As you can probably tell by now, I’m a little obsessed with free clip art. In the past I’ve written about other free graphics programs that can help you turn photos into clip art and do other fun things like make multi-purpose labels and Christmas cards, or create your own cartoons. But I think I might have found the most versatile free tool yet in Picnik. Not only can you alter photos with it, but you also can use their extensive selection of free graphics to make professional quality clip art. Here are some examples of clip art images I created in Picnik in just one afternoon:
To make images like these and many others, just follow these simple instructions:
1. To make your own free graphics, you need a file like this one, which is just a 200 pixel x 200 pixel square or this one, which is a 200 pixel x 400 pixel rectangle. Both have white backgrounds. (Because of the backgrounds, these files will seem invisible when you click on them. To download, put your mouse in the upper left corner of the resulting blank screen.) Feel free to use either of these or make your own blanks of any size in Photoshop, Fireworks or any other image program. The reason you begin with a blank slate, so to speak, is because Picnik requires that you upload a file to alter. Most people use Picnik to alter photos, but since you’re going to make your own clip art, you’ll need a white background. You also could use a colored background but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to white for now.
2. Once you’ve downloaded a blank .jpg onto your hard drive or created your own, go to Picnik.com and click the “Get Started Now” button.
3. Once inside the program, click the “Upload Photo” button and choose the blank file from your hard drive. When your file has been uploaded into Picnik, you will see it (although barely, because it’s a white image on an almost-white background) in an interface that has five tabs across the top. Choose the “Create” tab.
4. Once inside the “Create” tab, the button you will use the most will be “Shapes.” (If you want to add text to your clip art, you’ll also eventually want to use the “Text” button too.) To begin designing your own clip art, choose “Shapes” and then scroll to see all the available images on the left. Keep in mind that all the images in black can be altered to appear in any color, so at this point all you’ll care about is choosing a shape. Click on an image to insert the shape onto your white “canvas” .jpg, then drag the corner with your mouse to make it the size you want. (See the image above.)
5. There are a variety of Picnik features you can use to alter your clip art. They require a little getting used to, but once you’re familiar, you’ll probably love playing with them. Here are some of the main features:
Once you’re done playing, click the “Save & Share” tab to save, e-mail or post your masterpiece to any number of locations, such as Flickr, MySpace, Facebook or even your own Web site.
If you experiment with the features shown above, you can create some amazing things. And if you need software to edit photos, Picnik can perform that function as well. But that’s a subject for another post!