Free Poster-Making Tools and Image Editing Toys

These days, it sometimes seems like just about everything is free. You can get your news without buying a newspaper and stream music from a Web site like Pandora. To satisfy your lust for stuff that doesn't cost any money, I recently recommended a handful of powerful and free photo editors that could give Photoshop Elements a run for its money. This week, here are four equally free single-purpose photo tools.

Make a Movie or Motivational Poster

Based on the walls of my teenagers' bedrooms, a love of posters is genetically embedded in our DNA. Using Poster Forge, you can make your own using your collection of digital photos.

Poster Forge lets you create three varieties of posters: motivational, movie, and wanted. The results are fun, and are a great way to leverage your photo collection in a creative way. The process is simple: Just select a photo and enter the text you want to appear on the poster. You can also tweak other details, like the size and color of your text and borders. When you're done, you can save or print the poster. Poster Forge has built-in support to help you make an oversized poster by printing the result on multiple sheets that you can assemble and glue or tape together.

If you stick with the free version, you'll have to contend with a subtle watermark in the corner of your creations. For $10, you get the "pro" version, which prints posters watermark-free.

Print a Poster-Sized Photo

Perhaps you like the idea of taking one of your own photos and printing it as a large poster, but you don't want all the extra accoutrements offered by Poster Forge--all those text and border effects. No problem. Easy Poster Printer lets you print any photo in sections that you can arrange and tape together into a large wall-sized print.

The program lets you specify just about any size imaginable. If you want to generate a print that's 500 inches across by 800 inches high, Easy Poster Printer will allow it. (Just be aware that it'll take about 7000 sheets of paper--and I'm not sure where you'd put it.)

Cut Your Subject Out of a Photo

When most people think of "Photoshopping" a picture, they invariably imagine cutting something out of one photo and placing it in another. That's how you get heads switched with other bodies, people put in ludicrous scenes, and cats flying airplanes. (Granted, that's also a ludicrous situation, but on the Internet, cat photos get their very own category.)

It's pretty easy to "punch out" a subject in a program like Adobe Photoshop Elements using the Magic Extractor tool, but what if you don't have a fancy photo editor?

Turn to InstantMask. This free program does one thing and one thing only: It extracts objects from photos. Open a photo and use the Keep and Remove markers to draw on the photo, indicating which parts of the scene to preserve and which to erase. Then click the Preview button and save the result.

InstantMask isn't perfect, and it very clearly doesn't do as good of a job as Photoshop Elements, but it's not bad for free. You can use the resulting image--your cut-out subject against a plain white background--on its own, or open it in another photo editing program and combine it with another photo.

Flickr .Net Screensaver

What's your screensaver? If you say something like "some wiggly lines that swirl around the screen," then, for shame. You have tons of digital photos--why not show them off on your computer screen when it's not doing anything else?

If you have Windows 7, you might already use the Photos screensaver. But if you've stored a lot of photos on Flickr, try the Flickr .Net Screensaver instead.

This screensaver works with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. After you install it, it shows up in the usual Screen Saver Settings dialog box, where you can specify which Flickr user or Flickr group to display--it doesn't have to be your own photos. So if you happen to like High Dynamic Range photos, for example, you can set your screensaver to show the photos in the HDR group.

Want some more free stuff? Stay tuned for next week, when I'll tell you about four more free photo editing tools.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Roses" by Everett Bosch, Tracy, California Everett says: "It was about dusk. The sun came through the trees and hit the blossoms just right, so they glowed. I cropped a bit, and the rest was good fortune. I shot it with a sort-of-old-school Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15."

This week's runner-up: "End of Day" by Jim Harmon, Carthage, New York

Jim says: "I took this photo of my grandson after a long Father's Day fishing trip. The golden sunset and the waves made for a perfect silhouette. I used a Canon Powershot A720."

To see last month's winners, visit the April Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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