The retro, pop-art look is a complex mix of photo manipulation, effect, vector shapes and masks. More often than not, it seems quite easy to create such images; however, ussually it's difficult to get them just right. Because they are such a mix of various elements, these images can be quite a daunting task to make without a program that can properly handle the task. At the end of the day, you could in theory create any image in any graphics application, simply by putting pixels down, but actually doing so is unlikely, to say the least. Heavyweight imaging applications such as Photoshop are up to the task of making retro pop art, but you will be hard pressed to do the same with the average run of the mill application. Fortunately, there are some shareware programs out there designed specifically to help with this style of images, such as DotMatrix.What it does
DotMatrix is an imaging application that is designed to help create retro pop-art with ease. Well suited for both novices and experienced graphics artists, it has both an extensive preset collection and a very flexible easy to tweak interface that lets you change anything with just a few clicks. Working with it
DotMatrix is one of those programs that makes the use out of the Core technologies in OS X to deliver great results. It can work on any image or movie and it can also capture directly from your iSight.
Once you have the source image that you will be working on, you can start to do that. If you are new to this kind of program, you can just make use of the many presets that come with the program. Use either the preset floating window or the submenus to select the one you want. The presets are grouped by style
and although they may have some strange names that don't always reflect what they look like, they cover lots of different looks.
Presets are updated by the developers, and users can submit their own ones. Furthermore, due to the very flexible bookmarks implementation, you can easily share any preset with others.
For those who know what they are doing, the program offers a lot of flexibility. At a first use, the interface looks very strange and cramped, nothing is really obvious except for the color bar on the left. However, once you start using the program a little, everything falls into place and the placement of the controls, although heavily condensed has its own logic. For most controls, the tooltip is enough to let you know what it does, for others experimentation might be necessary.
Unfortunately, the program lacks any serious documentation and the tutorials on the developer's site are nothing more than images that don't really give you any insight into what the exact settings were.Bookmarks
This is perhaps one of the better things about this program. Any modification you make to an image can be saved at any time as a bookmark. Even the presets that come with the application are in effect bookmarks, simply built in.
These bookmarks are just a plain text listing of all the settings that differ from the norm, which has several advantages.
The first is that you can easily go in and make tweaks directly from the bookmark itself. Whether it is tweaking some values inside a bookmark, or taking pieces from several bookmarks and throwing them all together to make something new, it is incredibly easy to do.
The second is that they are incredibly easy to share with others, being in effect nothing more than a block of text. They can be posted along with sample images, they can be received from other users, across e-mail, chat or the web.Trial and error
DotMatrix is quite powerful and flexible, allowing you to get a wide range of looks with just a few settings, however, to make the most out of it, you need to waste a lot of time experimenting for yourself.
The program lacks any real documentation and while it has tooltips for everything, these are not always enough. Some controls such as brightness and contrast are self-explanatory, while others such as 'Image Mask Combine Method' and 'Generator Shape Kind' leave it up to you to go through each and every setting and remember what they do.
This leaves a lot to be desired, especially for people who know their way around imaging applications. It is not fun to manually go through all those generator shapes and try to remember them.
The lack of documentation is also a serious disadvantage to novice users, who while still able to use presets, will find it much harder to learn what all those controls to in order to better make use of the program.The Good
Pop-art at the click of a button. Lots of presets to get you started and great flexibility when it comes to working with your own ones.The Bad
Lack of documentation makes it difficult if not impossible to get to know the program and use it to its full potential. The Truth
Although it is a rather specialized tool, for making a certain kind of graphics, DotMatrix gets the job done well. Strange and crowded at a first look, it makes more sense once you use it, but it has a rather ornery learning curve.
Here are some screenshots, click to enlarge: