It seems that most taxidermists didn't know what the word "avatar" meant a month ago, and now everyone is clamoring to get one. I have offered some instructions to people who asked for my help by email and private messaging. It seems that a small tutorial would be helpful, especially after seeing some of the problems associated with converting a photo of yourself to an avatar. But first things first. What the heck is an avatar? An avatar is the little picture below your name on any post that you make. It also greets you at the top of the page when you log in to the Forums. It can be almost anything: a graphic, a photo, a logo, a design, a cartoon, or even an animation. You can change your avatar to something new at any time. When you change to a new avatar, all instances of the old avatar dissapear, and the new one replaces them in every post you have made in the past. Where can I get an avatar? You basically have three choices. You can use one of the taxidermy avatars we have pre-loaded into the system, you can search for a pre-existing avatar on the Internet, or you can create your own avatar from a personal photo. To use one of The Taxidermy Net's pre-loaded avatars, first login to the Forum and then click on the "PROFILE" button. Click on "Forum Profile Information" under "Modify Profile". Click on the top button: "Personalized Picture:" and choose a category from the list. Then you can click on the avatars in that category to preview them. Once you find an avatar you want to use, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on the "Change Profile" button. Your new avatar is now assigned to your profile throughout the Taxidermy Net Forum. To find a pre-existing avatar on the Internet, the possibilities are endless. Go to a search engine like www.google.com and type in a subject plus the word "avatar". Then click on "Image Search". For example, type "wolf avatar" in the image search box, and you will get close to 5,000 matches to look at. If you choose to use an avatar you found on the Internet, make sure that it is not copyrighted and you have permission to use it. If you right-click on the image, you may be able to save it on your computer. If the image is larger that 144 pixels in any dimension, you will have to change the image size as outlined below before you can use it. If you want to create your avatar from a personal photo, follow the steps below: How to make an avatar from your photo An avatar needs to be SMALL. Ideally, it should be from 72 pixels up to 120 pixels in either dimension. Here at the Taxidermy Net Forum, We will accept avatars up to 144 pixels square, but at this size some browsers only display a partial image with scroll bars underneath. You will need a photo-editing program to perform the following steps. If you purchased a digital camera or a scanner in the last few years, it probably came with a photo-editing program that you can use on your computer. If you don't have a photo-editing program, you can start a free account with www.photobucket.com to upload and edit your pictures. You can also resize a photo using the existing "Paint" program on your computer. Follow this link for instructions on how to do this: Tutorial: How to Reduce a Photo for the Web Here is the photo we will start with: As you can see, this is a pretty standard photo. I see a lot of people using photos like this, which are too large to be uploaded to the Taxidermy Net Forum, so they leave them on a different server (like photobucket.com) and specify the URL of the image to be their avatar. But something funny happens when they use a non-square image hosted elsewhere. The Taxidermy Net Forum will display the avatar at a maximum of 144 pixels wide by 144 pixels high. So if the image is horizontal (landscape mode), as this one is, the avatar will come out squashed side-to-side, making the subject skinny (hmm, may not be a bad idea on some folks). Conversely, if the image is vertical (portrait mode), the image will come out stretched side-to-side. The solution, if you MUST host a larger image on another server, and it is OVER 144 pixels in any dimension, you should crop the image to a perfect square. This will allow the correct aspect ratio to pe preserved. The first thing that everyone should do with any avatar image is to CROP it TIGHTLY. Be ruthless! Get rid of all unnecessary background above, below, and beside the subject. Remember, the avatar is only an inch or so wide, not much bigger than a postage stamp. You don't want to waste a lot of pixels on sky and grass. Here is the photo after cropping out the non essential elements: If you have the ability to adjust contrast, brightness and color, try to improve the image quality: Next, change the image size. For a small avatar, go about 72 pixels in the longest dimension. For a medium one, 100-110 pixels, and for a large one, go 120 up to 144. But remember that at 144 pixels, many people viewing the Forum will only see a partial picture with a scroll bar underneath. When changing the image size, make sure that you check the box to preserve the aspect ratio; otherwise you might squash or stretch the photo. I decided to make my avatar at 100 pixels square: A final step, if your software allows it, is to sharpen the photo once it has been reduced to the final size. In most photo-editing programs, this function is called "Unsharp Mask", or it might be called "Sharpen". If you can set the parameters, go with 70% to 90% amount, 0.70 to 0.90 pixels radius, and 7 to 9 threshhold. If you can't set the parameters, just go with the default settings. If the sharpening function doesn't improve your photo, or makes it look worse, just UNDO and forget it. The last thing to do is to save your cropped, reduced, and sharpened avatar image. Make sure that you use the SAVE AS... command, so you will not destroy your original high-resolution photograph. Your avatar should be saved as a .jpg file with at medium quality which is 40 to 50 (or 4 to 5 on some programs). Do not save it as high quality, as this file will be up to 10 times larger without any noticeable benefit. Once you have saved your avatar on your computer, you can upload it to the Taxidermy Net Forum. Login to the Forum, click on the PROFILE button. Click on "Forum Profile Information" under "Modify Profile" Choose "I will upload my own picture:" Click on the "Choose File" button. Navigate to your the directory where the file you just saved is located and select it. Click the "Change Profile" button at the bottom. Your new avatar is now on the Forum for all to see! Good luck!