SiteGrinder 2: Name Layers, Get A Site

Stephen Yagielowicz
It's a dilemma faced by many users: Whether you are a photographer, amateur adult site operator, accomplished designer lacking in HTML knowledge or someone who despite your non-webmaster roots wants to put your work on the web — how do you do it?

While a variety of issues from hosting to FTP will face the neophyte traveling this path, having a working knowledge of Adobe's popular photo editing software, Photoshop, can make the process run much more smoothly.

Longmont, Colo.-based Media Lab Inc. boasts more than a decade of experience in turning Photoshop designs into interactive websites and Flash movies. Its award-winning multimedia design tools have been used in movies such as "X-Men 2," "Spiderman 2," "Air Force One," and "Armageddon," as well as to create some of the special effects seen at Disney World's EPCOT Center in Florida.

Now Media Lab's leading-edge technology is available to Photoshop users seeking an easy and effective way to turn their designs into fully-functional web pages through the company's SiteGrinder 2 website production plug-in, which enables ordinary designers and photographers to quickly and easily build interactive websites with image galleries, dynamic slideshows, contact forms, and more.

SiteGrinder makes use of a powerful but seldom-used Photoshop tool known as the "layer comps palette," which allows users to save and name document states, along with the position and visibility of each layer. Simply make your document look the way you want it to, and then make a layer comp — SiteGrinder will do the rest.

"The elegance of SiteGrinder's basic idea — that naming Photoshop layers is a great way to indicate the intended functions of those layers — produces an unusual combination of both power and simplicity," Tom Summerall, president of Media Lab, said. "Using SiteGrinder is a little like finally getting a TiVo after struggling with your VCR for 10 years!"

The key to the plug-ins' effectiveness is that it relies on one-word hints, such as "button" or "menu," that are used as the names of individual layers within the Photoshop design, allowing for intuitive, single-click web page generation.

"SiteGrinder's workflow is forgiving and organic, allowing for the kind of quick feedback loop and experimentation that creative designers are accustomed to and prefer," according to the company's website. "SiteGrinder 2 … adds an enormous array of features which vastly increase the variety of web elements users can generate without ever leaving the familiar environment of Photoshop."

These elements include styled and scrolling text, rollover buttons, pop-ups, multi-level menus and more. Graphics, text, or a mix of both, can be used to construct interactive web pages that are automatically linked together.

Media Lab offers two editions of SiteGrinder 2: Basic and Pro — both are available in Mac OS X and Windows versions — neither are limited to "newbie" users alone… While both are faster and provide better reporting, generate superior CSS and more intelligently merge graphics than did their predecessor application, SiteGrinder 1, there are distinct advantages to user's acquiring or upgrading to the SiteGrinder 2 Pro version.

"SiteGrinder 2 Basic … [makes] a standards-compliant web site that has a high degree of fidelity to the original Photoshop file," Chris Perkins, CEO of Media Lab, said. "But SiteGrinder 2 Pro goes places Photoshop never could and we start to treat the Photoshop document more like a guide and less like a frozen picture.

Moving away from the static world of Photoshop's 2-D imagery and into the interactive world of today's Internet landscape requires more than just the ability to cut slices and move photos around, however: a variety of different tools and helper applications are also needed if user's wish to move beyond gallery building and into website creation.

"There are no form creation tools in Photoshop, but with SiteGrinder 2 Pro you can make forms easily by just typing into a text field and putting underscores where you want to collect information," Perkins said. "SiteGrinder will [automatically] build the form from that description."

SiteGrinder 2 Pro offers other tools and industry-leading features as well. For example, the application not only automates advanced image gallery creation, but can also create animated Flash slideshows, using external multimedia files including video clips and Flash animations.

SiteGrinder 2 Pro designs easily integrate with external HTML files and according to the company "feature sophisticated support for background tiles and images [allowing for] vertically expanding pages that can expand to fit growing content."

SiteGrinder wasn't originally aimed at web designers, but targeted photographers — helping them to display their portfolios on their own website. In fact, many of its latest updates are intended to help photographers create better galleries; offering control over the layout and design — and freeing users from reliance on stock templates.

For example, SiteGrinder 2 Pro creates image galleries based upon a single-page design that uses layers to indicate where the background and other images, the thumbnails, and the navigation buttons should all appear. Thumbnails are automatically created and linked to the full-size image and can feature a wide variety of styles and metadata.

SiteGrinder is an intriguing tool that can allow non-programmers to create compelling, standards-compliant websites with a minimum of effort and a maximum of creativity.

You can find more information about SiteGrinder 2 or download a trial version of the program at Introductory pricing is $249 for the Pro edition and $129 for the Basic edition.