Free visualization tools

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

This wiki provides a list of open source programs for graphics and data visualization. Karl Gude, a professor at Michigan State University and former Newsweek graphics chief, compiled the list and spoke about open-source software at the recent Society of News Design convention.


The oil spill on Flickr

June 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

BP has done one thing right. They host high-resolution photographs and diagrams of their plans for stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a Flickr Pro account, which allows them to display images as large as 20 megabytes. (When you go to the Flickr site, choose “original” size to get the full-resolution image.)

The Deepwater Horizon response page is here:

And their Flickr page is here:

These files have served as the base material for numerous news information graphics. Below are some examples from the Wall Street Journal:

iPad news apps

May 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

The iPad has sent many news graphics departments back to the drawing board as they adapt to an Adobe Flash-free environment. But which newsrooms have produced an iPad product that can compare with a dead-tree reading experience? Giovanni Calabro, writing for Fast Company, provides a head-to-head comparison of the iPad apps from USA Today, NPR, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Guess which one wins?

Quick reference page

February 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Alex Johnson, a project reporter at and Washington Post alum, maintains this page of search fields for common online reporting tools:

Definitely worth a bookmark.

White House floor plan

December 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Floor plans often make great infographic fodder. For instance, the Washington Post’s interactive White House corridors of power diagram provides a solid inside look at the Obama administration. (

Often a flat blueprint works fine, but sometimes you might want to take a more stylized approach. Using Illustrator’s 3D tools, you can make a quick-and-dirty extrusion of the blueprint’s walls (like in the White House example) without having to move into a raster 3D program.

Here is a decent tutorial on the Vector Tuts site that shows you how to make a simple 3D floor plan.

Some of the numbers the author uses for rotation angles don’t seem to match what he’s showing, but he presents the basic concepts clearly.

Lynda training library

July 28, 2009 § Leave a comment


If you’re lucky, your work or school pays for access to the online video training library. ( If not, you should consider paying for it out of pocket. The library holds hundreds of courses on graphics tools such as the Adobe Creative Suite, CSS, ActionScript, Light Room, Cinema4D and Excel.

I’ve spent hours on teaching myself Flash, Dreamweaver and extended Photoshop techniques. It’s $25 a month, and far more valuable than a cable TV subscription.

DeltaGraph vs. Illustrator charting tool

July 15, 2009 § Leave a comment


This is a pretty arcane topic, but I’ve chewed this over enough with colleagues (nobody agrees) that I sense it might interest at least a few visual journalists.

I prefer the Illustrator charting tool for bars, pies, sized circles and simple lines. I prefer Deltagraph for step charts and complex fever charts.

Here’s why:

Illustrator charting tool
Pros: It’s fast and easy to use, you can do the plotting of the chart and the aesthetic details all in one program. The charts are clean without a bunch of compound paths or other junk that needs to be deleted.
Cons: Will not import .xls files, sometimes chokes on big datasets or long numbers, few options for the tick marks and won’t read numbers as the category axis.

Pros: Works with big numbers and datasets, plays well with Excel data, has lots of flexibility on axis labeling and tick marks, makes just about any kind of chart
Cons: You need a separate design program to make the charts publication-ready, exports some cumbersome paths along with the chart that need to be removed, some functions are hard to figure out at first.

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