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Using pictures
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On a PC, the free graphics package is called Paint
On a PC, the free graphics package is called Paint

Does "a picture paint a thousand words"? Sometimes you spend so long searching through the clip art installed on your computer that you could have written the thousand words! Pictures should provide information that you cannot show in words - for example, a diagram to explain digestion or a detail from a famous painting.

Getting pictures

  • You can find images of almost anything on the world wide web. You cannot publish them (because someone else owns the copyright) but you may use them in your schoolwork. See our guide to copyright for more information. If you use your right mouse button and click on a picture, you can choose where to save the image. On a Mac, drag the picture to your desktop.
  • You can create your own images in many ways. The most obvious are taking photographs with a digital camera or scanning a picture or photo you already have. You can use a painting package (such as Paint on a PC) to create diagrams.
  • You can copy a screenshot to the clipboard or hard drive with special keys. On a PC PrintScrn copies the entire screen, while Alt-PrintScrn only copies the active window. You can then paste this into a picture editing package. On a Mac use Command-Shift-3 to copy the entire screen, or Command-Shift-4 to copy an area you select. (To copy just the active window, press Command-Shift-4 with Caps Lock on and select the window.) A picture is saved directly onto your hard drive (the Mac icon on desktop) as Picture 1.

Editing pictures

There is a huge range of image editing software available - such as Paintshop Pro or GraphicConverter.

Use this software to crop pictures, to change the colours and create particular effects, such as distorting shapes or making a photo look like a poster. Improve the appearance of scanned photographs by changing contrast or brightness. Most importantly, you can change from one picture file format to another. Bitmaps (.bmp) may be useful for things you will print, but the files are very big. JPEG (.jpg) files are smaller and more convenient, but if you increase them in size, they may lose quality. JPEG files and (for certain images) Graphics Interchange Format (.gif) files are the only image files that you can be sure will display on a web browser.

Presenting pictures

Make sure your pictures look right in the document where you place them. You might want to crop or resize them so that they are all the same width. If you have a border, make it the same for all pictures - or don't have a border. Don't place the image at the top or bottom of a page, like an afterthought - find an appropriate place in your text.

To put a picture in a Word document, use the Insert menu, choose Picture, then From File..., and browse to the file you want; alternatively copy an image to the clipboard and paste it onto the page. Use the Print Layout view to see how the picture will appear. You can also put sound or other multimedia files on a page that people will read on a computer - but you need to make sure they have the means to hear it (speakers or headphones).