State of the art. (computer graphics software) (Column)
by Steven Anzovin
The rapprochement between IBM and Apple made big news a while back, and many observers believed that Apple got the best of that deal. But PC users, and especially PC artists, may be the biggest winners in this new world order.
One of the things that Macs have had for years now, and even Amigas are getting, is what's known as true color (also referred to by the number of bits it takes to describe the color of a pixel on the screen -- for instance, 24-bit color). That's the ability to work with 16.7 million colors on the screen at the same time to create lifelike graphics and photorealistic images. True color makes standard 256-color VGA look like a cheap cartoon. Can you get true color out of a stock 386? Not without spending $1,000-$2, 000 on an adapter. How many PC programs can take advantage of true color? A handful, most in poky Windows versions.
But the least expensive color Macintosh, the Mac LC, is capable of putting 32, 000 colors onscreen without any additional hardware (this is called high color by marketing types). A few high-color boards are appearing for the PC. And there are about 300 Mac programs that can handle true color with ease. Take painting programs, for example. King of the hill is Adobe PhotoShop (Adobe Systems, 1585 Charleston Road, P. O. Box 7900, Mountain View, California 94039; 415-961-4400; $899.95), eventually to be available for suitably equipped PCs. PhotoShop, the program that wins the most popularity contest among Mac artists, can do prodigious feats of true-color photo retouching.
PhotoShop is not an inexpensive program. But if you think all Mac software is just as exorbitantly priced -- and it often is--check out Expert Color Paint (available from TigerSoftware, 800 SW 37th Avenue, Coral Gables, Florida 33134; 800-666-2562, $35). This true-color paint program has maybe 60 percent of Adobe PhotoShop's functionality for one-sixteenth the street price. Combine Expert Color Paint with a Mac LC, and you have a graphics workstation capable of high color that costs less than any equivalent 386 solution.
Lots of artist trained in paints, watercolors, and other traditional art media -- it's probably accurate now to say oldfashioned art media -- won't use computers for graphics work because paint program tools are too different from the brush and canvas they're used to. And who can blame them? Graphics programs are universally unable to take advantage of the fluid arm-hand-eye skills of trained painter or draftsperson. Now, a new Mac program called Painter from Fractal Designs (510 Lighthouse, Suit 5, Pacific Grove, California 93950; 408-655-8800; $299) offers a pretty good simulation of traditional tools. You can choose a "paper" or "canvas" background for your paintings and then select from a variety of "brushes", "pastel," "crayons," and so on. As you paint, the brush actually gives the effect of being a real brush painting on real paper of a particular roughness and color. When you use a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet, Painter's brushes and chalks can even respond to delicate changes in pressure. A version of Painter has just been released for Windows.
The Mac even makes room for oddball efforts. A case in point is TextureSynth (from Pantechnicon, P.O. Box 738, Santa Cruz, California 95061; 408-427-1687; $149), the most addictive graphics program I've ever seen for any machine. You guessed it -- TextureSynth is a synthesizer for rolling your own custom textures for desktop publishing backgrounds, 3-D texture maps, and startupscreen wallpaper, It works much like a sound synthesizer -- just change the settings on the control panel to make new visual textures, which appear in an image window. In true color, TextureSynth can generate thousands of different textures. Part of the pleasure of this program is getting completely lost in jungles of bizarre texture effects -- waves of blue fur, maniacally busy vermillion stucco, or the pattern of sunligh glinting off lime Jell-O. I found using TextureSynth to be like a flashback to the Age of Aquarius. Maybe the IBM-Apple alliance will result in a new Summer of Love for PC artists.