In order to create a dynamic presentation, a few straight-on photos will need to be taken, along with detailed dimensions of the building. This job is important because the client may bring other larger projects to the table, so even though this may be a small cabinet job, there is a strong potential for future work. This presentation needs to be spot-on, and a good photo-realistic placement illustration is exactly what this client is hoping to show the board of directors. However, the salesperson assigned to this project is notorious for taking photos that could only rival the talents of a 5-year-old with a toy camera. (See Image A) As you ponder the possibilities on what types of crazy photos you might find on that salesperson’s flash drive, you stop and tell yourself, “There must be an easy way to repair the sins of sloppy photography.”

It’s All About You
You are the company designer, and it simply makes your job easier when the photo is at least in focus, is well-composed and is as straight-on as possible. Preferably, the photo should be taken from a distance back to eliminate as much of the built-in wide-angle lens distortion as possible. And so it goes, with the hopes and dreams of the everyday sign designer who usually deals with a placement photo that looks something like this:  (See Skew Photo A) 

The big problem is that some salespeople, not all, but some are a little sloppy in the photo taking department. (There, I said it.) Some of them just don’t take the time to get a good photo. They say they can’t because they are too busy doing what salespeople do, and that is keeping the sign company busy. Ok, so they do provide an incredibly valuable service to the company, but when their lack of attention to detail actually causes more work for someone else, then a solution must be found.

As it just so happens for the sake of this article, this particular salesperson’s photos always seem to look a little skewed, crooked and sometimes half of them can’t even be used – “drive by shootings” is what some sign designers call them. In the past, the only option was to revisit the site for more photos. But now with CorelDRAW X7’s new additions to the Straighten Image tool, more photos can be saved and used, and future trips back to the site can be canceled.

The Designer’s Dilemma
The reality is that without some way to adjust the perspective and wide-angle distortion of a photo, most sign designers must struggle with every design to match the perspective angles of the artwork to the perspective angle of the photo that was provided.

Well, Coreldraw X7 Photo Paint has now added a fast, easy and powerful new tool to the “Straighten Image” toolset that can allow you to adjust the left or right perspective and add or subtract distortion, as well as rotate. This new tool allows you edit on the fly without switching programs so you can get back to the design faster, saving lots of extra steps.

You can now de-skew the photo by stretching the image with either a horizontal or vertical perspective effect that can correct a skewed photo and make it look like it’s a straight-on shot.

Additionally, there is now a Lens effect that adjusts only the body of the photo in a stretchy rubber-bandish kind of way. Both concave and convex adjustments allow you to remove 99% of the fish-eye lens effect from the photo. Between the Perspective tool and the Lens tool, you can turn junk photos into almost-scaleable, straight-on professional photographs. I realize that for most Sign Designers, this type of bitmap manipulation sounds like technology from outerspace, and I know you probably think this is an April Fool’s joke, but this new tool really does exist and I am kicking myself for not jumping into CorelDRAW X7 sooner than I did.  

It seems like us sign designers have cried the same mournful song since it became possible to drop a vectorized graphic image onto a bitmapped photo image and make the graphic appear as if it was already part of the photograph. I have said this to salespeople and surveyors at least 10,000 times: “Line yourself up with the building before you take the shot, and make sure you use your zoom to minimize the distortion.”  If I had just one penny for every time I’ve uttered those words, I’d be a gazillionaire. But with this new handy CorelDRAW X7 tool, it’s fast and easy to save at least 80 percent of the photos that might normally be unusable.

Here’s How It Works 
In CorelDRAW, the ability to rotate a photo clockwise or counter-clockwise until it appears as level as possible was introduced in Corel X5. It was, and still is a nice necessary feature.  However the new X7 tool allows you to not only rotate the image, but you can also stretch it with a concave or convex lens affect, as well as adjust the perspective angle. This can remove most of the skew from a photo that wasn’t taken straight-on, or was taken with a wide-angle lens.

The “Straighten Image” tool is easily found by selecting the bitmap or jpg photo, and then clicking on “Bitmaps” in the “Straighten Image”. (See Straighten Image Screenshot) Click on the Straighten Image tool and a window will appear that looks like the Before Editing image.

From here, it’s easy. First off, it’s advisable to straighten the image by rotating the photo until it appears as level or horizontally and vertically aligned as possible. Next, you may want to adjust the grid size to as small as possible so that you can more easily align the image. Then select the Horizontal adjustment and play with it a little. Slide the bar to each extreme and release. Notice the affect it has on the photo. Do this also with the Vertical adjustment. Play with these adjustments and notice how they affect the horizontal and vertical alignment features within the photo. (See After Editing) By adjusting these settings, you can manipulate the bitmap image in such a way as to nearly eliminate all of the skew, saving you the time and effort that would be required to match the skew of the photo by adjusting the skew of the vector graphic. (See Fixed Image)

Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon is the executive editor of GRAPHICS PRO and WRAPS magazines. Before that he was served as editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and Sign Business Magazine. He can be reached at 720-566-7286.

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