Test lab. (paint and draw programs for computers) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David English, Tony Roberts, Charles Idol, Steven Anzovin, Lee Noel Jr., Mark Minasi, William D. Harrel, Robert Bixby
As children, we learned first to finger-paint and then to draw simple figures. But as adults, we're embarrassed when we make those same stickfigure drawings, so we leave the painting and drawing to others. Fortunately, computer paint and draw programs make it easily than ever to acquire the skills needed to create professional-looking art. While you still need an understanding of the proper tools and techniques to create great works of art, computer programs can make it much easier to learn and experiment.
Draw programs store their images as lines and curves (unlike paint programs, which store images as thousands of dots). Even though you see a draw image on the screen as dots, the image is really a series of commands. A horizontal line is simply a command for the program to plot a line from point A to point B.
Because paint programs are dot based, they're resolution dependent. A 72-dpi (dots per inch) paint image will print at 72 dpi, even when printed on a 300-dpi printer. Because draw programs are command based, they're resolution independent. When printed on a high-resolution printer, a line will automatically include any extra dots that fall between the two plotted points, For this reason, a 72-dpi draw image will print at 2400 dpi on a 2400-dpi printer.
Paint programs are your best choice if you work with scanners and photorealistic images. Draw programs are best if the form of the image is more complex than its color or if you plan to print at high resolutions. For the best of both worlds, you might look for one of the draw packages that include autotrace programs. It will let you convert bitmapped paint images into line-based draw images. As you might expect, autotrace programs work best with paint images, such as icons and clip art, that include simple, easily described forms.
Unlike paint programs, most draw programs allow easy manipulation of shapes (you simply grab an object's outline and pull it), grouping and ungrouping of objects (for global special effects), and elaborate type effects (including the ability to align text to a path). Most draw programs also include a generous selection of clip art and typefaces.
This month's Test Lab features five industrial-strength draw programs (Aldus FreeHand 3.1, Arts & Letters Graphics Editor 3.1, CoreIDRAW! 2.01, Harvard Draw for Windows 1.0, and Designer 3.1) and two bargain-basement draw programs (Arts & Letters Apprentice 1.0 and Windows Draw! 3.0). If you have a 386SX or faster machine and work with technical drawings, illustrations, or object-based graphics, any of the five high-end programs should suit you. If you're new to the area and just want to experiment, you'll find that the two lower-priced programs have most of the features of their higher-priced cousins. Whether you're a professional illustrator or a weekend wannabe, this current crop of draw programs offers a wealth of powerful features. But don't be intimidated by the features. Remember to put your ego on hold, and you'll soon become a starry-eyed kid again. DAVID ENGLISH
ALDUS FREEHAND 3.1
Wrap up nearly everything you can imagine in a draw program, bundle it in an interface that looks like PageMaker, and you have Aldus FreeHand 3.1 for the PC.
FreeHand, venerable Macintosh illustration software, finally makes its PC debut, and the program is as comfortable to use as any software of its kind that I've seen. But I'm a regular user of other Aldus products--PageMaker and Persuasion--so perhaps the family feeling contributes something to my affinity for FreeHand.
FreeHand provides the usual assortment of drawing tools plus a complement of line styles and patterns to dress things up. The freehand drawing tool includes an added twist-pressure sensitivity. Although designed for artists plugged into a pressure-sensitive digitizer, this feature has keyboard controls that allow it to work reasonably well on any PC. The idea is that the harder you press while drawing, the wider the resulting line. On a stock PC, you use the cursor keys to increase or decrease the weight of the line.
FreeHand also offers plenty of flexibility in the editing of shapes. With the pen tool, you draw by placing points, both curve points and corner points, which allows you to create any shape with a single tool. The curve, corner, and connector tools help you refine shapes. To join a straight path with a curved path, you can use the connector point tool.
The program allows you to combine separate elements into groups that can be moved and resized as a whole. Related to this, a very convenient feature permits you to select elements within a group and make changes or additions without ungrouping the set. There are also dozens of predesigned file and line styles, and there's ample opportunity to create styles of your own. One other handy tool is the knife. If you need an arc, you can use the knife to excise the appropriate segment from a circle or ellipse.
FreeHand comes packed with a copy of Adobe Type Manager 2.0, which allows the program to show off its text-handling prowess. Although Aldus says many text features will work with other text-management utilities, Adobe Type Manager is the only utility guaranteed to support all of FreeHand's type attributes.
The program is a whiz at placing text on a path, be it circle, arc, or freehand squiggle. Typographic controls include letter and word spacing as well as kerning. Characters are easily converted to paths manipulated as you please. You can enter text directly on the drawing or in a text dialog box, depending on your selection in the Preferences menu. A collection of preprogrammed text effects--fill and stroke, in-line, shadow, and zoom text--can produce startling results with little effort.
FreeHand offers myriad options for delivering artwork to other applications. It exports in a variety of formats including Al, EPS, EPS with TIF, TIF, and WMF. But a word of caution is in order: FreeHand uses the level 5 TIF format, which may not be understood by some of your applications. As you might expect, though, other Aldus products read the TIF and the EPS with TIF formats just fine.
You'll also have plenty of control when sending your finished art to the printer or the high-resolution imagesetter. The program includes a setting to change an illustration's flatness value, which can shorten printing time. FreeHand also provides control over screen angles and densities. Although more than adequate at producing line art and drawings for use in other programs, FreeHand is fully capable of intricate full-color work. One of the manuals in the document set is a guide to FreeHand and commercial printing. This short volume alerts FreeHand artists to issues such as color selection, trapping, separations, moires, screens, and bleeds.
The program's clip art selection is a bit of a letdown. Though the images number nearly 500, many of them are maps and flags of the world. Some of the symbols will prove useful, but I think the images of computers and printers will not. If you're a skillful enough artist to use all that this program offers, however, you won't need clip art. You'll create your own.
And that may define the target audience for this program--skillful artists. FreeHand is a complex and versatile design tool, and unless you know how to handle such a tool, it may be more than you need. FreeHand will do just fine doctoring up clip art images, but if that's all you need to do, using FreeHand may be akin to running an Indy car back and forth in the driveway. The program also places heavy demands on your computer. On a 386SX, you can get the job done, but you wouldn't want to work long at that pace. If your job depends on what you do with the program, plan to use a fast machine with plenty of memory to make your work bearable.
The original FreeHand for the PC was released in late 1991. Version 3.1 appeared just before the release of Windows 3.1. The new release ensured compatibility with the new Windows as well as adding such features as the pressure-sensitive drawing tool, automatic calculation of blend steps, custom magnification and reduction, commands to create color libraries, and improved exporting and printing capabilities.
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ARTS & LETTERS APPRENTICE 1.0
If the high price of draw software has kept you from getting the program you need, take a look at Arts & Letters Apprentice 1.0. This modestly priced package from Computer Support provides all but the fanciest tools.
To the casual artist like me, clip art is a vital feature of a draw program, and Apprentice offers a rich collection-more than 3000 clip art images in many categories. There are images for symbols, food and beverages, holidays and seasons, nature, people, cartoons, and maps, to name just a few. And the map library itself contains many symbols. You can bring up maps of the Eastern Hemisphere, Western Hemisphere, North America, and Europe. In further detail, you can have the individual European countries as well as the United States by region, time zone, and individual state. If you wish to portray contiguous states, call the individual symbols, and the Apprentice Align feature will paste them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Pulling up clip art images is impressively fast.
Charts are vital features of presentation documents, and Apprentice handles them very nicely. Click on Chart in the Draw menu, and the screen shows a spreadsheet grid. Enter your data by rows and columns, type in the labels and legends, and the task is done You can have as many as 12 rows and five columns. Choose from five types of charts--area, bar, line, pie, and point.
If you crave color, Apprentice has a wealth. In addition to its seven base colors, you can choose from 14 palettes, with eight or more shades to a palette. The palettes are cleverly designed. For instance, one is for people, with shades for skin, hair, and eye color. Another is for wood, with shades of mahogany, pine, walnut, and so forth. If this abundance fails to meet your taste, you can mix your own colors.
You'll probably want some text with your artwork and charts. Apprentice includes 26 typefaces, scalable from 4 to 3200 points. Choose the style (normal, bold, italic), the spacing of words and letters, the kerning, the aspect ratio, and the fill, A helpful preview feature shows you a sample of the typeface as you browse. If you prefer other fonts, you can choose any which have been downloaded to your printer. Create striking effects by binding text to a shape, either a free-form one or one chosen from the shape library. The text then follows the curve, however convoluted.
Maybe you prefer to create your own art forms. Apprentice provides you with powerful tools for this purpose. When you draw a curved line, the program smooths the figure by calculating the number of Bezier segments (mathematical representations) in the curve and marking each segment with a control point. You can edit the curve by manipulating the control points and can even add new control points and zoom in for fine adjustments. My sketched figures usually bear only faint resemblance to what I have in mind. With the Apprentice editing tools, my efforts are improved remarkably.
You can manipulate objects--text, clip art, or free-form--in all sorts of ways. Move them around on the page, stretch or shrink them, skew them, flip them horizontally or vertically, rotate them, align them, or do just about anything you please. Moreover, these operations are convenient and fast.
When your work is finished and you're happy with the picture on your screen, what do you do with it? Apprentice lets you output to your printer, with control of orientation, size, and margins. You can print to a file for later use with another printer, such as a color printer, if you don't happen to have one of your own. With the Export option, you create a graphics file which can be used with other programs such as word processors. Apprentice supports seven export formats, including the popular TIF and WordPerfect's WPG. I exported a number of images to WordPerfect and was pleased with the results as well as with how quickly I managed to create the export file.
A high-quality program, Apprentice deserves better documentation. I felt that I had to work hard to find information in the user's guide, and the Clip Art Handbook, though accurate on the whole, seems to be out of touch with the program in a few cases. What appears in the handbook is not necessarily what you'll find in the library.
Apprentice is not capable of the fancy operations, such as warp and perspective, typeface editing, and bitmap image enhancement. But it can do just about everything the average user wishes. I am impressed with the speed and power of the program, and I prefer it to CoreIDRAW!. At a street price of about $100, it's a real bargain.
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ARTS & LETTERS GRAPHICS EDITOR 3.1
Maximum graphic impact with minimum effort--that's the goal of any draw program. A difficult goal, to be sure, it requires the program to walk a fine line between being easy enough for the novice and being powerful enough for the working artist who knows the ropes. Arts & Letters Graphics Editor 3.1 is one program that achieves that goal.
Graphics Editor abounds in extras that make design easier for nonartists and professionals alike. First among these is the huge 5000-image clip art collection, which provides pictures of everything under the sun: borders, arrows, geometric shapes, people, faces, animals, airplanes and other modes of transportation, computers, signs and symbols, cartoons, maps of every state and country, and much more. Most of the pictures are high-quality line art; the cartoons and Japanese flags are dispensable, but they constitute only a small fraction of the total. With such a wealth of images, you might never have to draw anything yourself; at least, you probably won't have to invest in another clip art collection. Graphics Editor also includes 80 scalable typefaces, with versions of Helvetica, Times Roman, and other popular fonts. If your type requirements aren't too demanding, you probably won't have to buy any more fonts, either.
Another invaluable ease-of-use feature is Graphics Editor's 18 defined color palettes, with each color named and tagged for a specific kind of image. There's a set of colors for eyes, hair, and skin; another for building materials; a third for food; and so on. Defined palettes will save you plenty of time because they eliminate the hassle of finding just the right colors and ensure that colors are always used in a consistent way, no matter who creates the art.
But Graphics Editor is not a "dumbled-down" draw program by any means. The tools provided to edit lines and curves are as complete as any I've seen in any other draw program.
Text and draw objects can be warped in hundreds of ways and moved one-hundredth of an inch in any direction by entering fractions into a dialog box. Text can be bent along any free-form or regular curve, and the program can also edit the outlines of Adobe Type 1 PostScript fonts, so you can modify existing fonts to suit your needs. Using an autotrace feature, you can convert scans into editable line drawings. You can work with 16- and 24-bit images even if you don't have a true-color graphics adapter (all the colors won't appear onscreen, but all color information will be retained in the file).
Finally, Graphics Editor performs spot and process color separations for offset printing, with full control of screen angle and frequency and undercolor removal. Professional artists won't be disappointed with what this full-featured program can do.
The excellent manuals document every feature. Clear tutorials get right to the point for users who want to jump in and create their first charts and posters. You will have to look in the user's guide to get started with editing, but that won't take long, and you can ignore the more advanced features until you need thm. Technical support is free to registered users.
Working with multiple graphics file formats is a daily chore for most computer artists, so a graphics program must handle file import and export smoothly. In this area, Graphics Editor could use some refinement. Of the most common graphics file formats (TIF, GIF, TARGA, PCX, and EPS), only TIF files can be imported, and only TIF and EPS files can be exported from within the program. All other file conversions to and from Graphics Editor's native GED file format must be performed through a separate translator utility called Decipher, Powerful and simple to use, Decipher is quite a capable image-processing program as well as a translator. However, having to leave the main program and go to Decipher can slow your work. I'd prefer being able to import and export all the common file formats from within Graphics Editor itself, using the Import and Export menu options.
Usually, I use a Mac to do illustrations and then import them into PC documents, but after using Graphics Editor, I began to think twice about that practice. Graphics Editor has the advanced features that professional artists demand and the extras that simplify design for nonartists. As a general-purpose draw program, it's as good as ny on the market today.
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Put simply, CorelDRAW! 2.01 is a small package into which clever Canadians have crammed almost every conceivable tool for design and illustration.
It consists of four programs with supporting fonts and clip art. The centerpiece is CorelDRAW! itself, a leading PC illustration program, but let's quickly survey the satellite programs. One is Mosaic, a visual file selector that organizes artwork based on miniature editions of the art itself. CorelTRACE!, an autotracing program, converts bitmaps into modifiable draw objects. WFN BOSS is a powerful utility that can convert most major commercial fonts into CorelDRAW!'s WFN font format. You can also transform WFN fonts into Adobe Type 1 fonts for use in other software. Or you can create original fonts within CorelDRAW!; these, too, can be modified in WFN BOSS.
CorelDRAW!'s tools for drawing curves are the fastest I've used. Editing control points on curves is tedious in most programs. Double-clicking on a node in CoreIDRAW! pops up a button palette from which any node attribute can be selected with one mouse click, simultaneously adjusting the node and removing the palette.
This streamlined approach is reflected throughout. The toolbox contains only nine tools, making program functions easy to comprehend and learn. Through flyout (horizontal) tool strips and menu and dialog box choices, the Spartan toolbox offers rapid access to the program's depths. Extrusion, envelope, and perspective editing are just three examples of this deeper power. With them, you can strap an object onto a stretchable surface; twist, pull, and distort it; and then project the result into three dimensions. It's that easy.
CoreIDRAW! deals with type ingeniously. All its fonts are curves, transformable with any modification tool. Use kerning, tracking, and leading with this kind of text simply by dragging handles on chunks of text or individual letters. It's fast and precise, so users can concentrate on how type looks, rather than worrying about dialog boxes or menu choices. For completed illustrations, CoreIDRAW! offers a reversal of the widespread conversion of text into curves. If matching Adobe fonts are available in the printer, a click on the All Fonts Resident option quickly builds type directly from printer fonts,
CoreIDRAW! also supports what it calls paragraph text--small text that might follow a carefully designed large headline. Options include column formatting and export and import of copy. Significantly, CoreIDRAW! can merge external text into design work, just as you might use your word processor to fill in the blanks of a form letter with names and other information from another file. If you design a certificate for the local soccer team, for example, you can use names f rom your word processor or database to fill in the blanks on the certificates.
Other programs in this genre support a system of layers. Instead of merely allowing changes in objects' stacking order, as CoreIDRAW! does, they enable the user to create separate levels into which drawing components can be grouped. The stacking order of these layers can be changed, as can object order within each layer. Such layers may simplify the composition of complex drawings, but the trade-off is that confusion often moves from the screen into the designer's brain. Not one art staffer where I work uses layers on a regular basis. I prefer CoreIDRAW!'s technique of highlighting objects under active editing.
CoreIDRAW! isn't ca able of direct editing in full-color preview, but I've never seen any software speedy enough to allow realtime color editing of an illustration. You can be glad of the minimal discipline CoreIDRAW! imposes by restricting work to a wireframe view, Because you edit the outline display and update the colored preview only when desired, you're hours closer to finished artwork.
CoreIDRAW! is at work in hundreds of thousands of real-world situations, and it's supported by an expert technical staff. I've used CoreIDRAW! for more than 21/2 years, and its high-quality output appears almost daily on the imagesetters where I work.
Keep in mind, however, that it's primarily an illustration and design program. Users who have overwhelming concerns about accurate dimensioning for work with a highly technical content may want to consider other packages. In my experience with CoreIDRAW!, the only problem has been a tendency for the program to create complex objects that don't print readily at high resolution (1270 dpi and above). This snag is not unique to CoreIDRAW!, and the current version includes many controls for dealing with it.
CoreIDRAW!'s user interface and operating methodology are deliberately sleek and streamlined. The approaches taken by other programs often prove ponderous and confusing, especially where these programs offer features that look better in advertising copy than in daily use. Further, Corel Systems' commitment to its product remains outstanding. The new CD-ROM version I tested for review contains enough additional material (52 new fonts and over 10,000 pieces of high-quality clip art) to support the most demanding user for years. CoreIDRAW! should be the first quill in any PC illustrator's inkwell. It will certainly be the most used.
LEE NOEL JR.
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"Get Designer." That's what everybody told me three years ago as I worked on a book. I needed something that was CAD-ish, but not exactly CAD, as CAD has traditionally lacked a few features that paint programs all have.
Well, at the time, Designer 1.0 ran on Windows 2.11, a painful platform if ever there was one. But Designer made the best possible use of it, and it has continued to do that as Windows has evolved. CoreIDRAW!, its major competitor, has always focused on flashy text effects, but personally, I've not had much use for that, which is perhaps one reason why I get along with Designer.
Until the latest release, Designer has never been very good at handling text--it's been slow and inflexible--but it's always been great at drawing things. Designer's power lies in letting you put a line just exactly where you want to. Designer 3.1 builds on that power, but it also addresses the text problems with the addition of Adobe Type Manager and Text Align. Adding ATM was an excellent move on Micrografx's part, as text handling is much faster than before, and the Adobe text-alignment program almost brings Designer's text-handling capabilities up to Corel's.
I've always liked Designer's large 54-page canvas, space enough to try out alternate versions of a diagram. Its zoom allows you to see the level of definition that you need to get a job done.
Technical drawing often involves moving objects around and aligning them with each other; here, Designer shines. You can designate any object a snap" point, making it quite easy in a diagram to draw new lines that connect exactly to existing ones. And if you need to place one object atop another, Designer allows you to fine-tune an object's position with the right mouse button--someone finally found a use for that thing! Along the same lines, Designer offers power in its abundance of object-selection tools.
One way to build a diagram of an object is to draw its parts and then assemble them as one unit. Block-selecting some items and not others has always been a problem with other draw programs. With Designer, you just give all of the desired components similar names, like PIECE01, PIECE02, and so on. Then, you just block-select PIECE*, and the deed is done. And once you've got your diagram built, just about any piece of software around should be able to use it, as Micrografx includes filters for PCX, TIF, CGM, and many more file formats. If you plan to use the export feature, however, stay away from built-in printer fonts like "lineprinter" on the Hewlett-Packard printers; they don't render well in bitmap forms.
As powerful as it is, Designer's not an unalloyed joy. It has always been plagued with bugs and instability, and Micrografx technical support is sometimes great and sometimes not so great.
I recently tried to export a drawing to a Windows Metafile format and got an Unrecoverable Application Error (UAE), so I called Micrografx. The tech-support person told me to reinstall Windows and Designer, so I did--a fairly lengthy process. The UAE persisted, so I called back and was told to remove Adobe Type Manager. I did that and still got UAEs. The third phone call connected me with a different tech-support person, one who knew the answer before I finished the question. "Yup," he said, "that's the old Windows Metafile problem. That's been around for quite some time. Here's a work-around. . . . ." I lost an entire day.
Keep in mind that you should save a drawing before trying anything new in Designer, because Designer's usual response to a low-memory condition is the UAE. And Designer is firmly rooted in two dimensions, so mechanical drawing with perspective is rough to do. That's a shame, as adding the simple ability to draw boxes with one or two common vanishing points would be fairly easy to do and would enhance Designer's drawing abilities.
Those problems aside, it's still the tool that I find best fits my hand. Give it (or its little brother, Windows Draw!) a try. The learning curve is a bit steeper than with less powerful programs, but the end result is well worth it.
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HARVARD DRAW FOR WINDOWS 1.0
Software Publishing Corporation (SPC) is certainly no stranger to computer graphics--its Harvard Graphics presentation program has been an industry leader for quite some time. Harvard Draw for Windows 1.0 is a welcome addition to the SPC family. It has many of the features of its competition (Arts & Letters, Designer, and CoreIDRAW!) and adds a few of its own.
During installation of the program, you have nearly complete control over which filters, fonts, and clip art are installed. Throughout the process, you get a running tally of required and available disk space. Harvard Draw shares filters and fonts--freeing up valuable hard disk real estate--with other SPC programs, such as the Windows version of Harvard Graphics.
The easy tutorial in Harvard Draw walks you through most of the program's features. As with the documentation for so many other draw programs, however, Harvard Draw's documentation falls short in its coverage of advanced topics, such as process color separations, knockouts, traps, and halftone screens. If you're unfamiliar with these prepress topics, you'll have to look elsewhere.
With Harvard Draw it is possible for you to view and edit multiple views of the same drawing, so seeing the overall effect of changes you've made in magnified view is much easier. You can add and edit text directly onscreen, without opening a separate dialog box. Harvard Draw's 16 levels of undo give you the freedom to experiment, without worrying about altering previous work. And, as you reverse actions, the Undo option on the Edit menu tells you which step you're about to undo next.
Many graphic artists and technical illustrators will appreciate the layering feature in Harvard Draw. Your drawings can contain as many as 99 layers, which can be named for easy selection, hidden to get them out of the way, and locked so that they cannot be moved or edited. You can copy attributes from one layer to another.
Most common text-manipulation features--such as fit to path, skew, and rotate--are supported by Harvard Draw, as are patterns, graduated fills, and radial fills. The radial fills dialog box allows you to assign shapes such as contours, circles, boxes, and multiple-point stars to fills. You'll find extensive control over the appearance of graduated and radial fills as well as support for up to 999 gradient steps. For further control of special effects, the program lets you designate which step to start and end fills on. Gradient step controls can also help avoid unsightly banding.
Harvard Draw comes with 12 preset color palettes of 150 colors each. You can modify existing palettes or create your own. Print drawings to any Windows-supported output device for color separations. Or Harvard Draw will automatically size them for printing on a slide recorder. However, Windows' printer drivers aren't always adequate when precision separations are called for. Unlike other programs in this class (FreeHand and Designer, for example), Harvard Draw doesn't provide enhanced Post-Script printing.
Although Windows' 16.7 million 24-bit colors are supported, Harvard Draw doesn't allow you to calibrate your monitor. Colors can vary greatly from system to system. To ensure that what you see on your monitor is as close as possible to what rolls out of the printer (or off the printing press), your display and software should be calibrated. Pantone Matching System (PMS), the printing industry standard for spot color, isn't supported, either. Any high-end draw program with a $600 price tag should support monitor calibration and PMS.
Perhaps unique to Harvard Draw is its script (or macro) language. With it you can automate time-consuming tasks, such as creating 3-D effects or assigning repetitive patterns and fills to objects. Macros are especially helpful for re-creating effects that you use often, without having to remember steps or wade through multiple dialog boxes.
One of my major concerns about this program is the limited supply of fonts and lack of support for type managers such as Adobe Type Manager or TrueType. Instead, Harvard Draw uses Bitstream's Speedo typefaces, which are somewhat limiting if all the fonts you own are from some other vendor, such as Adobe or Microsoft. Harvard Draw's font collection is passable, especially for a first version. But I would like to see more decorative fonts, such as Park Avenue or Dingbats. SPC says that it plans to add more type-faces in future versions, and support for type managers could also be in the works.
It's hard to beat SPC's technical support, which is free and readily available. When I called, my questions received prompt attention, and the technician knew Harvard Draw inside out. Font woes and other minor problems aside, Harvard Draw for Windows 1.0 is a competent program suitable to all but perhaps the most stringent prepress applications. It's particularly well suited for creating full-color drawings for slides or monitor screen shows.
WILLIAM D. HARREL
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WINDOWS DRAW! 3.0
If Windows Draw! 3.0 is intended as a low-end, easy-to-use version of Designer 3.1, a natural question would be, Why would someone not prefer to buy Designer? There are two legitimate reasons: The interface isn't as effective as it could be, and the price is a little high. There aren't many other things to complain about. Windows Draw!, however, offers a low price and has an interface anyone could love.
There's a trade-off in features, which might be significant, depending on how you use the product; but it's not surprising that Windows Draw! doesn't have a features list identical to that of a product that costs more than four times as much. You won't be able to trace bitmaps for use with a vector program or print color separations. Windows Draw! doesn't support layers o allow you to draw on a drawing face larger than a single page.
But it does offer just about everything else you could ask for in a vector program. It can blend one object into another by successive approximations. It can bind text to a curve, causing the text to follow any contour. You have access to all of the fonts available in Windows, and the text handling is WYSIWYG--the text appears right on the screen while you're typing. Most draw programs make you enter text in a dialog box and place it on the screen only when you click on the OK button.
Windows Draw! can import and export files in virtually every popular format: Micrografx's DRW, ZSoft's PCX, TIF, ANSI text, Windows Metafile, Adobe Illustrator, EPS, CGM, WordPerfect's WPG, and others.
You can name symbols so you can keep track of individual items by name rather than trying to remember what each individual component looks like. The interface has an onscreen palette. You can fill objects with a gradient, a bitmap (which you can edit), or a vector pattern. And there's a large clip art file, complete with a well-designed clip art manager that makes it easy to find the art you need at the moment. (Incidentally, the Windows Draw! clip art manager will soon be ported to Designer and Charisma.) The clip art is vector art, so you can alter it to suit your immediate needs.
You also can create pie graphs with a drawing tool that displays onscreen what the percentage of the current slice is as you're drawing it.
One of the strong selling points of this package is the interface. It places all of the tools onscreen in a logical way. If you want to draw, click on a pencil icon, which calls up a menu full of drawing tools at the top of the screen, including the canned shapes-rectangle, ellipse, and so on--as well as the pie chart tool, arcs, Bezier curves, and so on. In other words, the main icon bar is the key to a more detailed icon bar.
The palette is onscreen all the time (similar to CoreIDRAW!'s). The color selector is quick and easy to learn, allowing you to select fill and outline colors (as well as foreground and background colors for patterns and gradients) with two mouse clicks and no thinking, which means that it's miles beyond Designer.
Also, like Designer and unlike CoreIDRAW!, Windows Draw! has one screen that displays the drawing--not a drawing screen and a preview screen. This makes drawing much simpler in the Micrografx products.
If tracing weren't so important to me, I'd recommend Windows Draw! without hesitation. Even without tracing, though, the program is fun to use and will suit the needs of most people who need a vector program to produce text effects and drawings for use with a word processor or a desktop publishing program.
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