Preparing Image Visual Aids For Your Game

Last time, we talked about using character standees as visual aids in your game.  Well, I found out to my horror that it’s not all that easy to extract and prepare them, which is a pain.  Even images that are supposedly “player handouts” are often mixed in with text, rendered very small, or otherwise not very suitable (and though most of us have color printers now, who the heck has a color printer or even a scanner?).  And naturally, even if you’re rich and have the full Adobe Acrobat, most of the PDFs are password protected so you can’t just edit them and get stuff out (lame!).

Here’s the combination of free software and prep steps I use.  Don’t worry, I’m worthless when it comes to graphics stuff, I can’t make a good looking image to save my life.  But the manipulation you need to do here is extremely basic.

First, extract the images from the PDF.  I use the free program Some PDF Image Extractor.  It extracts everything, which is annoying – mixed in with the real images you’d like are a hundred images that are little bits of page decoration and whatnot.  But, it’s easy enough to delete them all.  Use Thumbnail view in Windows Explorer.

Now in many cases the extracted images will mostly be JPGs but there will be more annoying formats like PPM/PBM that Explorer thumbnail view, Picasa, etc. don’t understand.  Especially for player handouts, it seems.  I use the free program ImageMagick (available on Windows and Linux) to do bulk conversions.  “convert *.ppm pic-%d.jpg” converts all the ppms to sequentially numbered jpgs (I haven’t figured out how to do what should be the base case, which is just bulk convert every name.ppm into the same name.jpg without writing a loop in a script or something).

Oh, you’re not done yet.  A lot of the extracted images have black backgrounds.  Don’t know why.  I use the granddaddy of all free graphics programs, GIMP, to fix that.  It’s like Photoshop but free (available on Windows and Linux).  Anyway, you pull in an image that looks like this:

Void Images-500

And then you use the fuzzy select tool (magic wand) to select all the black and hit delete.  Play with the threshold to get as much of the black without getting any of the main image.  You may have to go select other black subregions (like the ones between clumps of hair in this case).  Clean up stray black pixels with the eraser.  Quickly you get:

Void Images-500Perfect.  I then slap them into Word, add a caption, and print.  I like to put it in landscape and use multiple columns, so I get 2-3 vertical strips when cut.

It’s a bit of work but generally you only have to do it once per adventure, and you get to reuse the NPCs a lot. Heck, once the Bestiary is out I’ll make one for each monster and those will get loads of use.

Sometimes you can do a quicker capture of one or two things simply by alt-print screening the Acrobat window, tossing into Microsoft Paint, and cleaning it up. You can also use the same general approach to make paper minis.

Anyway, power tips from the rogue’s gallery are welcome… This process is a bit involved and I bet there’s ways to do it in a more streamlined way.

I wish companies would provide galleries – a zip of jpegs, or at least an easy to consume PDF appendix.  All the beautiful art is getting seen only by the GM 90% of the time.  And having the image handouts, paper minis, etc. adds so much to the usefulness of the product.  And it’s not like there’s a reason to protect the stuff; you can get it if you want it but of course you’d expect to get in trouble if you reused it illegally in a product or whatever.


2 responses to “Preparing Image Visual Aids For Your Game

  1. If you have Acrobat, you can use the Touchup Object Tool (Tools -> Advanced Editing -> Touchup Object Tool) to bypass all of this (not sure if it works if the PDF is password protected).

    Find the image you’re looking for within the PDF. Delete everything else on the page. You should now have a white page with your image on it. You can reposition that image to the center of the page, then use Print Screen to take a screenshot of the page. Using Paint (or any other image editor), all you have to do is cut the picture out and paste it into its own image file. Done.

    You now have your image, white background and all, saved as its own file, and you didn’t have to mess with pixel-removal or Photoshop/GIMP.

  2. is as powerful as GIMP but far easier to use with a far shallower learning curve.

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