A beginner’s guide to making custom screensaver images

Update September 2012:

Unfortunately, Picnik was bought up by Google and shuttered, which is too bad. Here’s a list of seven Picnik alternatives. The only one from the list that I’ve tried is Pixlr.com, which seems to work pretty well, although some of the menu options aren’t very clear. To upload an image from your computer, click BROWSE. Then to desaturate your image, under “Adjustment” pick COLOR.

[Original post follows:]

There’s no reason, other than lack of time or interest, that you can’t put your own custom images on your Kindle. The “hard” part is hacking your Kindle in the first place (although that’s a fairly easy task too). After that, all you have to do is make a few modifications to your favorite images to get them ready for the Kindle screen limitations, then copy them over to your device.

Here are the basic things you need to know. These guidelines aren’t meant to be exhaustive, but rather a simplified set of instructions so you’re not overwhelmed.

  • You’ll want to resize your image to be 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall.
  • You can leave it in color, or if you want more control (and you have the image editing software to do it) you can convert it to grayscale and make further adjustments before saving the image.
  • You’ll want to save the image in the jpeg or png format. I prefer and recommend jpeg, because it usually produces smaller file sizes.

If you already have image editing software on your computer, you can make these adjustments yourself. If not, here are two alternatives that are web based:

If you break computers just by looking at them, try the fully-automated Kindle Screensaver Generator website. It’s free and has zero settings or menus to fiddle with, other than choosing which Kindle screen size you have. You simply find an acceptable image on your computer, upload it, and hit the button, and in usually less than a minute you’ll be prompted to download a new Kindle-ized version.

Yes, that is awesome–it’s free, it’s fast, and it doesn’t require that you know anything at all about image manipulation.

But of course it has drawbacks, and here are three. The first is that you’re uploading your private content to a third-party server. The second is that the output quality is somewhat low, as I show in a comparison at the bottom of this post. Finally, since this is a free service, it won’t accept images over 2 MB in size.

If you’ve got a fairly modern computer and a few minutes to kill, try the free online image editor Picnik.com. The service uses Flash to create a fairly robust image editor right in your web browser, no downloading or installation required. Even better, you don’t need an account to manipulate an image and save it back to your desktop.

Here’s my suggested workflow to create a Kindle-friendly image using Picnik:

First, Launch Picnik and load an image.

You’ll want to use the functions in these tabs in the order I’ve marked below. Note that you can skip #4 if you want–it’s an optional step to make the blacks and whites stronger if your image looks too gray.

1. RESIZE – Change the numbers in the two boxes so that the image is 600 pixels wide or 800 pixels tall. Make sure that whichever dimension you change, the other dimension stays over that 600 or 800 limit. In other words, if you change the height to 800 and the width automatically changes to 570, then abandon that and instead change the width to 600 (the height will then jump up to above 800, but we’ll take care of that in the next step).

Be sure to hit the OK button to apply your change.

2. CROP – Leave the “No constraints” pulldown menu alone, and before you change the dimensions in the text fields, drag the cropping overlay to the upper left corner. This will give it room to expand properly when you change the values. Now go up to the text fields and change the figures to 600 and 800. Reposition the overlay however you like and click OK.

3. COLORS – Drag the Saturation slider all the way to -100 and click OK.

4. EXPOSURE – Optional. If your image looks too flat–that is, all gray without many shadows or highlights–then you can slightly adjust these two sliders (most likely to the right by 5-15 points) to deepen and brighten the image. Remember to click OK when you’re happy with the results, or if you change your mind then just hit Cancel to abandon this and go to the final step.

5. SAVE – Choose the JPG format. I suggest a compression setting of 5 or 6. Be sure to rename it so that you don’t overwrite your original image!

I recommend Picnik over the all-in-one website I listed first because of the difference in output quality. Here’s a quick comparison of how the two services compress the final image–you can see that the Picnik version doesn’t create the unintentional banding effect the way the Generator website does.

(“Don’t Panic” Kindle photo: J├╝rgen Geuter (tante))

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