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The Aqua Designer's Toolbox
Pages: 1, 2


Here's an idea: let's create a plug-in for Photoshop that allows you to take any image and turn it into an icon for almost any OS. Sound too good to be true? The solution is IconBuilder, from one of my favorite Web destinations, IconFactory.

IconBuilder features:

  • True 32-bit icon formats for Mac & Win.
  • Create resources instantly with QuickBuild.
  • Convert from Mac to Win and back again.
  • Extract any icon into Photoshop for editing.
  • Mac icon formats (7.5, 8.5, 9.x, 10.x).
  • Win .ico formats (95, 98, NT, ME, 2000, XP).
  • 128x128 pixel icon format in Mac OS X.
  • "BuilderTips" for novice & advanced users.
  • View icons against multiple desktop colors.

It's easy to use, and there is no need to leave Photoshop to pound out an icon. And hey, if IconFactory uses it, it must be good.

Screen shot.
What application might Dr. Frankenstein be cooking up in the lab?

Trial available at

iPhoto/Cumulus/FileMaker 6

I've been using iPhoto recently to archive all of my UI graphics when I'm done with a project. In the old days of OS 9, I used a solution called Cumulus, from Canto. Although iPhoto doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that you will find in Cumulus, unlike Canto's product, iPhoto is free. I do have one wish for iPhoto: what I would like to see is a plug-in so that iPhoto can recognize and store .icns files. Also, if you're part of a large corporation and require distributed graphics over a network, then Cumulus is possibly the way to go.

One final archiving solution is building a database in FileMaker Pro (a relational database application). FileMaker is extremely versatile as a solution because you can build a database to fit your own specific needs. It isn't free, but is a good value based on its capability. You can build a database of your images and script it internally (or externally, with Applescript). It works with Mac and Windows machines, even over a network. You can even make your databases Web-enabled with just one click. In fact, FileMaker comes with quite a few built-in templates to help you customize a solution. It almost pays for itself right there.

With FileMaker you can build numerous database files and tie all of them together, which is great for business applications. I don't use it for my personal archiving, but I do use it to for my time-billing and invoicing needs. I did build an archive solution in FileMaker for a client that needed to distribute image-based data across 50-60 computers. It worked like a charm, and saved them a lot of time searching through network drives.

Screen shot.
This template for images comes free with Filemaker.


OminGraffle is for creating flowcharts of information. I find it helpful for organizing my thoughts, and I use it to document my ideas for clients. I often create Graffle documents and print them for meetings.

Snapz Pro X

The ultimate in screen capture utilities, Snapz Pro X is a must have for everyone. I can capture any image in just about any format imaginable. One of the best features is being able to capture a QuickTime movie of my screen activity. This is especially helpful when creating interactive tutorials. Combining this tool with InDesign is a powerful force for documenting an application. It is also quite useful with QuickTime Pro & iMovie.

Strata 3D -- Classic Only

Although it isn't native to Mac OS X yet (and runs a little flakily in Classic), Strata 3D is my favorite application to use for creating 3D images. You can build or import a model and render it with one of the best raytracers I've ever used. For many people, having a true 3D application may not seem necessary, but if you are looking for the ultimate tool to create photorealistic images, this is it.


Sure, VirtualPC isn't as fast as running a real PC, but the fact that I can run multiple (different) installations of Windows makes it a big plus for me. If I'm doing cross-platform work, this is the best application for ensuring my work looks right on any OS. I keep my main Graphics folder shared so that I can easily view it and the contents from VPC.



Most people are familiar with this popular line of drawing tablets for the Mac. Which one is right for you? Well, that depends on your budget and how often you'll use one. I don't use it very often, and my budget requires that I stick with the $99 Graphire model. The Cintiq model is actually an LCD screen that allows you to draw directly on it; however, this puppy is way out of my budget. I would prefer if Apple released a tablet version of the iBook so I could get both technologies in one solution.

External HD/CD-RW

I like to keep as much space free on my computer as possible, and I don't trust most removable media. I use external FireWire drives to store the bulk of my images (and my mp3s). I'm intrigued by the new Iomega Peerless drives, but once again, my budget forbids it.

For archiving, you can't beat burning a master copy of your images onto a CD-ROM. The iBook DVD/CD-RW works flawlessly and I can archive a folder in very little time.


I bought one of those obscene fire safes constructed of steel and concrete. It can be bolted to the floor from the inside. It took three people to get it in the house. I store all of the master copies of my software, the licenses, receipts, and archived CDs in it, just in case. Keep in mind that not every safe can provide enough temperature protection to protect data; be sure you buy one rated to fit your needs. One rule of thumb: if your safe has a handle, it isn't safe. As an added measure of safety, I have my media stored in a case that doesn't conduct heat well.

If you don't have a safe, the next best option is storing your data in a safe deposit box. It's cheaper and safer than expanding your iDrive, but not as convenient.


Although I don't use it that often, I do think it is important to have a scanner. I searched for one that would give me the most flexibility with the media I wanted to scan. I settled on a $79 Canon that had a film adapter. In addition to scanning regular media, it can scan negatives, positives, and slides.

Final Thoughts

Each designer's set of tools reflects the working style and personality of that person, as these choices are a reflection of how I like to work. To make this article more valuable, let us know about some of your favorite tools too.

Alan Graham is the creator of the Best of Blogs book series and is a frequent writer on the O'Reilly Network.

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