I am often asked questions like, “Just what is an avatar?” “How do you make an avatar?”, or “My avatar doesn’t work at <name> forum, can you fix it for me?” I have decided to write this little tutorial, which I shall dub “more than you ever wanted to know about avatars” to alleviate the e-mail answering process, help you save time, and maybe even teach you a useless fact or two.
Select an option from the menu below and continue to that appropriate section. If you are lucky (or unlucky, who knows) I will take some time out soon to create a tutorial on the action creation process. Not all images in this tutorial are full-scale.
An avatar is a small image you (and other people) choose to represent yourself in certain online environments; this helps to define your identity inside an online community. The most common use of which is on forums. Because avatars are most commonly used in forums, I will now explain the basic elements of a posted message (or “post”).
Your avatar will appear next to your message in a fashion similar to the example above. Avatars are also used for other things (e.g. During a chat over AOL Instant Messenger, in some chat rooms, or even on a web site updates page.
Although many forums allow avatars, they tend to come with rules attached (I bet you aren’t surprised). The forum is not always capable of making you follow all the administrators’ rules, so it is important to check the forum information before proceeding (to make sure you don’t break them). Here are some common rules you can expect to see.
There are many high-quality avatars just waiting to be found on the Internet (and many more ugly ones), but if you are not familiar with search engines it can be a real trick. I have prepared a pre-defined search at Google for you to use (with some options from the advanced search to filter out some trash). You can add words to the search (you will see them in the Google search field) to narrow your search (e.g. ‘fantasy’, ‘dragon’, ‘”star wars”’) without fear of loosing the advanced settings. Before long you should be able to find what you are looking for.
You can also make your own avatar in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop (Adobe Elements for those of you that don’t want to pay more for professional capabilities) or PaintShop Pro, just remember to export the final image in .jpg or .gif format for proper display on the Internet (we may make an avatar creation tutorial in the future if people seem interested).
Here at Kongming’s Archives we also have a large collection of attractive avatars (or so I like to think), edited/created by my own hand for your viewing pleasure).
If you made your avatar yourself, found it on a site that does not allow remote linking (again, make sure you have permission to link before using someone else’s avatars, they have copyright control over things on their web page), or if the forum you want to post at does not allow avatar uploads, you will need to find a host.
There used to be many online services that allowed free upload of avatars and signature images, but because people have abused these services they aren’t found anymore (here is a Google search for you to double check). Failing that you have a few more options. You can (usually for a small fee) register with a web host specifically for images (here is another nifty Google search for this). If you know someone that has remote link enabled web space you can ask him or her. Sometimes there is someone at the forum that will do this for you, do not be afraid to ask. And just to save you the time, don’t ask us, we don’t swing that way.
Most free web space providers (e.g. Geocities, AngelFire) do not allow remote hosting and they use scripts to prevent dishonesty. If you see a broken image icon, or an ugly image that reads “AngelFire” on the forum, you know why.
Once you have your image online make sure you have the Internet address (e.g. http://address.com/image.jpg), you will need this to enable the image in a forum. To get this information from a web page right-click the image, open it in a new window, and copy the address from the browser, or right-click and select image properties. You can get the address from this output screen. Kongming’s Archives does not allow remote linking to images on the site, but you are welcome to upload them to your own Web space (see below for details).
To use an avatar in a forum the forum must know where it is. There are usually two ways to do this. At many forums you can upload your avatar directly from your hard drive (this is the best option). If that is not available you must upload your avatar to a web server on the Internet. If the avatar you want to use is on a server that allows remote linking to image files, you do not need to worry about this.
Depending on the forum these options may or may not be available. Furthermore, the ways in which you do this depend on the forum in question. I will use two major online forums as examples for these tutorials. One of which is vBulletin 2.x (online example) and the other is phpBB 2.x (online example). Other forums on the Internet function in a similar way (and usually have less features), the descriptions below should be adequate.
vBulletin is, basically, the best online PHP forum available on the Internet at the time of writing this. Unfortunately, it is very expensive and not much better than the free phpBB forum. For this reason you will not see it everywhere. Regardless, many of the best forums on the Internet use this software, so we will explain the avatar process in this forum.
Too change you avatar in vBulletin you must first register, this process is self-explanatory. Once you have registered you will have a profile. There will be an image or link (usually near the top of the page) that says “user cp” or “profile”. Click on this option to open your profile (you must be logged in).
You will see options along the top (e.g. “My vB Home”, “Edit Profile”, “Edit Options”), select the third one, “Edit Options”. At the bottom of this page you will see an option called “Avatar” with a link below that says “More Info…” (see image below).
This is an example of the avatar option at the bottom of the “Edit Options” menu. If you have already made an avatar available you will see it in the menu on this page, if not you will see nothing. You can click “More Info…” to learn more, or click the “Change Avatar” button to edit.
After you click the “Change Avatar” button, you will be taken another interface specifically made for changing your avatar. Here is another example image.
As you can see the Edit Avatar menu has a good amount of options. Depending on what the administrators have enabled you may or may not see all of these options, but we will present them all here, of course.
From top to bottom, we will explain the options available in this window.
There are two common problems that people encounter when uploading or linking to an image with vBulletin. If you upload an image and it tells you that the file is too large, but you know it was small enough while on the server, it is probably because you drag and dropped it from your browser window. When you do this most browsers add more information to the image (e.g. icon, preview) and this increases the file size. Go back to the image on the web site, right-click, and save it to your hard drive using this method. Upload the new save and it should work. Failing that, you will need to recompress it in a program like Adobe Photoshop (no tutorial available on this yet).
On some forums using specific versions of vBulletin a problem may manifest when trying to link to off site avatars. Rather than completing the avatar link you will get a message saying that the file you linked to was not a valid .jpg or .gif file, even though the file really is (I have had more than a few encounters with this annoying problem). Here is a sample screenshot of this error.
Sometimes you will get this error because the file you linked to or uploaded was not a valid .jpg or .gif file, just like it says (remember that changing a file extension does not actually change the file type). You can re-export these images using an image editor to make them .jpg or .gif files.
If you are certain that the image in question is a .jpg or .gif, and you are trying to enter a link to a remote avatar, you may have encountered a vBulletin bug. In this situation you will not be able to link to the external image, please contact a forum administrator for more options. If the forum has the ability to take uploads from your hard drive you should be able to upload the avatar this way. We will not be able to help you further with this problem. If the site owner is using a legitimate copy of vBulletin they should upgrade.
phpBB is a very well made, efficient, and relatively bug free forum that is nearly as good as vBulletin. Unlike vBulletin, phpBB is free and we recommend it to anyone that does not need mandatory technical support and can instead live with a forum of experts (at the phpBB website).
Too change you avatar in phpBB you must first register, this process is self-explanatory. Once you have registered you will have a profile. There will be an image with the text “Profile” (near the top of the page unless the site designer changed the default templates). Click on this option to open your profile (you must be logged in). At the bottom of your profile page you will see the avatar options, see example below.
As you can see the options for phpBB are much more basic than those presented by vBulletin. You are also less likely to encounter errors while trying to upload, but we will explain more about this below.
From top to bottom, we will explain the options available in this window.
phpBB does not always stop you from linking to an avatar that breaks the forum rules (described on this page, see the preview for an example). If you want to save the forum administrators work make sure you follow the rules carefully (otherwise they will contact you after you change your avatar to have you fix it, not the best start). Click here to see example avatar sizes.
Version 1.0. If you see any errors in this tutorial please report them to the Webmaster. This tutorial may not be duplicated or edited for display on other sites and is an original creation of Kongming’s Archives. Webmasters, please feel free to link to this page without permission (same with any other .html or .php files on this site).
July 27, 2009