Introduction: How to Make a Flattering Facebook Profile Picture
Do you need a Facebook, Twitter, or blog profile image of yourself? Do you want it to be accurate
Step 1: Tools You Will Need
A Windows based PC. (You can do this on a Mac, too, but you will need to substitute other software.)
A digital photo of yourself.
IrfanView software. You can also use another free photo viewing software, such as Picasa, XnView, Zoner Photo Studio Free, Fastone ImageViewer, or WildBitViewer. All of these are free, simple to use, and let you fix red-eye, color tone, resize, and crop. Just make sure it can open an image in the “png” format. If you have a Mac, iPhoto will do the same, and comes free with your computer. Gimp is a free photo editor, too, but it’s very complicated to use. Of course, if you already have Photoshop then just use it, but you are on your own.
Inkscape vector software. Inkscape is free and there are versions for all operating systems: Windows (all flavors), Mac, and Linux.
Step 2: Pick Your Photo
The photo should have most of your face showing, but can be one with lots of other people and things in it. (Don’t worry about all the other things in the photo, I’ll show you how to crop all that out.) Try and get one that’s clear, not fuzzy. It’s also best to start with a photo that has a high resolution, especially if you are only a small part of the photo; this way you can zoom in and crop yourself without losing any detail. However, by far the most important thing is to pick one from an event where you were having fun. If you can’t get one that meets some or all of these criteria, at least get one where you have a nice smile.
Step 3: Crop Your Photo
First you will want to fix up your photo using a simple photo editing tool. In my example I’m using IrfanView, but you can do much of the same thing with other free photo editing tools. I recommend doing a fairly tight crop of just your face; you want to highlight just you, not everyone you know or your surroundings. Besides, when people are focused on a conversation with you, they really only see your features, and “lose” everything in the periphery, and that’s what Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are: a conversation with you. I recommend doing a perfect square crop (one where all the sides are the same length). This way it will be easier to turn your final result into an icon should you want to.
Step 4: Fix Your Photo's Flaws
(Notice that I said your photo’s flaws, not what you think are your personal flaws! This process will naturally minimize those.) Using the tools available in your software, fix the red-eye – if the photo has any. If your software provides it, fix the color by adjusting contrast, brightness, and hue. You can even heighten the color or contrast if you like. Don’t worry if the software you’re using doesn’t have a lot of these features, you can still get good results without doing all this. Save your cropped (and fixed) photo (as either jpg, png, or bmp) to a directory where you know you can find it again.
At this point, you might already like what you have and you can quit. Make sure that you re-size your photo down to a manageable size. Facebook limits you to a profile image that is no larger than 180×540 pixels. Don’t try upsizing your photo, though, as it will just look all smeary and blurry; that’s definitely NOT how you want people to see you! If your photo is too small to see clearly, then read on for how to vectorize it. A vector picture can be easily upsized without ruining it. Besides, by vectorizing your photo you will be able to change it to complement a certain color scheme and also be able to get a variety of images to use.
Step 5: Import Into Inkscape
Open Inkscape. (I assume you’ve managed to download and install it without my help.) My version of Inkscape opens up in a small window, so maximize it. Then click on “File”, then on “Import”, and navigate to where you placed your cropped image and select it. Then click on “Open”. This should bring your image onto Inkscape’s blank canvas. Notice that you can move the imported picture around, and even re-size it, but resist the urge!Next, you should change Inkscape’s canvas size, especially if the image that you imported is very small. Click on “File”, and “Document properties”. This will open up a small window called the Document Properties box. Click on the button that says “Fit page to selection”. Close the Document Properties dialog box. Click on “View”, then on “Zoom”, and then select “Page”. This will automatically size your view so that you see your image squarely on the screen.
Step 6: Vectorizing: the First Part
Click on “Path”, and then “Trace bitmap”. A dialog box will open. This dialog box has two sections (ignore the “Options” tab). In the Multiple Scans section, select colors, and pick a number in the “Scans” box. I went with 8. If you have too few, the picture will not have any details. If you have too many, the resultant set of images will be hard to sort out. I recommend no fewer than 6, and no more than 10 scans, but you can experiment. Make sure that the “Smooth” and the “Stack scans” are also checked.
Click on the “Update” button, and you will soon see an example of the result. (If you have a complicated image, this might take a while.) You can change the number of scans and click on “Update” again to see how your images changes.
Click “Okay”, and wait. Depending on the size and complexity of the image you’re manipulating, this might take a while. Eventually you will see your main image change.
Step 7: Vectorizing: the Second Step
Close the “Trace bitmap” dialog box. (Actually, you may leave it open, but it clutters up your screen, and chews up system resources. You can always open it again.)
What you now have is multiple traces of your original image superimposed over your original image. To separate the two, place your curser on the traced image, and click. You will see a crossed arrow appear, which means you can now slide the image sideways, off of the image underneath.
I recommend clicking the original image and deleting it, but you may also just slide it off to the side if you like. (Sometimes it’s good to keep the original as a reference.)
Start separating the layers off the traced image. Click twice on the traced image, and slide the curser down. You should see one of the layers slide away. Keep clicking on and sliding the traced images until you have it all separated. Clear them away from the background canvas.
Save this work, so that you can always close out of Inkscape and come back to this point. Or you can come back later and do other effects to your image.
At this point you have 8 or so separate vector images (or objects, as they’re also known). You can change their colors, and reassemble them. I recommend using only 3 or 4 of these images, and for your first time, just changing the colors slightly.
Select one of the traces, and right-click on it. A small dialog box opens up. Select “Fill and Stroke”. A new dialog box opens up. This will let you change the colors and the transparency of your selection. You can also add a little blur to the object, or add an outline and change the color and width of the outline stroke. I’m going to keep this simple and just lighten or darken the colors. I also added a little blur to some of the objects just to soften the edges a little.
Reassemble your picture using only about half of the traced objects. Be careful to align each object, otherwise your picture will start to look rather odd and jumbled up. Use the blank canvas edges as a guide for re-aligning your objects.
Once you’re happy with your colors, and the way you’ve assembled each of the individual objects, you should group them so that they don’t inadvertently slide apart. Using the pointer, draw a box around the outside of your image, keeping well away from the actual objects, as if you were going to mat and frame it. This lets you select all of the objects at once. Then click on “Object”, and then “Group”. Now you’ve created a single object out of the many. At this point, you may resize them to a size you might like for the ultimate end picture. Be careful not to distort the image all out of proportion, which is all too easy to do. (This is also a way to make yourself look a little thinner, but beware that you don’t completely misrepresent yourself.)
Step 8: Exporting Your Image
Inkscape’s natural format is “svg” which is the format for a vector graphic. The advantage of a vector graphic is that you can easily scale it up or down, and the image won’t blur unnaturally. Unfortunately, this format can’t be uploaded to any of your profile pages, and most browsers can’t display it. You’re going to have to export it.
Select your grouped vector images. Click on “File”, and then click on “Export”. A dialog box will open up. Inkscape only offers one format for export, which is “png”. (Not bitmap, as the dialog box implies.) Make sure you have the file name and directory set to what you want it to be. Also, make sure that you have the “Selection” button selected. (If you leave the "Drawing" button or the ""Page" button selected, you will end up with both objects in your final result.) Then click on “Export”.
Now you’ve finished vectorizing your image. Close out of Inkscape.
Step 9: Final Touches and Tips
Navigate to the directory where you exported the ‘png’ image out of Inkscape. Open it with your photo viewing software. (Here’s where you want your photo viewing software to be able to open ‘png’ files. This is one reason why I recommend using IrfanView.)
If you like the resulting image, you can leave it as is. Most social networking websites allow ‘png’ images to be uploaded. However, if a 'png" won't work, IrfanView will let you convert to a jpg.
If you’re like me, your hand wasn’t too steady when you assembled your individual objects in Inkscape, so the edges of your images are uneven. IrfanView will let you crop your images to give it smooth edges. Also, if your image isn’t the right size, it is simpler to resize using Irfanview. Finally, if you’re not entirely happy with your colors, IrfanView can let you make some adjustments.
If your reassembled images didn’t line up too well, it might not matter as long as at the end you downsize your resulting image. Otherwise, if you’re trying to make a big image, the mis-alignment will be very obvious.
This is a good way to do an “Andy Warhol” style pop art self-portrait, or a comic book style portrait.With this simplified and stylized version of your image, you can easily reduce it down to a very small icon, and use the image for Twitter, or on bulletin boards.
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