Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools are an emerging category of software made for manipulating collections of rich media files. Rich media file types can include photos, illustrations, video, audio, fonts, and desktop publishing files from applications such as Adobe Illustrator™, Photoshop™, InDesign™ or Quark XPress™.

DAM tools are fundamentally different in terms of work process, then DM (document management) tools. Informal systems for DM include VPN and NAS. DAM tools are more than a directory structure with group access. DAM tools add a host of capabilities to allow quick and efficient work with design, advertising, and marketing assets.

They are optimized for:

  • the use and manipulation of metadata including keywords
  • distributable and editable catalogs accessed with catalogue reader applications
  • automated tools for backup, transfer, file conversion
  • simple editing and comparing functions
  • presentation functions

Differences include the ability to manipulate metadata such as:

  • EXIF data (info from the camera about exposure, timing, etc.)
  • GIS data (e.g. GPS location coordinates)
  • comments
  • keywords
  • ratings

Keywords can be very useful for tracking the color, orientation or subject matter of photos. For example, keywords might identify staff members and other people in photos by name. If you then search for “Joe”, all the photos tagged as showing Joe are filtered and shown.

Catalogs have small file sizes, so it is easy to communicate online about sets of files. For example, this would make it practical to discuss a set of 100 images, each of 5MB size, with a telecommuter. (Users of the full application can distribute catalogs.)

Instead of downloading 500MB of images, or a thumbnail workaround of some kind, the telecommuter would download a catalogue of maybe 3MB. In this catalog he could make comments, groupings, ratings, etc. and send it back. It’s quick and efficient and not limited to broadband speed.

The catalogue can contain all the kinds of file types that designers regularly uses, including EPS, PS, PSD, PDF, font files, JPEG, MJPEG, SWF, FLA and many more, often covering more than 100 different format. No special plugins are required to view the catalog. This also means less work for the designers, because they don’t have to produce thumbnails or FPO files.

Because the originals are kept on file by the designers, they can be kept a safe and quick to easy way. Design files can be large, sometimes hundreds of MB. Keeping them on network storage taxes the network, and slows down the design workflow, unless there is a fast network such as gigabit ethernet in place.

Also, many catalogues can contain user-created groups. So, for example, a set of photos from a trip can be separated out into:

  • photos for a web slideshow
  • photos with model releases, and without trademark or copyright issues, to be used in advertising collateral
  • photos to be evaluated for use in a new product campaign

Groups can be used to produce digital “contact sheets”, slideshows, or automated processes such as file conversion or image resizing.

For more info see:

DAM Applications (I recommend MicroSoft Expression Media 2, mainly because of good project experience with it’s immediate predecessor, iView Media Pro.)

  • Microsoft Expression Media 2
  • Extensis Portfolio
  • Canto Cumulus
  • Fotoware FotoStation Pro