As an IT pro and software trainer, I frequently teach Web design basics to novices. Inevitably, when the subject of graphics use comes up, a student will ask how to edit a graphic to be the correct size or file format. Naturally, a full-featured graphic program such as Fireworks, Photoshop, or Paint Shop Pro is preferable for this type of change, but those programs are not always available.

Fortunately, Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 come with Photo Editor, a simple but useful tool. Although Photo Editor and its support files occupy less than 2 MB of disk space, the program can perform some handy functions, such as scanning and rotation.

Photo Editor is far from a full-featured graphics program. Even the humble Paint offers some features that aren’t found in Photo Editor, such as a text tool. However, Photo Editor offers a number of functions that are invaluable to Web designers. These include:

  • Resizing and inspection of image size
  • Cropping
  • Image format change
  • Setting a transparent color

The next time an end user asks you for advice on editing an image, point them to this article.

Where to find it
Photo Editor is installed with the Custom and Complete installations of Office 97. To install Photo Editor in Office 2000, you must perform a Custom install. The program’s location depends on which Office version you use:

  • In Office 97, the Photo Editor icon appears in the Programs menu.
  • In Office 2000, the program appears in the Microsoft Office Tools folder in the Programs group.

Depending on the user’s system configuration, Photo Editor could also appear as the user’s default graphics viewer. If so, of course, double-clicking on the icon for a graphics file would launch Photo Editor and open that image. As you can see in Figure A, Photo Editor scales the image’s display to fit the program window.

Figure A

Shortcut limitation in Photo Editor 97

Microsoft has confirmed a limitation in the 97 version of Photo Editor: You can’t open a graphics file by dragging a shortcut icon onto the program’s icon or window. Doing so results in an “Unknown File Format” error message. Rather, you have to drag the graphics file icon itself onto Photo Editor. This isn’t a problem in the Office 2000 version, according to Microsoft.

How to use Photo Editor
Photo Editor is a good solution for users who need to do basic image manipulation for the Web (or inclusion in documents, such as Word files). For example, although a user can control the display size for an image on a Web page, designers are frequently advised to decrease the image’s actual size rather than simply display it with smaller dimensions.

Sometimes simply determining the size can be a bit of a challenge. Although FrontPage and Dreamweaver report the dimensions of images selected for placement, a user-coded HTML doesn’t have this handy feature. Fortunately, selecting File | Properties in Photo Editor reports the image’s dimensions, resolution, and file size, as you can see in Figure B.

Figure B

To change the image size, simply click Resize from the Image menu. The user can select new horizontal and vertical dimensions; selecting the Allow Distortion check box lets the user input disproportional values. The dimensions can be entered as a measurement or a percentage and can be displayed in both inches and pixels.

A user can use two different methods to crop a photo. Choosing Image To Crop lets a user input the number of inches or pixels he or she would like to slice from the top, bottom, or sides. Users can also use the Select tool from the center of the toolbar. Simply draw an adjustable selection marquee around the portion of the image they want to crop, as shown in Figure C. Choosing Image To Crop results in a Crop dialog box with the coordinates of the selection preselected. Clicking OK finalizes the crop for both methods. (Photo Editor does have an Undo command if a mistake is made.)

Figure C

Often users want to use an image that may be in a format not supported by some Web browsers. Clicking Save As from the File menu lets the user resave the image in JPG, JPEG, GIF, TIF, PNG, PCX, or BMP formats.

Photo Editor also lets users use the Set Transparent Color tool (third from the right on the toolbar) to designate a color as transparent. When the user clicks on the desired color, a dialog box allows the user to select the exactness of the match (to within 10 percent) and the degree of transparency. Clicking OK results in a transparent area, as you can see in Figure D. While Photo Editor can create a transparent selection for any image, the image will only retain the formatting if saved as a GIF or PNG.

Figure D

The bottom line
Photo Editor doesn’t provide the tools that a full-fledged editor such as PhotoShop does, but it does let a user make a couple of quick tweaks to an image. Because it’s included with the Office suite, it also allows the user to avoid the hefty price tags that accompany many editors.

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