Of Maps and Memes: A Bit of Cartographic Fun

Co-Authored by Zhaneille Green

We use maps to communicate all the time. Historically, they have been used to navigate the world and to stand as visual, physical manifestations of defined spaces and places. What do you think of when we say “map”: a topographic map1 a transportation map2 or a city map3?

You can use maps to represent just about anything you want to say, far beyond these typical examples. We wrote this blog to invite you to have a little cartographic fun of your own.

If you’re on any kind of social media, you’ve probably seen maps like the one below, highlighting anything from each state’s favorite kind of candy to what the continental US would look like if all of the states’ borders were drawn along rivers and mountain ranges. People definitely seem to enjoy sharing these maps, curious to see what grocery store most people shop at in their home state, or laughing about California’s lack of popularity with the states in the surrounding area.

Map of most popular halloween candy in each US state. View the interactive version on candystore.com

Try your hand at creating your own silly map by using our programs in the Scholarly Commons. Start a war by creating a map that ranks the Southern states with the best barbecue using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, or explore a personal hobby like creating a map of all the creatures Sam & Dean Winchester met through the 15 seasons of Supernatural using ArcGIS.

If you’re feeling a bit more serious, don’t fret! Even if these meme-like maps aren’t portraying the most critical information, they do demonstrate how maps can be a great tool for data visualization. In many ways, location can make data feel more personal, because we all have personal connections to place. Admit it: the first thing you checked on the favorite candy map was your home state. Maps also tend to be more visually engaging than a simple table with, for example, states in one column and favorite animal in the other.

Using geotagging data, each dot represents where a photo was taken: blue for locals, red for tourists, and yellow for unknown. Locals and Tourists #1 (GTWA #2): London. Erica Fischer, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

Regardless of what you want to map, the Scholarly Commons has the tools to help bring your vision to life. Learn about software access on our website, and check out these LinkedIn Learning resources for an introduction to ArcGIS Online or Photoshop, which are available with University of Illinois login credentials. If you need more assistance, feel free to ask us questions. Go forth and meme!

Choosing GIMP as a Photoshop Alternative

The GIMP logo.

Image manipulation is a handy skill, but sinking time and money into Adobe Photoshop may not be an option for some people. If you’re looking for an alternative to Photoshop, GIMP is a great bet. Available for almost every operating system, GIMP is open source and free with lots of customization and third party plugin options.

One of the major aspects you lose when moving from Photoshop to GIMP is the loss of a major community and widespread knowledge of the software. While GIMP has its dedicated loyalists and a staff, they lack the same kind of institutional power that Adobe has to answer questions, fix bugs, and provide support. While Lynda.com does provide tutorials on GIMP, there are fewer overall resources for tutorials and help than Photoshop.

That being said, GIMP can still be a more powerful tool than Photoshop, especially if you have a programming background (or can convince someone else to do some programming for you). Theoretically, you could add or subtract any features that you so choose by changing the GIMP source code, and you are free to distribute a version of GIMP with those changes to whomever you choose.

There are a number of pros/cons for choosing GIMP over Photoshop, so here’s a handy list.

GIMP Pros:

  • Free
  • Highly customizable and flexible (with coding expertise)
  • Motivated user community run by volunteers
  • High usability
  • Easier to contact leadership regarding issues

GIMP Cons:

  • Less recognized
  • Changes are more slowly implemented
  • No promise that the software will always be maintained in perpetuity

Of course, there are more pros and cons to using GIMP, but this will give you a basic idea of the pros and cons of switching over to this open-source software.

For more information on GIMP, you can check out the GIMP Wiki, which is maintained by GIMP developers, or The GTK+ Project, which is a toolkit for the creation of graphical user interfaces (GUI). GIMP also provides a series of Tutorials. If you’re still loyal to Adobe, you can look at the Adobe products available on the UIUC WebStore, as well as tutorials on Lynda.com.

Do you have opinions on GIMP vs. Photoshop? Let us know in the comments! And stop by the Scholarly Commons, where you can use either (or both!) software for free.

Spooky Photoshop Tricks

This coming Monday is October 31st, known to most as Halloween. Besides passing out candy and dressing up, Halloween can be a fun opportunity to learn some new effects for your Photoshop skill book. Below is a short tutorial on how to turn a relatively normal photo into a creepy, grainy one!

To start, I’ll take this photo of a photogenic Labrador Retriever and add a grainy film effect to it, so he’ll end up looking like he’s Nosferatu’s dog. The steps are as follows:

Spooky 1

  1. There are a few ways to create a black and white image, but for this image I’ll be choosing to just put a Black & White adjustment layer on it. From there, I’ll fiddle with the controls to find what looks best for my image. (So, for my dog, I adjusted the preset to Maximum Black so that the shadows really come through.)
  2. After that, you can add any other adjustment layers you think will improve the image. So I added a Brightness/Contrast layer, where I lowered the brightness to -45, and increased the contrast to 20.
  3. Create a new layer beneath your adjustment layer and name it something like “Scratches.” Select the brush tool and make sure that the size is down to 1 pixel, and hardness is up to 100%. Choose a mid-tone grey color, then create a few random “scratches” on top of the photo to give it an authentically old look.
  4. Once you’ve done that, select the layer with your original photo. Go to the Filter option on the top ribbon. From the drop down menu choose “Noise” and from there, “Add Noise.”
  5. From there, you will see a pop up screen with options for your Add Noise Filter. For this particular effect, I would suggest checking the box for monochromatic noise. You can choose either uniform or gaussian — I stuck with uniform. Play around with the percentage and see what works for you. I ended up with 38.07% for my photo.
  6. Crop however you’d like.

Spooky 2

There we have it! Your photo now looks older and creepier. Feel free to add some other effects, if you’d like. I decided to add a Hue/Saturation layer to the dog to make him green, use the burn tool on his eyes to make them darker, add and transform some text, and to add a little spider in order to make him Sparky the Zombie Dog!

Zombie Dog


How Photoshop Can Help Your Digital Project

Adobe Photoshop CC is a pervasive software that only grows in power and popularity. While learning Photoshop can be daunting, the benefits of learning Photoshop are far-reaching, and not always what you expect. If you are a scholar looking to share your research online, here are a few reasons why learning the basics of Photoshop will set you up for success.

  1. Leaning Photoshop saves time and money. If you’re in academia, your budget is probably pretty tight. Knowing basic Photoshop skills will not only save you time and stress when it comes to graphics, but will also insure that you won’t have to go to an outside source to create graphics for your project.
  2. Helps you attract people. According to various studies, adding a color visual to a piece of content increases people’s willingness to read by 80%. A simple Photoshopped image to go along with your Tweets about your project can really increase your user traffic.
  3. Website mockups. Photoshop has hundreds of tools and plug-ins that you can use to plan and shape your website. Drawing out what exactly you want before creating your website will help you understand what it is that you want, and how to create it.
  4. Great community. If you have a question about Photoshop, someone out there has probably already answered it! Because Photoshop is so pervasive, there is a large network of people you can get in touch with if you need help with an aspect of your project.  Look at Adobe’s Photoshop Forum and its subforums for an example of the Photoshop community.

I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

Learning Photoshop can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, as well as a great line on your resume. Here at the Scholarly Commons, we have Photoshop on every PC and Mac, as well as resources to help you start on your Photoshop journey. Stop on by and get editing today!

Campus Colors Day Photoshop Tutorial

Today is September 2nd, otherwise known as National College Colors Day! We at the Scholarly Commons have a lot of Illini spirit, and thought we would show it by showing you a quick way to Photoshop a little Illini spirit onto anybody.   If you’re interested in learning more about Photoshop or using it, head to the Scholarly Commons. Our computers all have the full set of Adobe products on them, and there are resources here to help you. If you want to try learning on your own, you can use your Illinois NetID and password to log into Lynda.com, which has fantastic tutorials on Photoshop and other useful software.

The photo I chose was a Library of Congress photograph of William Howard Taft, my favorite president.

Bain News Service, Publisher. [Taft, Beatrice Nebraska]. 10/1/08 date created or published later by Bain. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2004002180/. (Accessed September 01, 2016.)

I started by opening Photoshop and creating a new project. In order to get my Photo into the project, I created a new layer [Layer -> New -> Layer] and copy pasting my photo of Taft into it. When you’re done, it should look something like this:

Taft 1

The layers panel is on the right hand side of the screen. Notice that I have separate layers for my background and for my photo.


Now, if you’re finding your photo is a little small compared to the background, you can transform your photo by pressing Control T. If you decide to use the transform option, make sure that you lock the proportions of your photo, buy clicking the lock icon on the upper toolbar.

Tutorial 5 Updated

The lock command ensures your photo will maintain its original proportions.

When your photo is sized to your liking, you can start with the fun stuff. First, we’re going to create a new layer to draw on our orange with.

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer "Orange."

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer “Orange.”

Next, you’re going to choose the brush tool, by pressing its icon on the left hand toolbar (it will be the eighth icon down) or simply pressing the letter B on your keyboard. Before we do anything else, make sure that you have the “Orange” layer selected on your layers list — it’s important to keep things separate to keep editing easy! In order to edit how your brush works, you’re going to need to see the brush controls. To do that, go to Window -> Brush on the upper bar of your screen. When you click brush, a menu of options will appear near your left tool bar.

Taft 4

There are almost limitless brush options in Photoshop — play around and see what you like!


Choose the settings you’d like for your brush strokes. For the purposes of this edit, I want a brushstroke that’s got straight edges and hardness to it, so I chose the second brush option and moved the hardness rate over to 100%. I also chose my color on the upper right corner of my screen. Now, I chose the “Swatches” tab to easily grab my colors, but if you’re comfortable using the gradient, go ahead! Then, I began to draw over Taft’s face.



Taft 5

What an opaque brushstroke looks like.

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you'd like to have!

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you’d like to have!

Now, the brushstroke is in the right place, and has the right feel to it, but it’s also opaque. When I draw, Taft is completely covered up, which is not what I want. So I go to the top of my layers panel on the right side of my screen to the Opacity percentage. Changing this will make this brushstroke, and anything else I create in this layer, more transparent, so that you can see Taft beneath it.

Once you change the opacity of your layer, you’ll see that you can see your photo underneath the layer you’re currently drawing on, like this:


Taft 6

Because who would ever want to cover up that charming smile?

Continue to cover one side of your subject’s face with orange. You can always zoom in (Ctrl + Z) to get a better view of your subject, and change the size of your brush, by pressing the left bracket ” [ ” to make the brushstroke smaller, and the right bracket ” ] ” to make it larger. If you want to make a straight line but have a shaky hand, don’t fear! Just click the place you want to start the line, press the shift key, then click where you want it to end. Photoshop fills in that straight line for you. When I was done with these steps, President Taft looked like this:

I opted not to color in his mustache because I'm going to do something else with it later.

I opted not to color in his mustache because I’m going to do something else with it later.

Next up? Create a new layer and follow the same steps with the brush set to blue.

Taft 9

Almost done! Hang on!

Now you have a face that’s got some Illinois pride. But, I wanted to go a step further with President Taft. So I created a new layer, named it “Facial Hair,” and started in by using the straight line shortcut (click + shift + click) to stripe Taft’s mustache with blue, then orange.

Taft 10

Not exactly the fashion in 1913.

Taft 11

Hail to the orange and blue!

And voila! We have a photograph with some real Illini spirit. But before you do anything else, make sure you’re saving correctly. Saving in Photoshop can be a bit confusing, so I’ll take you through the simple steps to saving your Photoshopped image as a JPEG, a more universal kind of file than the Photoshop PSD file.

First, click File -> Save As on the upper bar. You’ll reach a pretty normal save screen on PC or Mac. But it’s very important that you change the save format from PSD to JPEG in the “Save as type” bar. Don’t click or unclick on any of the options below — in order to save as a JPEG, the program will automatically click the “As a Copy” button.

Tutorial 15 Updated

When you click save, there will another pop-up asking about JPEG options. The qualities you can choose range from 1-12, and Photoshop will almost always automatically choose 8. You’ll probably want to move that number up to 12 to get the best quality file as you can. Since JPEGs are much smaller files than PSDs, you don’t really need to worry about the file size unless your computer is running out of space. When you change the quality option, click “OK” and you’re done!

Tutorial 16

Congratulations! You now have an image that’s full of Illinois pride. Photoshop is an incredible tool, and is fun to use, but also looks great on a resume.

Taft 12

My finished product!