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If you already have a computer that works well, you can skip the next step on the list: finding an appropriate computer.
One thing you'll learn quickly is that you might be inspired at an unpredictable time. Often times people have eight-hour a day jobs with set times to get to work and come home. As you learn design, chances are you won't have a set "eight hours a day" schedule. So you'll need a computer that you can take "on the go" so your true options are a notebook computer or a netbook.
A notebook computer (regular people call them laptops) is heavier than a netbook computer. A netbook's battery lasts almost twice a long on average. This means twice as much work time away from an electric outlet to get work done.
Buying a regular netbook would be a huge mistake as a designer. The typical netbook has a crammed keyboard (horrible for typing and coding) and a low-resolution 10-inch screen that's completely unacceptable for web design. If you decide you do want to get a netbook instead of a notebook, go for an 11 or 12-inch screen with a high resolution. (If your netbook description says 1024x600, move on, it's useless for web design.)
You should expect to spend $300 to $500 on a netbook or notebook computer. I need to repeat this: do not buy a netbook with a 1024x600 spec screen.
Internet access is a big part of learning to make web sites and publishing site you create. Dial-up Internet is almost always a bad choice for Internet access because it requires you buy an expensive landline telephone line.
You can access Wi-Fi Internet at a local library or cofee shop, or purchase Internet Access for your home, which can cost between $15 and $50 a month. You'll have to do your own research on that.
If you'd prefer to do your work on the go in the United States, you can buy a Virgin Mobile Wireless Adapter at Walmart that will allow your computer to log on anywhere there's a Virgin Mobile Cell Tower. Also, if you purchase the adapter AT walmart, you can get 1GB of monthly access for $20. (This is not available elsewhere. If you buy the Virgin Mobile adapter elsewhere, the $20 card will not work.)
A trusted web site is more than just text, so you're going to need to get some software to create your web site's graphics. This software is called image creation software.
Your three main choices are GIMP (free), Paint Shop Pro (under $60, sometimes $40 on sale) or Adobe Photoshop (over $500.)
If you go to school for web design, you'll always end up using Photoshop, which you can get at a discount through your college, or at an online bookshop.
I imagine that you're probably not an enrolled student, so GIMP or Paint Shop Pro may the be only options in your budget right now.
I designed for about three years when I was in high school with Paint Shop Pro so I can honestly recommend it to new designers. The graphics on this site are made with Paint Shop Pro.
The free GIMP package is an option if you are not able to purchase Paint Shop Pro, but I think GIMP is a program that's difficult for beginners to understand.
So, your basic needs are:
You'll also want to buy a USB drive of at least 4GB in size to back up your work.
You might want to consider one more purchase: a MagicJack phone line. For $20 per year, you get unlimited calls in the United States and Canada, and your own phone number. You can have the Google Voice account you set up in "Setting Up your Virutal Office" ring to the MagicJack. (Now you see why you don't need 500 minutes a month if you get a TracFone as I've suggested). Now, you can put your Google Voice number on the first set of business cards you make yourself.
You'll need to buy the MagicJack the first year for about $40, but that includes one year of service (normally $20). Every year after that, it'll be $20.
You should feel really lucky, when I started web design, a laptop was $2000, Paint Shop Pro was $100, and I had to pay $30 a month for a phone line, plus $15 a month for Internet Access!
You can now get started for $500 or less and a monthly cost of about $25. Fairly reasonable, right?
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