What’s on our home screens! [Roundtable]

Image result for What's on our home screens! [Roundtable]

One of the things that people love about Android is how easy it is to customize and personalize. The companies that make the phones we all love have no desire to restrict us to keep the design and style they use, and nobody cares how beautiful or gaudy we make things. Some even provide a theme engine to make it easy to mix things up with one tap.

Everyone does things a little differently, and that includes the staff here at Android Central. This week we’re going around the table so each of us can show how we do it, and of course, we want to see how you do it, too!

Andrew Martonik

For me, it all starts with Google Now Launcher — or, the stock launcher when using my Pixel. I don’t necessarily mind the stock launchers on most other phones, but when it comes to keeping things visually consistent between phones I like to toss Now Launcher on them all. I also really like having the Google Now feed just a swipe away.

I use a single home screen, with a large portion dedicated to the Google Calendar widget so I can always see what’s happening at a glance. I only use a couple of folders — primarily my “tools” folder that has things like Drive and Dropbox, travel apps and banking apps. The rest are single apps arranged from bottom to top in terms of how many times I use them.

Daniel Bader

I used to be ambivalent about setting up all of my phones the same way. I’d either use the default launcher and haphazardly create folders on my main screen, or I’d just leave the home screens alone and use the app drawer. Well, old me is disgusting.

These days, I have a Nova Launcher backup on Dropbox that I use for every new phone, and it’s amazing. I have my 15 most important apps on the home screen and a number of secondary important apps in folders on the screen to the right. Then, simple Google Calendar and Todoist widgets and I’m good to go.

Nova Launcher recently got even better with a recent beta update that added native Google Feed support. I’m in love.

As for icon packs, I messed around with a bunch of them before settling on the simplest: Pixel Icon Pack. This set of icons mimics what you’d find on the Google Pixel, round icons and all, and it’s great. I have yet to find an icon that’s not perfect.

I’ve experimented with other launchers, and on devices like the OnePlus 5, Google Pixel and Moto Z2 Play I tend not to change the launcher since I’m quite happy with the stock experience. Aside from Nova, however, I’m quite fond of Evie Launcher, which is new and still growing in popularity. My next go-to icon pack is Dives, which has a great selection of icons and is perfect for when I feel like something different.

Jen Karner


I don’t tend to change what’s on my home screen very often, primarily because once I find a setup that I like, I tend to stick with it. I installed a Beauty and the Beast theme a few months ago, and haven’t really touched or adjusted anything since.

I’ve got a widget up top for my music player, the weather, and a few groups of the apps I use most often. This includes the Google Suite, all of my messenger apps, and social media. I’ve also got it set up so that Google Play and my camera can both be launched with just the press of a button.



Marc Lagace

I don’t spend too much time thinking messing with themes or tweaking the app icons on my phone because I prefer a minimalist look and like to keep things simple. If I’m going to install my own launcher, it’s typically going to be Google Now. Currently, my home screen is quite bare, with just a few widgets (Spotify, Weather, and Google Search) and my home row of the stock apps that I rely on a daily basis.

I use the second screen to store all my most-used apps, and I’ve actually been testing out a new layout on the taller Galaxy S8. By default, new apps populate from the top-left corner down, but that’s quite the stretch for my thumb when I’m using the phone with just my right hand. So I determined the natural range of motion of my thumb and mapped my go-to apps within that grid. Also props to Samsung for their Game Launcher app, which keeps all my games in one place without cluttering the home screen.


Ara Wagoner

Well, my home screens change a lot for my many, many theming articles, but they’ve been especially chaotic of late as I deviate from my modus operandi of dock folders. I’ve been using dock folders for the last five years, and while they’ve worked wonders for me, I get that not everyone is onboard with them. So I’ve ditched the dock entirely and taken to have a small array of apps scattered about the home screen in various places depending on the theme.

While the icon layouts have changed a lot in the last month, my widgets have barely changed. I’m still in love with the themeability of Material Music Komponent for KWGT, which I can easily color match to my wallpaper using the hex codes extracted by Kolorette. 1Weather’s widgets might not be quite as themeable as KWGT, but they’re a hell of a lot easier to set up, and they link to my favorite weather app when I need to see forecasting outside the newscasts I direct. I will say that Google Search widgets have been making a comeback on my recent themes, both to remind me of the Google Now pane Nova Launcher Beta added and to help add another color pop on my screens.

Check out my many home screen themes from this month on Google Photos and tell me if there are any themes here you’d like to see instructions for on Android Central. I’ve also been experimenting with themes in Action Launcher and Evie Launcher to give my beloved Nova Launcher a break, so if you want theme instructions for another launcher, give me a shout!

Florence “my home screen is plain af” Ion

This is my home screen. It’s the stock Pixel launcher, with stock fonts and stock icons and everything is stock, stock, STOCK! I want none of your fancy graphics or crazy involved theming engines. All I want out of life is a simple home screen that’s easy to navigate.

I’ve been honestly working on my perfect home screen since the first day I brought home an Android smartphone. Do you remember how limiting iOS was/is/will always be? And how you could only display your icons in a grid across various screens? Why bother with all of that when you can do what you like with the Android interface? I certainly did what I like. I kept it simple.

My home screen life is pretty tame. I’ve got the most important apps in my world all at the top, including Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. There are also two small widgets provided by HDWidgets that help indicate when my next alarm is and when the sun will rise and set. Below that, I’ve shortcuts to all the important Google stuff; I’ve got Allo and Android Pay in the application dock, wedged right there between the stock camera app, the dialer, and Android Messages. The apps in this row are the ones I rely on most frequently and I’ll swap them out depending on where I’m at in life.

Jerry Hildenbrand

The BlackBerry KEYone and the launcher’s keyboard shortcuts mean I don’t need home screen icons.

Android 7.1.1 and its System UI Tuner means I don’t have to have a buttload of icons across my status bar. Except for that pesky VPN notification.

I put a clock and weather widget there so I know when the screen is on. The widgets are part of the Lines icon set, which is pretty close to the way old BBOS 7 themes looked.

Less is more, yo. I’m good like this.

Your turn

We all really want to check out how you do it.

Take a minute to dump a screenshot post in the AC Wallpapers, Ringtones, and Themes forum then kick us a link in the comments. We know some of y’all can do amazing stuff, so share it!


Rent in Portland is higher than average. But so is income

Image result for Rent in Portland is higher than average. But so is incomeRenters around Portland have been paying about 10 percent more than the national average as Bangor and Lewiston renters have seen costs drop through 2015.

That’s according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that measures purchasing power in metro areas around the country.

While goods and services generally cost less in Maine metro areas, rents varied widely. Bangor was about 10 percent below the national average and Lewiston was about 20 percent below, and dropping.


The bureau combines that cost data with income statistics, delivering a better sense of where in the country people stand to get the most bang for their buck.

While the data does compare costs to per capita income, it doesn’t provide a detailed look at housing or rental affordability.

[Here’s where to find the most affordable homes in Maine]

The figures show that while rental costs are dropping, purchasing power per resident around Bangor and Lewiston still hasn’t grown as quickly as in the Portland area since 2008.

The chart below shows short-term changes on the vertical axis and the longer-term change, from 2008 to 2015, on the horizontal axis. Maine’s metro areas are in blue.

Image result for Rent in Portland is higher than average. But so is income

The figures show Portland-area purchasing power has grown more since 2008, at 5.6 percent, but it still lags the national average of 7 percent growth.

As opposed to overall income figures, the per-capita measure controls in some way for differences in population growth across the metro areas.

By that measure, Portland is above-average nationally. Bangor and Lewiston were behind, but showed signs of catching up in 2015 as they grew faster during that period than Portland.


As a whole, Maine’s per capita real personal income grew 2.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, lagging the national average of 3.4 percent.


United Grommets to buy United Widgets

Image result for United Grommets to buy United Widgets

ver wondered why news of those “secretive” merger talks between United Grommets and United Widgets leaks out? Cass Business School has a theory, as Martin Waller explains.

Leaking information on mergers and acquisitions before any public announcement adds an extra $21 million to the average price at which that company is taken out, according to research by Cass and Intralinks published overnight, which gives United Grommets (and its advisers) good reason to ignore that Second World War advice to “keep mum”.

The research also reveals that ambitious financial journalists (and insider traders) should head to India, where 16.7 per cent of deals were leaked last year.


First 5 things you should do with the OnePlus 5

So you’ve taken the plunge and bought yourself a OnePlus 5: congratulations. Once you’re done running your hands over that lovely metal finish, what should you do next? As with most OnePlus phones, the OnePlus 5 has a lot to offer if you know where to look. So here are the first five things you should do with your new OnePlus 5 to get the most of out it.

Set up the fingerprint sensor

This one’s a gimme really. You’ll be prompted to set up the OnePlus 5 fingerprint scanner during initial setup, but if you skipped that step in your rush to have a play around the software, be sure to go back and register your digits.

The OnePlus 5 fingerprint scanner is crazy fast and accurate, making unlocking your phone a breeze. It’s even located in a logical place. The scratch-resistant ceramic scanner doubles as a home button when using the capacitive keys but can still be used to unlock your phone if you switch to on-screen navigation buttons.

Remember, each digit you register slows down the unlocking process, but you can always mix and match two different fingers in one fingerprint scan and (usually) not lose any accuracy. Give it a shot and if you don’t like the results, just register separate fingerprints, but only as many as you actually plan to use. Just go to Settings > Security & fingerprint > Add fingerprint.

Enable dark mode

Don’t forget that, unlike many Android phones, OnePlus has full support for a system-wide dark theme. The fact that the OnePlus 5 has an AMOLED screen means you should strongly consider switching to the dark theme as your default, right out of the box.

That’s because AMOLED displays can actually save some battery life by using dark backgrounds and themes. Black pixels on an OLED display are actually turned off, unlike black pixels on an LCD panel, which are still backlit. The fewer pixels requiring power, the longer your battery will last. Plus it looks the business because OLED screens have great contrast and inky blacks. Just go to Settings > Display > Theme > Default/light/dark.

Set up gestures

Off-screen gestures are nothing new, but, just like double tap to wake, they’re incredibly useful to know. It’s just that it can be pretty easy to forget they’re on your phone unless you’re actively using them. Learning all the shortcuts the OnePlus 5 offers doesn’t take long, but making use of them will really speed up your experience and add to your enjoyment.

Some are enabled by default, while others will need to be switched on or set up. There’s double tap to wake, a camera shortcut (just double press the power button), or you can draw letters when the screen is off to launch an app or start the flashlight. The best thing of all is that these are fully customizable, just go to Settings > Gestures to set them all set up.

Enable battery percentage in the status bar

Really. This is super useful because you can quickly glance at your status bar rather than having to take a guess or pull down the notifications shade to see what battery percentage you have left. Just head to Settings > Status bar > Show battery percentage.

Set vibration intensity setting

OnePlus’ previous phones had horrible vibration motors, but that has now been fixed in the OnePlus 5. Not only that but you now have the option to tweak the intensity to exactly how you like it (light/medium/strong) for incoming calls, notifications and for general interactions like typing on the keyboard or pressing the capacitive keys.

Remember that while the stronger the intensity of the vibration (and the more places it is used) the greater the drain on your battery, haptic feedback barely consumes any power. Just jump into Settings > Sound & vibration > Vibration intensity > Incoming call/notifications/vibrate on tap to set it up. Don’t forget to use the Alert Slider to quickly and easily switch between your various sound profiles too.

What’s the first thing you did with your OnePlus 5? What else should new owners do?


Substratum and its themes arrive on Samsung Galaxy S7 running Nougat

Substratum theming is now available on the Galaxy S7 running on Android 7.0 Nougat. What’s more is that root is not mandatory for Substratum to work, but note that the theme engine should be compatible with the ROM in concern. Before proceeding, you must remember that this is still beta testing and there will be bugs.

Before Substratum existed, themes were either obtained from apps on the Play Store or were part of older custom ROMs like CyanogenMod. Substratum is very unique in that, it lets you do whatever you want to the system UI. You can have three different themes installed on your device and you can select individual elements from each theme to show only what you like. That’s some serious customization power in your hands right there.

How to install Substratum and apply themes

    1. Start by installing the APK from here.
    2. You will need to download a theme from the Play Store, which also doesn’t rely on Android System or Theme-ready Google Apps as these are root specific.
    3. Once the theme is installed and ready, you will receive a notification on the same.
  1. Open Substratum and look for the theme. On some smartphones you will need to scroll down to find the button on the bottom-right to enable/install
  2. Tap on Install.
  3. To apply the theme, simply Reboot the app.

Read: Top 20 Substratum themes you can use

A word of caution: Android System and SystemUI elements should NOT be applied yet as they could be unstable and cause your device to crash.


Google updates kids animation app Toontastic 3D with new Cars 3 and Fruit Ninja themes

Earlier in the year, Google released the impressive Toontastic 3D. The digital storytelling app was a follow up to the original Toontastic game by educational developer LaunchPad Toys, which was acquired by Google in 2015. The app allows kids to draw and animate their own stories to create a 3D video. The budding directors can even narrate their creations and add built-in songs to the soundtrack before sharing. In the latest update, Google adds new characters and settings as part of two additional themes.

The first of the new themes is movie tie-in with the imminent Cars 3. The Disney/Pixar franchise is incredibly popular with young children, and they will surely relish the chance to create their own Cars story arcs. They’ll be able to animate their anthropomorphic hero Lightning McQeen, alongside new additions to the series such as Jackson Storm, Cruz Ramirez, and Miss Fritter, against the backdrop of two locations from the film: Florida 500 raceway and Thunder Hollow demolition derby.

A behind-the-scenes video tour of Pixar’s studios will also be included in the app, in a bid to show kids how real animated films are made and further stoke their interest in filmmaking. It’s worth noting that the Cars 3 theme will only be available for a limited time, up to September 30th.

The second set of new characters available in this Toontasic 3D update comes from melon-slicing game Fruit Ninja, or more specifically from the animated YouTube series Fruit Ninja Frenzy Force. You’ll be able to take control of protagonists such as Peng, Seb, Niya, and Ralph, leading them into battle against their nemesis, Clean Bee. It’s unclear how long the Fruit Ninja theme will be available, but I’d suggest making the most of it soon – just in case.

If you (or your kids) haven’t tried it yet, I’d thoroughly recommend the app. It really gets the balance right between fun and education. You can download or update to the latest version of Toontastic 3D via the Play Store link below, or grab it manually from APKMirror.


karacter Is A Colouring Box For Audio

Image result for karacter Is A Colouring Box For AudioPlugin Alliance has announced the availability of karacter,  a new plug-in which they describe as an “exacting emulation, by Brainworx of  elysia‘s discrete class-A stereo saturator namesake, known affectionately as ‘The Coloring Box’ because of the wondrous ways in which it fattens and adds sparkle to tracks.” Here’s a press release with the full details…

karacter is actually a bundle of two plugins — karacter mix and karacter master, the former providing a straightforward set of controls for treating mono and stereo tracks, while the more surgical latter lets users process full mixes, stereo stems, and subgroups, thanks to its independent left and right channel controls or, in MS Mode, mid and side channels. Choose either, and characterful sounds shine forth for sure, separating them from the plugin pack. After all, elysia has a well-deserved reputation for building pioneering products of quality and distinction that really represent a paradigm shift in studio processing; plugins bearing the manufacturer’s notable name capably convey those admirable attributes in digital form.

For both the karacter mix and karacter master plugins provide three different modes with which users can paint project tracks with colorful harmonics — hence that (“Coloring Box”) tagline thrust upon their hardware counterpart. Creatively, the standard saturation mode makes for fattening gently while heightening (odd) harmonics — heavenly when it comes to mastering and also for adding subtle size to pristine-sounding instruments such as acoustic guitars and grand pianos. FET Shred mode mimics the pleasing distortion of a driven tube amp, adding a relative boost to (even) harmonics that transform clinical-sounding electric guitar and bass tracks into bad boys! Turbo Boost mode — only available in FET Shred mode — should surely carry a warning! Why? Waging total harmonic destruction, it hard-clips signal tops like a weed whacker and sounds superb whether used for far- reaching processing of individual tracks or being tasked with severe sound design duties.

Days of yore required racks packed with outboard gear to achieve elusive and highly-desirable styles of tonal saturation. Such serious outlay is not necessarily needed today, thanks to karacter… choose the desired saturation mode, then push it harder or softer using the Drive control to dial in ideal amounts of beautiful-sounding sparkle or meat-grinding grit. For floor-rattling bass tracks, turn up karacter’s Color control counter-clockwise to simultaneously jack up the saturated signal’s bottom end while softening its highs. Conversely, clockwise rotation of the Color control could rough out the smooth edges of clean FM (Frequency Modulation) synth tracks to dirty things up. Up top, try raining musical mayhem down on drum overheads in MS Mode by applying Turbo Boost to the kick and snare in the mid channel while creating crystalline-sounding cymbals on the side channel. Or overdrive the total kit to take things to the extreme! Either way, whether working on full mixes, drum subgroups, or stringed instruments, karacter’s Mix control can blend colorful distortion with pristine input signal to sculpt a perfect balance of girth and sonic detail. Duly transform tracks into beauty or beast with karacter!

Cutting — or boosting! — to the chase: karacter creates a wonderful world of tremendous tones and timbres courtesy of a carefully chosen small set of controls that can completely change the character of a sound, alongside a stereo M/S (Mid-Side) control that opens up several possibilities for creative effects. The choice is in there… and all keeping elysia’s well-deserved reputation alive and kicking (ass) within a convenient, creative plugin workflow without treading on the toes of any other saturator software solution out there.

Pricing and Availability:
karacter is available for purchase — as an AAX Native & DSP-, AU-, VST2-, and VST3-supporting plugin for Mac OS X (10.8 through 10.12), Windows (7 through 10), and Pro Tools 10.3.10 (or higher) — exclusively from Plugin Alliance for $199.00 USD.

Note that the proprietary Plugin Alliance Installation Manager means users can select, download, and install only the products and formats needed for their system.


How to Use Reverb Plugins on Your Vocal Tracks

Image result for How to Use Reverb Plugins on Your Vocal TracksWe’ve all been there. Your band is tracking some cool new song you just wrote, and it’s coming together great: perfect groove, killer tones, clever ear–candy. Then you add those vocals tracks.

Suddenly, all you notice is that the voice sounds dull, lifeless, and strangely disconnected from the rest of the music. It’s not that the lyrics aren’t working or that your intonation is off. It’s just that, for some reason, those vocals don’t sound well–placed in the mix.

That’s usually right around the time your bandmate or co–producer turns to you and says something like, “It’s all good! Just needs a bunch of reverb!” That’s, well, half–right.

When deployed deftly, good old reverb is the perfect tool for gluing harmonies together or putting the vocal track in a simulated acoustic context.

But, there are very few times when you’ll want to soak your vocal tracks with the effect. Discretion is the name of the game with reverb. Your production will really benefit from understanding a few things about one of the oldest studio effects and how it remains so useful in today’s DAW–dominated world.

The Basics: What Reverb Does and Doesn’t Do

A lot of people will tell you that reverb makes vocals sound bigger, but that’s not really the case. Like natural reverb in a cave or warehouse, a reverb plugin makes a vocal sound like it’s in a space. The reason why reverb is so great on a sterile, dry voice recording is because it helps that vocal track sound like it wasn’t recorded in an isolation booth.

If anything, heavy reverb doesn’t make a vocal sound bigger, but farther away. After all, you’d hear more reverberation from someone farther down in a cave than someone standing right next to you.

Metric Halo’s HaloVerb Digital Reverb

So, if your issue is that the vocals you recorded sound oddly out in front of the band — a very common problem when the vocal is tracked in a different space, on a different day — then break out some basic reverb.

For that kind of issue, a simple plugin like Waves’ Renaissance Reverb or Metric Halo’s HaloVerb will do the job. Choose a size for the room you want to emulate, set a decay time that matches the sound of the other instruments in the mix, and slowly dial a wetter and wetter signal until the voice seems to meet the rest of the band in that imagined space.

If you’re looking to add more presence and power to a vocal performance however, go the opposite route and dial back the reverb.

Reverb has a law of diminishing returns. A little bit is usually called for, but adding more and more will eventually just cause your voice to sound overly glassy, getting swallowed up by the rest of the mix. Ergo, if your reverberated vocal part is sounding weak or unintelligible, dial back your room size, decay, and dry/wet settings to taste.


Types of Reverb

While the guiding conceptual principles I outlined apply to any type of reverb you choose to use, different types do have different characteristics. You’ll see these types of reverbs all over the plugin–verse, and knowing what to use and when to use it will lead to the best production decisions.

Plate Reverb

Plate reverb emulates one of the earliest techniques used to get the effect: shooting a recorded signal into an actual steel plate via a transducer and then re–recording the resulting metallic vibrations with a contact microphone. This generates a pleasantly dark, dense, and diffused timbre. The intensity and decay of the reverb directly relate to the size of the plate.

This makes them an excellent choice if you’re going for a thick, vintage tone with your vocals, or if you’re looking for that warmth–and–glue factor but aren’t particularly concerned about adding brightness. You want to be careful with plate reverbs since they add low–end frequencies and can muddy up your mix.

Spring Reverb

Spring reverb — based on a similarly old–school electro–mechanical technology — offers a much brighter and snappier tone. Like plate reverb emulating reverberation on a metal plate, spring reverb emulates reverberation across metal springs.

On most plugins, you can typically adjust the “tension” and “number” of springs being emulated, with very loose springs offering a messier sound and sloppier decay, and tighter springs offering that classic, higher–pitched “splash.”

Because they sound somewhat smaller than their plate cousins, spring reverbs are awesome for scenarios where you don’t want much pre–delay.

Spring reverbs play really well with delay effects. For the best of both worlds, try sending your lead vocal through a tight spring reverb and then into a longer delay. But, once again, be careful. That spring sound is very noticeable, and it can easily distract from the original dry signal if not implemented cautiously.

Room Simulation

Room reverbs, as you likely guessed, simulate rooms. Digital room reverbs will give you control over various room sizes and building materials, ranging from a symphony house to a narrow hall.

Eventide Reverb

Plugins such as the Eventide Reverb typically have settings for various tiled rooms, concrete halls, wooden gymnasiums, and so on. Each preset will make pre–delay time, amount of diffusion, and early reflections present in your reverb signal, and every other setting conform to the spatial and acoustic logic of the room selected.

These verbs will usually impart a more modern sound to your vocal than springs or plates, and they offer far and away the most control over every little parameter you might care to mess with.

Say your band tracked basics to your song in a wooden room that was roughly 20 by 25 feet area with a 12–foot ceiling that you don’t have access to anymore. Using your room simulator, you can basically “dial in” a simulation of that space for your vocal track, creating reflections that will match those produced by the band, thus unifying the performances.

You can also go the opposite route and take your vocal track in some surreal directions by tweaking the parameters to create tiny rooms with inordinately huge decay times. Experiment! That’s the beauty of the digital reverb in the DAW era: you can always play around and re–adjust those knobs again later.

Vox Verb in Practice

Once you play around with reverb enough, you’ll start to get a sense of how to use it functionally. A big part of the joy of reverb, at least once you understand how to use your favorite plugins, is using it creatively.

Try sending all of your vocal harmonies to a track with reverb wetness turned up high while putting a short, crisp reverb on the lead. This will help the harmonies blend and the main vocal pop.

Or maybe use almost no reverb at all during sparse, intimate verses of your song to get a more confessional tone, and then crank it up for a particularly psychedelic bridge or chorus. Suddenly, you’re making real choices about where the singer exists in relation to a song and its listener.

Appendix: A Few General Reverb Functions Explained

  • Wet/Dry or Reverb Level: Controls the ratio of original signal to processed signal.

  • Pre–delay: Controls the total elapsed time between the sounding of the dry and wet signals.

  • Decay Time: Controls the total time until that last reverb tail dies away.

  • Early Reflections: Controls the amount of discrete echoes present in your wet signal.

  • Diffusion: Pushes those discrete echoes closer together (smearing them) or farther apart (separating them).

  • Room Size: Controls the dimensions of a the room being simulated, which automatically adjusts the boominess and decay of your reverb sound on a more global level.

  • Modulation Depth: Varies the pitch of reverberated signal relative to the dry signal.

  • Modulation Rate: Varies how quickly those pitches oscillate in time.


How to Make Your 4K Footage Look Like It Was Shot in the 90s

Image result for How to Make Your 4K Footage Look Like It Was Shot in the 90sSo many photographers have recently been dipping their toes in the world of video. You can edit photos like a pro, but maybe you just can’t seem to figure out video editing; it’s very complex – like an onion, so many layers – and now you have to deal with sound design! If you’ve used presets for your photo editing, then you should definitely consider plugins for your video editing. Red Giant sent us a copy of their recently updated Universe 2.1. Jump on in and see what it’s all about.

I’ve always been a fan of Red Giant ever since I learned the Pen Tool in AfterEffects using Trapcode Suite. Later, in my first “real” job, we relied heavily on Magic Bullet, specifically Looks. So, when they sent us a copy, I was super excited to try out Universe 2.1. I only used a few plugins for this video, but it’s ridiculous how many more there are.

There are six new tools and two updates to the suite:

  • AV Club: Mimic the lo-fi, noisy text you find on ancient video tapes, old infomercials, and local access cable channel shows.
  • Luster: Give your text a slick 1980s retro look. Luster applies a metal sheen to text and includes a refraction-based bevel for a glassy simulated 3D look.
  • Title Motion: Create text and shapes and then instantly add dynamic animations that bring them on and off screen. It’s great for titles, lower thirds, callouts, and more.
  • Ecto: Create haunting, evolving titles with this glowing fractal-based effect, inspired by “Ghostbusters” and “Stranger Things.”
  • Long Shadow: Apply a colored, long shadow to text, logo, or shape, for both classic and modern motion design.
  • Glo Fi II: Give text an ethereal, moody look by instantly adding silky smooth, self-animating, fractal-based glow effects to titles. A simple UI makes it easy to apply evolving, organic glows.
  • Line: This update adds the ability to add text at the start and endpoint of a line.
  • Holomatrix II: This update includes blurred, chromatic distortions, a new strobe effect, and much more.

Holomatrix II is so much fun! While I was testing it out, Patrick suggested I drop the hologram of Tupac in the background, but we figured that would be infringing on copyright, so we went with Princess Leia instead. Not only is this plugin fun, it’s so, so easy. They give you 85 presets to choose from within the plugin (just inside of the Holomatrix II tool), or you can set the parameters yourself and control anything you want. So, I started with their default preset and was able to choose how much distortion, speed, flicker; again, you have total control.

It’s one of the reasons I love plugins: they help you save so much time when it comes to editing, and they also teach you more about the program. I taught myself AfterEffects watching YouTube tutorials and breaking down plugins, seeing what each effect did. When it comes to the type of videos most of us are going to edit, you really shouldn’t be afraid of trying basic AfterEffects!

For the ridiculous 90s montage Lee filmed, I used the VHS plugin, which again, I can’t reiterate how easy it was to use. While all of this editing was done inside Premiere Pro, Universe 2.1 can be used in most NLE programs as well, such as Final Cut X, but be sure to check out Red Giant’s Compatibility Page if you’re using a different program.

Filming and editing this video was so much fun. I was able to play around with a lot of their plugins, and you should too! Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to using these plugins: they will save you time in editing, but might add time when it comes to exporting.

Universe 2.1 is really affordable too if you’re someone who uses plugins for your work. They have a monthly subscription for $20 or a yearly for $99.

All in all, I really enjoyed messing around with these different plugins. I am going to try to work on some more videos to show you even more of the plugins. Also, let me know in the comments below if you would want a mini tutorial on how to use any specific plugin! If you’ve never tried Red Giant Plugins, at least give the free trial a go! I think you’ll be glad you did.


4 Content Marketing Hacks To Attract High Paying Freelance Clients

content marketing for freelancers

content marketing for freelancers

If you work online, you’ve probably heard of content marketing before. In just a few years, it’s become one of the most powerful tools companies use to attract new business. And it works! When you compare businesses that use content marketing to those who don’t, adopters have a nearly six times higher conversion rate than competitors.

Have you ever thought about using content marketing to attract new freelance clients? You should. Content marketing can do a lot to improve your online presence and help your business grow.

Here are four content marketing hacks to make it happen:

1. Solve your dream client’s problems

Content marketing is all about seeing things through the eyes of your customer. Instead of using paid advertisements around the web explaining how great you are as a freelancer, you want to focus in how your service solves your potential clients’ problems.

These are called “pain points” that you need to identify if you want to succeed with content marketing. Brainstorm issues that keep your target clients up at night. Say you’re a freelance writer. Your potential clients’ pain points might be:

  • They can’t blog frequently enough to grow their business.
  • They’re worried their writing is boring or lacks depth.
  • They don’t have time to figure out how to optimize their content for search engines.

These are all problems a freelance writer can help with! When you start creating your own content to market, cater it to addressing these needs, instead of focusing on yourself.

2. Use the power of search

Most professional freelancers have at least a static website set up to showcase their portfolio and offer some contact information. But there’s simply no way a 5-page site with no blog can compete with other freelance businesses in search results.

But if you’re going to start a blog for your content marketing strategy, you can take advantage of search engine optimization in the process. Every time you come up with a new blog post idea, find relevant long-tail keywords you can optimize it for. Use tools like KWfinder.com, Keywordtool.io or LongTailPro.com. Choose a keyword that has the right mix of the following:

  • Relevance – Does the keyword work well with what you’re writing about, and what your target audience is looking for?
  • Search Volume – Does the keyword get enough monthly searches to attract traffic to your site?
  • Competition – Is it possible to rank well for this keyword or are too many other pages targeting it?

Even if you’re not an SEO expert, it’s still really easy to optimize your posts. Just use a plugin like SEO by Yoast to analyze your content and show you where they keywords need to go.

3. Showcase your expertise

Content marketing is also a great opportunity to show your worth as a freelancer. Use your blogging as an opportunity to discuss and highlight your work.

If you’re a freelance graphic designer, for example, you might also share progress updates of your latest art on social media. The more engagement your work gets, the more reach you’ll have to potential freelance clients.

You can also show your expertise in a certain area by blogging about best practices. Say you’re an SEO expert. Your blog can be all about how to navigate on-page and technical SEO to rank well in search engines. This will attract people to your site who are interested in improving their SEO. Then you can put a call-to-action on your site asking them if they need help!

4. Don’t forget content promotion

Content marketing isn’t all about getting your pages to rank in search engines. In fact, SEO is just one platform of many that you should use to promote your content and attract traffic back to your site. I believe content marketing should be 20% content creation and 80% promotion.

At the most basic level, you’ll also want to share your content on all your social media profiles. But don’t stop there!

You should dig deeper into the internet by joining and engaging on relevant forums as well. When it makes sense, suggest some of your content to help answer people’s questions. The same goes with deeper social communities like Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, and relevant Twitter hashtag conversations.

Try to enlist the help of others to start promoting your content as well. Identify influential people in your industry (maybe they have a popular blog or a huge social following). If your content is something their audience would like, then reach out to them asking them to share.

There are so many possibilities for success when you use content marketing to attract new clients. Just cater your message to their needs and take advantage of every platform out there to reach your audience. Be consistent, and you can’t go wrong!

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