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Sunday, 21 January 2018

How To Create Your Own Email Newsletter For Free

By With No comments:

An email newsletter is a great way to visually engage your audience with specific topic areas or products, or to simply provide a way to keep people up to date with what you're doing. The usefulness of the newsletter lies in its ability to present recipients with links to webpages and landmarks you'd like them to visit, and can be an invaluable way of growing interest in your enterprises. Once the newsletter is set up, updating it will take no time at all.

This tutorial will be in two parts. The first will show you how to create your own email newsletter template, and the second will show how you can email the newletter to your customers, patrons, friends and others


To create the newsletter we'll use a simple and free program called KompoZer, which you can download by following the link. KompoZer has a WYSIWYG interface which means it can be used to create an html document visually. So, if you're unsure of html tags, don't worry, KompoZer will take care of it, and you can focus on the design and content of the newsletter.

About The Newsletter Example 

The newsletter example used for this tutorial is one we set up to respond to bloggers who submit their blog to our sister site, SL-Feeds, and we'll be showing the few techniques we used. These include:
  • Creating a table.
  • Adding an image map
  • Adding an image
  • Adding text
  • Adding links.
Remember this is nearly entirely done visually, so if you don't understand html tags, don't be daunted. If you haven't submitted your blog to SL-Feeds and so haven't recieved this newsletter, you can still see how it works by viewing it here as a webpage.

Creating The Newsletter

1/ The first time you open KompoZer you'll see this screen with a start up tip window. Close it to see the interface.

2/ This is what you'll see. Drag the right lower corner to resize the UI to make it easier to work with. As you can see, all the main features have their own icon and are clearly labelled.

Creating A Table

Creating tables is the backbone to creating the newsletter and allows us to structure its appearance. To position elements where we want we'll need to create a table and nest tables within it. This is much simpler than it sounds.

1/ Click the Table icon and the window above will appear. The squares in the grid represent the rows and columns in the table. Drag the cursor over the squares to highlight how many rows and columns you want to create and when you're ready click OK.

Here we're creating a simple table of just one row and column, which can be used to nest another table in and can act as a border for the other content if we need to.

2/ Once a table has been created we can determine its size and the spacing of its cells (a cell is one square of a table). Select Table > Table Properties and the above window will open, Select the Cells tab.

As you can see, here we can select both the height and width of the cell as well as how its content is aligned. We do this by clicking the two tabs under Content Alignment to the right. When you've selected the settings you want click OK. The settings you choose can be changed at any time.

3/ We're now going to nest a table within the one we just created. With the cursor placed within the table select  Insert > Table from the UI menu, and the Insert Table window will open again.

If we use the Quickly tab as we did before, we can only create a table with six rows, but we now want to create a table with eight rows. To do this select the Precisely tab then enter the number of rows and columns you want to create. Click OK when ready.

4/ Select  Table > Table Properties again and this time select the Tables tab. Here we can set the height and width of the table, as well as a border and spacing for each cell. As you can see, we've opted for no border for each cell with a spacing and padding of 20 pixels. The table is also aligned centrally within the first table we created. Click OK when ready.

This is what the table will now look like in KompoZer.

Joining Two Cells

The top row is going to contain a heading for the newsletter, so we need to join the two rows.

1/ Click inside the first cell, then hold down Shift and click inside the second cell. The two cells are now selected.

2/ Right click and from the drop down menu select Join Selected Cells.

The top cells will now be joined as one cell, as shown above.

Adding An Image Map

For the header of the newsletter we're going to add an image map. The advantage of this is we can insert links to different parts of one image. If you're not sure how to create an image map then view our YouTube tutorial on Adding Multiple Landmarks To A Second Life Image With Gimp. Just remember to use links instead of Landmarks (although for Second Life you can of course use a mixture of both). Follow the link above to the online newsletter example to see how the image map works in practise.

The process is much easier than you might think, but if it seems too daunting for those new to this, you can of course just add an image for the header, and we'll cover this in a moment.

1/ Once you've created the image map for the heading, copy the text (as explained in the video). Now click on the Source tab at the bottom of the KompoZer UI.

2/ This is the only part of creating the newsletter that involves tweaking the html markup, and all we need to do is paste the image map text in the correct place.

If you remember, we nested the table with the top joined cells within a first table. So this means we need to find the second Table tag in the html document. The first tag is highlighted in blue above, and the second is highlighted in red.

3/ The first td tag also highlighted in red represents the first cell of the nested table, so we paste the image map text just after the closing bracket > of this td tag.

4/ After pasting the image map text click on the Design tab at the bottom of the KompoZer UI and you should see your image map in place. Don't worry about the yellow squares under the image as they shouldn't show in the final newsletter.

Adding Text To The Newsletter

In the newsletter we're using as our example, a message is included letting recipients know their blog has been added to SL-Feeds, so we're now going to add that text to our newsletter.

1/ First join the two cells of the row below the header to create a place for the text. Now the text can either be pasted or typed directly into the cell.

2/ To change the font, highlight all the text then select Format > Font and then choose a font from the dropdown list.

3/ Also under the Format menu there are options for selecting font size and font colour.

4/ To add a link to some of the text, highlight the text then click the Link icon.

5/ The above window will now open. Paste the link url in the space provided. Lower down the window there is a space to select if the link in the newsletter is to open in another browser window. When you're ready click OK.

6/ To choose the colour of the link text, highlight it again then select Format > Text Color. The above window will open. Click on the colour you want to use, or add the hex of your choice in the space provided. Click OK when ready.

The link text is now the colour we selected.

Adding An Image

1/ To add images to the newsletter they will need to be stored on an image hosting site. For the purposes of this tutorial Tinypic has been used.

First grab the link location of the image, then with the cursor placed in the cell where you want the image to go, click the image icon in KompoZer.

2/ The Image Properties window will open. In the space provided paste the image url, and add alternative text.

3/ To add a link to the image, click on the Link tab in the Image Properties window and paste the url in the space proved. Click OK when you're done.

4/ To align content of cells, including images, select the cells in question then select Format > Align > Center

The images will now look much better placed in their cells.

Now that we know how the images will appear in the newsletter we can adjust the spacing and padding. Select Table > Table Properties and the above window will open again. In the spaces provided adjust the spacing and padding, then click OK.

Changing A Cell's Background Colour

In the cells directly under the images we're goign to add a title for each image and a link to the relevant content. To give the newsletter some style we'll give the cells for the titles a background colour.

1/ Select the cell then select Table > Table Or Cell Background Color and the above window will open.

2/ Making sure the Cell radial button is checked, select a colour or enter the hex of your chosen colour in the space provide. Now click OK.

3/ In the Table Properties window again we add some height to the cell to make it easier to work with.

4/ The image above shows the cell with a background colour. Now we'll add text, a link and change the text colour.

5/ Type the text in the cell.

5/ With the text highlighted, click the Link icon and in the window that opens paste the url. Choose whether or not the link should open in a new window.

6/ Under the Format menu change the text colour and size.

This is all the cells that were to be used for images and their titles completed. Instead of adding an image to the final cell, a list of links was used instead.

Completing the Newsletter

The final parts of completing the newsletter layout involves steps we have already done.

1/ Directly below the last titles we'll add social media icons and a few more links. Firstly we join the two cells and give it a dark background.

2/ We then nest a table within this row. The table consists of two rows and four columns. It is also aligned centrally within the cell of the larger table.

3/ images of social media icons are placed in each cell of the top row of the table. They are then centrally aligned and have the relevant links added.

4/ the cells of the lower row are joined, then a table of one row and three columns is added. Within each cell text and a link is added. The text is sized and given a colour.

5/ Finally, if we are going to offer people a newsletter they must be given an option to unsubscribe. So in the final row, we join the two cells, add the unsubscribe text, align it centrally and resize it. We then add a link to a Google form which gives people the choice to subscribe or unsubscribe to the newsletter.

This is all you need to know to design and create a newsletter of your own. Although knowing something about html markup can be useful, its not entirely essential since KompoZer has a good WYSIWYG interface, and we don't need any complex markup for an email newsletter. The next part of this tutorial will show you how you can send the newsletter to your audience.
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Thursday, 4 January 2018

How to Create Isometric Images In Gimp

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Isometric images have lots of uses, from architectural drawings, logo designs, game graphics and of course isometric art. Whilst Gimp is a tremendous tool for any visual artist, one of its drawbacks is it doesn't have an isometric grid. However, this tutorial will show you how to work around that and then how to create a basic isometric cube.

The work around  is quite straightforward. It involves installing two Gimp pattern files that will be used to form isometric grids, and then installing a plugin that will allow you to scale the isometric grids to suit your project.

About The Plugin 

Credit for the pattern scale plugin that we use here must go to Rob A who created it. If you would like to find out more about this plugin there is a description and another download link on the Gimp Plugin Registry.

Installing The Gimp Pattern Files And Plugin

The two images above show what we'll be installing to create the isometric grid patterns.

1/ Firstly download this zipped file containing the Gimp pattern files and the pattern scale plugin by clicking the arrow to the top right of the download page. The file is stored on Google Drive so you can be sure it doesn't contain anything nasty.

Once downloaded unzip the file. If you don't have software that can unzip files try 7zip. Its open scource and a very handy, reliable app.

2/ Open the file you've just unzipped then click the first pattern file, hold down Shift then click the second file so both pattern files are selected.

3/ Right click then from the drop down menu select Copy.

4/ Paste them to the Gimp pattern folder which typically can be found here:

Local Disk (C) > Program Files > Gimp 2 > share >  gimp > 2.0 > patterns

5/  If Gimp is open hit the refresh button to the bottom of the patterns panel, or restart Gimp and the pattern files should be visible. The images are highlighted above.

 6/ To instal the pattern scale plugin go to the downloaded folder, right click on the plugin and select Copy.

7/ Paste it to the Gimp scripts folder, which can usually be found here:

Local Disk (C) > Program Files > Gimp 2 > share > gimp > 2.0 > scripts

8/ Restart Gimp for the plugin to work. You are now ready to create isometric images in Gimp.

Creating An Isometric Grid

Creating an isometric grid is simple.

1/ Start up Gimp, then hit File > New

2/ Create the image size. Now create a transparent layer.

3/ From the pattern tab in the layers panel drag one of the isometric patterns to the image window. You now have an isometric grid.

The first isometric grid is shown above.

And this is the second isometric grid. As you can see its more detailed than the first.

How to Scale The Isometric Grid

To scale either of the grids follow these steps.

1/ Open Gimp and create the image window size as above, then create the transparent layer.

2/ Right click on the grid pattern you want to use and a drop down menu as shown above will appear. Select  Scale Pattern.

3/ The above window will appear. The slider to the top will allow you to scale the grid to anything from 100% to 500%. The window below the slider gives the option to sharpen the grids' appearance. Hit OK when ready.

4/ This window will now open. It allows you to select how much you want the grid sharpened by. Click OK when you're happy with the selection.

5/ The scaled grid will now appear under the patterns tab, highlighted above.

6/ To use the scaled grid drag it from the pattern tab to the Gimp image window.

Creating An Isometric Cube

Creating an isometric cube is the basis for most isometric images, and the following steps will show how to do this.

1/ Create a transparent layer for the first side of the cube. Then with the Rectangle Select tool, drag out a rectangle roughly the width and height of the cube side.

2/ Select the bucket fill tool and click inside the rectangle to fill with colour. Then hit Select > None.

3/ Now select Layer > Autocrop Layer, which will make the layer easier to work with.

4/ From the tools panel select the perspective tool, and the window above will open. A dotted outline around the shape we just created will appear. Drag the Perspective window to one side as we need to work with our shape.

5/ Grab a corner of the dotted outline and drag it so our shape matches points on the grid. The idea is to get the coloured rectangle we created to form a cube side, as in the image above. This is much easier to do if you  hit View > Zoom > Zoom in as it allows for greater accuracy.

6/ If you need to you can again position the corners of the shape by repeating the above step. When you're ready click Transform in the Perspective window.

7/ Follow steps 1-6 above to create the second side of the cube. Using a different colour helps to form the illusion of depth to the isometric cube.

8/ To create the bottom of the cube we'll use the Paths tool, highlighted in the Toobox panel, above.

9/ Create a new layer for the cube bottom. Using the grid as a guide, with the Paths tool create a shape that will form the cube face. At each corner of the shape click to change direction (which will create an anchor for the path). The last click should close the shape.

We don't need to be accurate with the sides that meet the other two cube faces, so long as the shape overlaps them (see the image below).

Once the shape is created with the Paths tool, you can go back and reposition the path anchors by dragging them. Again zooming in will give more accuracy.

10/ With the Paths tool still selected hit Selection from Path in the lower part of the Tools panel. The shape you created will now have a 'marching ants' outline.

11/ Use the Bucket Fill tool to fill the path.

12/ Move the bottom of the cube layer below the sides layers and you have created an isometric cube.

Once the pattern files and plugin are installed creating isometric images and designs becomes very straightfoward in Gimp. If there's one drawback its that the isometric grid has no 'snap to function', but this is easily compensated for by using the zoom in function. Enjoy using Gimp to create your own isometric designs and illustrations.

Below is a video version of this tutorial. if you prefer you can watch it here on YouTube.

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