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From amateur to professional: Avatars

This series of blog posts endeavours to give tips to the freelance publishing world on quick, simple ways to give your online presence that professional edge, to make you really stand out from the crowd and be remembered by your contacts and potential clients.

This part covers the world of avatars; from selecting an appropriate one for your brand, to teaching you how to set up a Gravatar or Globally Recognised Avatar, to customise your comments on the majority of online blogs.

This is an avatar. What’s an Avatar?

Avatars are little profile pictures – from profile picture, to user pictures on your favourite forum -that accompany your comments around the internet whenever you appear. Personalising your avatar doesn’t take very long, and is a neat, quick little thing you can do online to give your presence that added touch of tech-savvy personality.

Choosing an avatar that suits you depends on the platform you are using it on. For social platforms, many writers use photos of themselves, and many artists use a favourite artwork, that embodies the bulk of their work and portrays their style. Like many personalisation options online, taking an avatar from amateur to professional is as simple as thinking about what you want to convey to your audience. The drunken photo from your last birthday may not be the best option!

Obvious drunken photos aside, the other types of avatar picture to steer away from are book covers, for a few reasons.

Firstly, size. The majority of avatars will display to users at somewhere between 50 x 50px, and 150 x 150px (on average). That is, between these two sizes (and mostly, the 50 x 50px size – you’ll be lucky to see them as large as 150 x 150px on anyone’s site):


The majority of book covers aren’t square, and contain more detail than can adequately fit into the restricted space. A book cover avatar, most of the time, is a wasted avatar – the book is cut off, and kind of illegible in its small size:


Secondly: a single book is not your brand. Avatars are about representing people, and while a book cover may be an appropriate profile picture for a page specifically dedicated to a specific book or series, it’s not who you are.


A question I’m commonly asked by people I build websites for is, “how did you get that little picture next to your comments?”

This little picture is called a gravatar, or “globally recognised avatar“.

My gravatar

For most people who comment on a blog, they end up with the (uninspiring) default grey profile picture next to their comment, that looks like this:

default avatar

“How do you customise this” people ask me? Because when you comment on someone’s blog, you’re not (usually) registering, you’re just entering your name, email address, maybe a website URL, and then commenting.

Even if the site offers registration, you still may not be given an option to customise this image within your profile settings, because gravatars don’t have anything to do with the specific website you are on – they appear on multiple websites that have nothing to do with each other.

Gravatars are stored against the email address you use when you comment. So, logically, there is a service that exists out there that allows you to link your email address to whatever gravatar you want to use. Whenever you comment on someone’s blog that uses gravatars (and, WordPress blogs do by default), your gravatar will automatically be used.

Setting up your Gravatar

The Gravatar system is owned by WordPress.com, so as such, obtaining one involves signing up (for free) with WordPress.com. Head to en.gravatar.com to begin the signup process (at the time of writing, you click the big, blue “Create your own Gravatar” button on the homepage).

Once you have signed up with WordPress.com for a gravatar, confirmed your account, and signed into Gravatar, you’ll be presented with the Manage Gravatars page that lets you associate images – gravatars – to the email address you signed up with.

Manage Gravatars

This will be the email address you use when you comment on someone’s post, and thus how the link between the two can exist.

Click “Add one by clicking here!” to add your first Gravatar, then either upload an image from your computer, link to an image on the internet already, or use your webcam to take a picture. However you choose to put your image into the system, once it has uploaded you will be presented with the cropping utility:


Drag the cropping window around until you’ve framed your gravatar in the way you want it to appear. Remember that gravatars will always display with a square aspect ratio, so if you uploaded a portrait or landscape photograph, or a book cover after all, you will lose some of the picture. When you are happy with the preview, select the “Crop and Finish!” button.

The last step is to choose a rating for your Gravatar. This is the way the service ensures that nothing explicit is served to G-rated blogs, for example. Once you click your image rating (G is fine for a regular photo), the process is complete, and you’ll be taken back to the original Manage Gravatars page, this time with your newly uploaded gravatar in place:


And that’s it! It can take a couple of hours, up to a couple of days, for your gravatar to start to be used automatically on websites, since it has to project itself out over the interwebs. But, once those few days have passed, your customised gravatar will be used automatically whenever you comment or post something on a website that uses gravatars, giving your online presence a nice little personal touch. It takes only minutes to set up, and sets you apart from all of the other commenters who all look like the same, boring little grey and white person.

It’s the little things

Personalisation of your online presence can involve as much or as little as you are comfortable doing. Pick a nice image to use as your online avatar – from a photograph of you in nice lighting flashing a winning smile, to a piece of artwork that represents your creativity – and give your online presence that little bit of added flair and personalisation.

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