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How to create animated cursors - part 2

Content
- Preface
- The cursor-editor
- The cursor size
- The cursor animation
- Import / export of frames / pictures      
- Color depth
- Hotspot
- Transparent color
- Inverted color
- Opacity
- Paint tools
- Jiffy - the cursor time        
- Preview
- Authors data
- Save cursor
- Cursor installation
- Final comment

COLOR DEPTH:     to top
At the beginning of the cursor creation process most cursor editors let you choose between several color depths for the upcoming cursor project. You have the choice between monochrome over 16 colors and 256 colors up to true color. This means that you can select, how many differnt colors you can use for painting the cursor.
new cursor settings
AX-Cursors is asking for several cursor settings
You select a more or less extensive color palette. With the 16 colors option you have 16 several colors for you cursor. Green, yellow, blue, red ... the standard colors, you know. With 256 colors you have some more shades. With true color you have thousands of blue shades, red shades and so on. As a standard for cursors drawn with one's own hand 256 colors should be sufficient (or are you interested in having the choice between 1.000 different blue, red or yellow shades?).
256 color palette
256 colors palette
In case you intend to import pictures, colorful graphics or animations it's certainly recommended to select the true color option since this will improve the quality of the final cursor enormous. The multitude of color shades results in more life-genuinly appearance and smooth transitions.
example gif
TrueColor cursor 
in Windows 98 
example gif
TrueColor cursor
in Windows NT
However, please note that true color cursor may cause problems on Windows NT computers in case they have parts of transparent color. The transparent area of a true color cursor appears in not transparent black color. More info about transparent color in another chapter later.

HOTSPOT:     to top
Hotspot
Hotspot = red pixel
Each cursor has a hotspot. That's the 1 pixel large point of a cursor "touching" the desktop / program surface, a button, textbox or something else when you click the mouse. All cursor editors place the hotspot in the frames top left pixel by default. You usually will find the hotspot in the tip of a pointer or arrow. Off course you can place the hotspot in any pixel of the 32 x 32 pixel cursor area. This is interesting for left-handed persons, if a pointer shows to the upper right corner and so they have to place the hotspot in the upper right corner. Likewise the hotspot can be set into the center of the cursor surface, if the cursor displays a target and you want the middle of the target be the hotspot.

TRANSPARENT COLOR:     to top
Besides all the nice colors available on the world cursor editors
transparent cursor
Transparent cursor
are equipped with a very useful and important additional color. It's the transparent color ! When you open a new frame in your cursor editor, the entire frame area is transparent as a standard setting. So you directly can start painting your cursor, for example an arrow. Because there is transparent color around the arrow you later -
blue color around
blue!
after installing the cursor on your computer - only will see the arrow and nothing around it. In case you would fill the area around the arrow with another color, for example blue, you later will see the arrow within a 32 x 32 pixel sized square of blue color.

If you paint false pixels by mistake, select transparent color and paint over the false parts - that's simple and effective too. You can use the cursor editors undo feature too, but in many cases this will undo more work steps than only the inadvertently painted pixels.

INVERSE COLOR:     to top
Apart from transparent color a second special color used
inverted color
Inverse cursor
in all cursor editors is called inverse color. Inverse color is comparable with transparent color - you can see the desktop through the inverse color areas but in contrast to transparent color areas where you see the original desktop color you here see all desktop colors inverse. For example black desktop color appears white in cursor areas filled with inverse color. Sounds cool, but you nevertheless should use this effect economically if you own Windows NT. Windows NT doesn't like inverse color and displays all transparent areas in boring black color as long as there is at least one inverse colored pixel somewhere in the cursor frame.

OPACITY:     to top
Opacity is the measure of how opaque or see-through a graphic or element is.
Opacity
Opacity
So the opacity setting specifies how to blend an element into the current background. An alpha channel provides specific transparency information for each individual pixel in an image. Each pixel has a value from 0 to 255 in the alpha channel. When the value in the alpha channel for a particular pixel is 0, that means that the pixel is 100% transparent. When the value is 255, the pixel is 100% opaque. So a value between 0 and 255 means that you can see the background through an element in foreground more or less clearly. In the latest cursor editors you can set a value for the cursors opacity on the desktop. But only 32-bit-cursors with alpha channel allow the use of the opacity feature - you have to select this cursor type while starting
cursor type 32-bit
a new cursor project with your cursor editor. And only Win 2000 or Win XP support the use of an alpha channel on the desktop and the use of opacity reduced cursors.
You can change the opacity of an entire cursor or only special parts or single pixels.

Summary - possible cursor fillings
 
normal
  normal
transparent cursor
transparent
opacity
low opacity
inverse color
inverse color

 

PAINT TOOLS:     to top
paint tools
Paint Tools
Most cursor editors only include a few basic drawing tools such as points, thin lines, thick lines, color filling, circles, squares, mirror effect and so on. A few editors include more failed drawing tools comparable with the tools in good graphic programs. In case the cursor editor tools don't come up to your demands it may could be a good solution to draw the cursor in your favourite graphic program - using professional effects and filters, for example photoshop filters - and after that import it / copy it into a new frame of your cursor project.

JIFFY - THE CURSOR TIME:     to top
OK, now we know that animated cursors are made up of several single frames which are lined up just like an animated cartoon. In all actual cursor editors you can select the time each single frame shall be displayed during the animation. The cursor editor software developers were very creative when they thought about this special display time unit. Almost all cursor editors are using a time unit called "Jiffy".
Time adjustment
Time adjustment in AX-Cursors
1 Jiffy corresponds to 1/60 second. Most movies and cartoons display 18 pictures in a second. So you normally should select a display time of about 3 or 4 Jiffies for each frame to come up with smooth animations. In most cursor editors you can select a display time for each frame seperately. For each frame you can select a display time between 1 and 999 Jiffies, so 999 Jiffies is the maximum amount. 999 Jiffies correspond to a time of about 17 seconds. In case you would like to interrupt an animation for a time more long than 17 seconds just line up as many frames (which identical contents) as you need and select 999 Jiffies for each of them. The cursor shall change its appearence only every minute for example ? Use four frames with same contents and select 999 Jiffies for each frame.

1 Jiffy   6 Jiffy   20 Jiffy
1 Jiffy   6 Jiffies   20 Jiffies
display time per frame
3 - 4 Jiffies are a good display time for a frame but sometimes you have to check out several settings to come up with best results. It always depends on the cursor style and the amount of frames in the animation sequence. Simply make your own experiences ... Many people don't like violently colored, flickering or jiggling cursors, so please always remember you sometimes can overdo things.

PREVIEW:     to top
Preview
Preview
Usually each cursor editor includes a little preview function where you can see at any time the actual status of your cursor in real time. By the way, independent of the cursor editors preview function there's a simple way to see a little cursor preview of every cursor file in windows explorer. In windows explorer just right-click the cursor file and select "Properties" in the appearing shortcut menu.

AUTHORS DATA:     to top
You have created a new cursor and you send it to friends or publish it on the internet.
Autorenangabe
So you enter cursor title and authors name
Maybe you spend several hours for working the cursor. Off course you are interested in a little tribute for all the work. Well, all cursor editors have a little feature where you can enter your name and a few more data such as description, webaddress, email-address or cursor name in two text boxes and this becomes included in the file information. You cannot see this data and your name in the cursor, on your desktop or in windows explorer, but the data are stored in the cursor file and you can see the information in very cursor editor available.

SAVE CURSOR:     to top
OK, some time all frames of the cursor sequence were painted and you have finished your new cursor project. Just save this new animated cursor as *.ani-file, a static cursor as *.cur-file. No question, off course you should save your cursor project from time to time during the entire working process, not only when you have finished it. Your computer may crash or the cursor editor may causes problems and it would be very annoying if your new cursor project get lost before completion because of that problems.

CURSOR INSTALLATION:     to top
OK, finally you want the new cursor running on your computer desktop. How do you change your normal windows cursors to the cursor you have created ?

Well, you have to install this cursor on your computer. Sounds difficult but no fear, in fact it's very easy. First: you don't install cursors by doubleclick on a cursor file in windows explorer or something else. In case you have installed a cursor editor on your computer, a doublecklick on a cursor file in windows explorer only will open the cursor editor and the cursor file is ready for working in the cursor editor. Neither does this cause the installation of the cursor nor does the cursor run on your desktop now.

First you have to store the cursor file in a folder of your choice. On principle you can install a cursor out of every directory on your computer. During the installation process windows opens a little file manager and as a standard setting it opens the cursors-subdirectory in your computers windows directory. There you directly can select a new cursor. So it's recommended to save new cursors in the windows/cursors subdirectory (the exact name of the windows directory depends on windows version and user input). Off course you can save cursor files in other directories too, then you have to change the directory in the little file manager first. You have to install animated cursors / cursors in Windows before you can use them. Copy the files to your choice of folder. Choose "Start / Settings / Control Panel / Mouse" and click on the "Pointer" tab. Windows 95 e.g. uses 14 several pointer types where you can select animated cursors for:

Normal SelectHelp Select Working in Background
BusyPrecision Select Text Select
HandwritingUnavailable Vertical Resize
Horizontal ResizeDiagonal Resize 1 Diagonal Resize 2
MoveAlternate Select

In Windows 98 and later windows versions there's an additional cursor for Link Select (windows and active desktop). Select a pointer, for example "Normal Select" or "Busy". Double-click on it. Then choose a cursor from your choice of folder. A single click will give you a preview in the bottom left corner. The animation is a little bit slow, but in reality the animated cursors run alot faster. Finally press "Open" and click "OK" to exit and confirm the animated cursor as your cursor.

You can install every new cursor the same way.
You can deinstall a cursor by installing a new cursor.

You can use own cursors on your webpage! More info here.

FINAL COMMENT:     to top
I think it's a good idea to download one of the cursor editors and put it to the acid-test. Most cursor editors are shareware you can check them out for several days and make yourself familiar with the production of cursors, I think this is sufficient for a first impression. If you find fun at the production of animated cursors it's your turn to buy the software and start your career as a cursor artist.

How to create an animated cursor - back to part 1

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