How much of graphics need can I solve with the free apps that come with the Macintosh?  A challenge I had to take up recently when I did not have my trusty laptop and software.

There are of course free downloadable apps out there, but it should still be worthwhile to find a way.

I needed some text on a clear background.  If needed text on a colored background, it would be easy to make it in TextEdit and just take a screen shot.  An application that can do text and  can save as a PNG file can handle this, but what in the standard Mac apps will do it?  Preview. Apple’s free application for viewing images and PDF files. (Surprised? I was.)

Preview’s menus won’t just make a new file, except to paste what was copied into the clipboard. But you can make files of any size easily.  Just start with a bigger file and crop it down (or resize it).  Or, take a screen shot of something with the Mac’s screen capture and use that.  Command-shift-3 is good, but Command-Shift-4 will let you select any part of the monitor while showing you the resulting size.  It can be helpful to capture and image of the layout you want to put the text into. Then you can fit it right the first time.

If you don’t want to accidentally change your base file, make a copy of it in Finder first. Or use Preview’s “Save As” to set the new file and its location.

To get a clear background in Preview, select all or part of the image and hit the delete key.  Poof! Transparent background.

To get text into your file, start by showing the annotations toolbar. You can:

  • Click the “Annotate” button.
  • Use the menu View -> “Show Annotations Toolbar”
  • Use Tools -> Annotate -> “Add Text”

Drag out a text box and layout your text. You can’t set a shadow on the text, but you can do most other kinds of simple text editing.

CAUTION: when you save, all annotation item become images. Preview doesn’t really do layers even though it will keep separate items until you save (none of the formats saved layer information for me. If it does, please tell me.)

If you need layering in the originals to make changes easier, you’ll need a different program. For Preview, you can make new images by pasting original text from another source.

Opening the Inspector will tell you many things about your file. The right-most tab (pencil icon) will let you set colors and other attributes of the annotation items. There’s more, but perhaps that’s for another post.