Friday, January 14, 2011

Cricut 201 {# 1} Understanding File Types

Whatever happened to 101? I'm not going to be talking about basics - so we are skipping ahead to the intermediate level. I'm assuming you have the following:
  • Cricut - any kind will work. You should also have the USB cable that allows you to attach it to the computer.
  • Sure Cuts a Lot - (abbreviated SCAL) this software allows you to cut out any font/dingbat/clipart you have on your need to buy expensive cartridges.
  • Inkscape - A free vector graphics editor that gives you even more freedom in creating your own cutting files.
  • A computer - should go without saying, but I said it anyway.
Today we are going to take a look at different file types so we know what we are dealing with when we create our own cutting files for the cricut. 

Warning: Totally boring awesome computer techno geeky stuff coming up!

Bitmap - a map using bits...for real. Basically it is a file that describes what each bit (point/pixel) looks like. Both JPEGs and PNGs are Bitmaps.

A JPEG is a file that uses pixels to describe each point. Basically, its made of bunch of squares, each of which is assigned a color. When you zoom out far enough, you see the whole image, not just a bunch of squares. That's why for a while everyone was obsessed with mega-pixels on cameras. You wanted more because this meant your photos had more pixels and were therefore higher quality. This file type is perfect for pictures but doesn't really work for cutting because you can't really change the size of it easily without losing quality.

JPEG at normal size.

JPEG at 500% zoom. Notice the pixelated edges.

Similar to JPEG in that it is made up of pixels, but PNGs use better compression so there is less loss of data when saving. Also, it allows for transparency so you can have "clear" backgrounds or "holes" in your image. In a JPEG every pixel has to be assigned a color (so you would sometimes use white for the background, or try to match the background of your webpage) but in PNG you can have "blank" pixels.

Most programs can auto-trace an image (jpeg or png) and get you a pretty good cutting file depending on the contrast between the pixels.

SVG means Scalable Vector Graphics. A vector is a mathematical description of a point. Basically it describes the location of parts of an image based on mathematical equations rather than assigning colors to points. The beauty of this - besides the mathematics of it all ;) - is that it is scalable (you can multiply/divide it). When you want to change the size of an svg you don't lose any data...its just multiplied. With JPEG the computer would have to "make up" what the new pixels would look like because there is no data. With SVG, there is always data because the equation just spits out a new number.
svg file at 500% zoom. The edges are sharp and clear. This makes it easier for cutters to work with.
Font Files
You can find lots of fonts (and dingbats) online for free! Most fonts are TrueType or OpenType fonts. These fonts are actually vector images, so all vector principles apply. It's easy for SCAL to "trace" a font because it's not really tracing it...its just using the vector paths like it would with an SVG file.

End of totally boring awesome computer techno geeky stuff.

Okay - so was that totally boring?

The reason you need to understand file types is because we will be using each different kind for different reasons when we use our cricut. Join me next time when we will continue our investigation and create a super fun project.

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