Miscellaneous Tips and Computer Usage

Before getting into broader concepts of how various programs in Digital Arts work there are a few things about the way computers and specific operating systems work that will greatly help later on.

These are typically system-specific things that will need to be adjusted for each computer. If you are in a classroom setting where you use a different computer every day it may or may not be worth it (though if your computer lab is using an account system the various settings should be saved for you).

Showing file extensions

In many operating systems the "extension" of a file is often hidden. What do we mean by that? If you look at a list of files in most fresh operating system installs you might see a list that looks like this...

  • homework
  • song
  • wallpaper

Under normal use this is ok. If you need to see the file "Type", for instance whether or not the file is an audio file or an image, it is usually listed under a "type" column. The problem with the "Type" column is that it doesn't always use the extension name. A photoshop file is simply referred to as a "Photoshop file" and an MP4 movie file might be referred to as an "MPEG-4 Movie".

There are times, especially in the programming and game development field, when you want to actually see the *real* file name which includes an "extension". The "extension" of a file is (typically) three letters or numbers that appear at the end of the file name and is seperated from the given name by a period. So the actual file name of the web page you may be working on is not "my_webpage" but "my_webpage.html".

The problem is that when working on a project like creating a web site you need to be able to write this full name of a file in the code itself. Writing just the name "wallpaper" will not be enough when doing any kind of programming. You need to be explicit in your references and actually type out "wallpaper.jpg".

Because of this you may want to activate the operating systems option to show extensions of the files in your folder like so...

  • homework.txt
  • song.mp3
  • wallpaper.jpg

This allows you to see the entire name of the file at a glance without the need of an extra column and allows you to double check the true name so that you can be sure you are making the correct reference.

Windows 7

To enable visible file extensions in Windows 7 follow these steps.

  1. In the start menu search for "folder options" and press Enter.
  2. A small window called "Folder Options" should appear. Left-Click on the "View" tab.
  3. Within the "Advanced settings" section uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types".
  4. Left-Click "Ok" to close the window.

File extensions should now be shown be default across the system.

Monospace VS Kerned fonts

Examine the two passages of text below and see if you can identify a difference between the two.


See how they are the same exact passages but are using different fonts that take up different amounts of space? In some cases, depending on the user, a so called "mono spaced" font might allow for easier reading.

A Monospaced font is any font where each character is exactly the same width.

They are typically useful to anyone who wants to arrange their text in a way where various values and entries line up vertically. It's almost like using a spreadsheet-like table layout with rows and columns without using an actual table of cells.

Here are a few fonts that, in the opinion of this author, are both monospace but fairly readable at the same time.

  • KaiTi
  • Letter Gothic Std
  • Lucida Console
  • NSimSun
  • Segoe UI Mono
  • SimHei

Driver installation

If you are going to be using some kind of hardware paripheral such as a drawing tablet or audio controller you may need to install what is referred to as a "driver". This is software that tells the peripheral how to talk to the computer you are using.

If you are in a classroom you will probably not have permission to install such software so you will need to confer with your instructor to see if any is needed.

If you are using a peripheral on your own then make sure you are following the instructions included with your device closely. There's nothing more depressing then buying an expensive piece of equipment and then finding out some time later that you haven't actually been getting the benefits of having said equipment.

Using tablets in Windows

One such piece of useful equipment is the drawing tablet. Even once a proper driver is installed for one there are quirks of some operating systems that can make it harder to use them.

In various version of Windows there are quirks that may or may not make your life a little bit harder when using a drawing tablet such as a Wacom bamboo or intuous. Windows tries to include built in support for touch devices, and they mean well, but more often then not it intrudes upon the use of the normal flow of digital painting.

Windows 7

In Windows 7 you may notice a "lag" or delay in response time when pressing the pen to the tablet or holding it down on the surface. To prevent this follow these steps.

  1. Within the start menu search for "Pen & Touch" option and open it (this option may only appear if a drawing tablet is currently plugged in).
  2. On the first tab, "Pen Options" select the "Press and hold" entry in the shown list and then click the "Settings" button.
  3. In the window that appears make sure "Enable press and hold for right-clicking" is unchecked and press "OK".
  4. Back in the main Pen and Touch window select the "Flicks" tab.
  5. Uncheck "Use flicks to perform common actions quickly and easily" at the top of this tab menu. Press "OK".

You should then be able to use your drawing tablet without interuption from the windows pen and touch driver.