Today’s designer wears more hats than a millinery model. In addition to producing printed materials, you might also be involved in Web-site and CD-ROM projects. Where graphics and images are concerned, each medium has its own unique requirements-color catalogs need high-resolution images, for instance, while Web sites need fast-downloading ones. These disparate requirements probably force you to spend more time than you’d like just converting files. Open a high-resolution TIFF file, shrink it down for the Web, save it as a JPEG; rinse and repeat.
But there is a way to automate this grunt work. Designers and multimedia producers have long sworn by Equilibrium’s DeBabelizer, the ultimate graphics-manipulation and file-conversion utility. DeBabelizer can open and save every major graphics file format and most of the minor ones. It lets you apply quality-optimized color palettes, tweak brightness and contrast, crop and resize, and much more. Best of all, you can automate these processes and apply them to an entire collection of images.
But before swearing by DeBabelizer, many designers find themselves swearing at it. It’s ironic that visually oriented people must rely on a program that can be ugly and awkward, has cluttered dialog boxes, and makes you use the Open command to delete a file.
DeBabelizer’s beauty lies beneath its rough exterior, and the best way to break through that exterior is in small steps. What follows is a road map for mastering the product’s automation features, with a sidebar showing how to tackle a common conversion scenario.
The DeBabelizer Difference
All image-editing programs can convert between file formats, resize images, and reduce bit depth; many also have batch modes that let you automate these tasks. So why grapple with a program as arcane as DeBabelizer?
For one, DeBabelizer’s ability to create custom color palettes is unmatched. Even better, the utility can examine a collection of images and create a single color palette that best reflects their colors. You can then apply this SuperPalette to the images.
DeBabelizer also excels at dithering, the process of combining colored dots in patterns to simulate other hues. Dithering is an essential part of the bit-depth-reduction process, and DeBabelizer offers more control over dithering than any image editor.
What’s more, while the batch features in image editors are limited to manipulating the contents of a single folder, DeBabelizer’s autopilot can transcend a single folder and even a single computer. You can, for instance, set up a drop folder on a file server, and then tell DeBabelizer to monitor that folder so that whenever anyone tosses an image into it, a batch process executes. This can be a boon to large shops where several designers are working on their own sets of images.
Unlike image editors, DeBabelizer also supports conditional processing: you can specify that a task be performed only if certain conditions are true. The sidebar shows this capability in action; it details how to set up the program so it automatically creates a thumbnail version of any image whose horizontal dimension is larger than 300 pixels.
Choosing an Automation Option
Fleshing out a DeBabelizer batch-processing job is a form of programming. You don’t actually peck out lines of program code, but you do have to apply the same logical, stepwise thought processes-thinking through what you want to accomplish and then determining the best approach.
DeBabelizer offers several batch-processing options that can be combined in various ways. One of the challenges behind automating the utility is choosing the right mix of options for the job.
Eight built-in automation routines can handle the most common format-conversion and image-manipulation tasks. If you need to convert between file formats, create custom color palettes, or generate contact sheets containing thumbnail versions of images, the Batch menu’s Batch Automation command should be your starting point.
A script is a series of commands that DeBabelizer executes in sequence, much like a set of Actions in Adobe Photoshop. But DeBabelizer scripts pack far more automation power, including supporting IF-THEN operations that execute only when certain conditions are true.
You can create scripts by using the Script window to insert statements manually via the mini menu bar. But an easier way is to use the voyeuristically named WatchMe feature, which records your actions and saves them as a script. This is a terrific way to create simple scripts and to flesh out the overall structure of complex ones.
DeBabelizer ships with a collection of canned scripts that perform common tasks, such as mapping a collection of images to the Netscape color palette and then saving them as GIF files. These ProScripts live in a folder named DeBabelizer 3 ProScripts; to use them, you must import them into DeBabelizer via the Import command in the File menu’s Import/Export DeBabelizer Resources submenu.
DeBabelizer also supports the Mac OS’s scripting language, AppleScript. You can save completed DeBabelizer scripts in AppleScript form and modify them to automate not only DeBabelizer, but other programs as well. You might, for example, create a script that converts a series of images for the Web and then uses Fetch to send them to a service provider.
Developing an Automation Style
As you work with DeBabelizer’s batch-processing features, you’ll find there are often many paths to the same end. Should you write a script and then execute it within the Batch Automation window? Or should you use a script to execute a particular Batch Automation routine? Or do you forgo Batch Automation entirely and use WatchMe to handle the entire project?
As a general rule, look to the Batch Automation window first. It can handle the most common conversion and manipulation jobs. If you need an extra measure of batch-processing power-IF-THEN tests, for example-then try writing a script and executing it within a Batch Automation routine.
In the end, there’s often no right or wrong way to approach a batch-processing chore. What counts is that you succeed in automating the tasks at hand-and that you get home sooner than if you didn’t have DeBabelizer.
A contributor to Macworld since 1984, JIM HEID (
) writes and lectures on Web and multimedia development tools and techniques.
Put Your File Conversion on Autopilot
Here’s a common scenario that screams for DeBabelizer’s batch-processing talents: You’ve just finished producing a lavish four-color catalog. Now you need to adapt its images for use on the Web and for your company’s sales force to plop into presentations and word processing documents. For the Web, you’ll need to convert your original, high-resolution TIFF images into JPEG format. You’ll also need to lighten the images slightly so they display well under Windows, where images appear darker than on Macs.
What’s more, you’ll want to create a thumbnail version of any image whose horizontal dimension is wider than 300 pixels; on the final Web site, you’ll link these thumbnails to their larger counterparts. Finally, you’ll need color PICT files. Here’s how to make it all happen.
Set up your folders.
Create three folders to hold the final, converted images: JPEG Files, Thumbnail JPEG Files, and PICT Files.
Set up a batch list.
DeBabelizer’s BatchList window lets you set up lists of files to be converted. There are several ways to add files to a batch list, but the easiest is to open the folder containing the files, select the files, and then drag them to the BatchList window.
A Opens the files in this batch list.
B Performs batch-automation operations on those files.
C Removes the selected file(s) from the batch list.
D Saves this batch list.
E Creates a new batch list.
F Allows you to rename the batch list.
Create an automation script.
The most complex part of any DeBabelizer automation chore is deciding which approach to take and testing that approach.
For this project’s rather complex requirements, we’ll create a single script named Convert Files. Choose Script from the Window menu, then click on the New Script button (C) to clear the Script window’s contents and create a new script. Name the new script Convert Files. (You can apply the Convert Files script to a single image by dragging the image’s icon from the Finder to the Script window’s target button, the small bull’s-eye. This is a handy way to convert and scale just one image.)
A Menu of commands you can add to the script.
B Switches between scripts.
C Clears the script window.
D Saves the script.
E Action arrow–d;ag it to the BatchList window’s Open button to apply the script to the batch list, or drag to an open image’s window to apply the script to the image.
F Target button–d;ag an image’s icon to this button to apply the script to the image.
G Turns WatchMe mode on and off.
H Controls script playback.
I Deletes the currently selected script line(s).
J Allows you to rename the script.
Add some commands.
To insert the script’s commands, use the mini menu bar at the top of the Script window. After inserting a command, you must double-click on its name in the Script window to specify the command’s settings. For example, after inserting the Gamma Control command, double-click on it to specify the gamma settings you want to apply.
Here’s a guide to each of the script’s key areas, along with some details on how to set them up.
A Controls the desired quality setting for the JPEG images. To add this command, use the Script window’s mini menu bar to choose JPEG, JFIF from the Writers submenu, which is within the Preferences submenu of the File menu (whew!). In the JPEG Save Options dialog box, be sure to click in the Skip Dialog check box so this command’s dialog box doesn’t appear every time a new image is opened.
B Specifies the gamma correction you want to apply to the image. I used 1.2, but you’ll want to experiment to find the best value for your images.
C Saves the gamma-corrected images in JPEG format. When double-clicking on this command, use the resulting Save dialog box to specify the JPEG format and the destination folder (in this example, the folder named JPEG Files).
D Scales the image down if its horizontal dimension is greater than 300 pixels. The indented commands within this IF-THEN statement execute only if the condition is true.
To insert the If statement, choose IF from the Script window’s Extras mini menu, then double-click on the If statement and configure its dialog box as shown.
For the Scale command, use the Fit Into Size action to maintain the image’s original aspect ratio. For the Save As command, specify the JPEG format and the folder named Thumbnail JPEG Files.
After inserting and tweaking these commands, end the IF-THEN statement by choosing ENDIF from the Script window’s Extras mini menu.
E Reverts to the original image in preparation for the final step.
F Saves the image as a PICT file. The destination folder is PICT Files.
After you’ve created the script, click on the Script window’s Save icon.
Apply the script.
To apply the script to the batch list, drag the action arrow to the BatchList window’s Open button, then sit back and relax while DeBabelizer crunches through each image.