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Bringing image manipulation to the masses

Bringing image manipulation to the masses

PhotoDraw 2000 won't steal many sales from professional photo editing programs like Adobe Systems' Photoshop or drawing packages, including Adobe Illustrator and Corel's CorelDraw, but that's exactly the point. Most business software users don't have the time to learn - or the design skills to use - multiple, complex packages. PhotoDraw 2000 treats this large potential audience to potent photo editing and illustration in one easy-to-use program.

Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 centres around menus that include both pictures and descriptions for each graphics tool. To get an idea of this sofware's scope, just consider the menu names that cover nine core areas: Text, Cut and Crop, Templates, Draw and Paint, Fill, Outline, Color, Touchup, and Effects.

For a sense of usability, I began my testing by looking at the photo touch-up area. Smart correction tools automatically removed red eye, dust, and scratches and also did a fine job of fixing problems with colour tint, brightness, and contrast. Other options, such as the clone tool, work on selective areas; I used this to quickly remove an unsightly shadow from a snapshot.

But for those without design training, multiple tools are of little value without decent starting material. PhotoDraw 2000's library CDs contain some 20,000 graphics and 300 business templates. These form an excellent foundation for, say, Web graphics, business flyers, and direct mail pieces.

Customising this content was fast and enjoyable because I applied special effects across different kinds of graphics - text, clip art, and photos - without even thinking about the type of object involved. For instance, I loaded a stock vector shape and made it appear hand-drawn by applying an artistic brush stroke. You can even substitute photographic images for lines and shapes, which makes for some interesting borders.

I next applied designer effects, like a photographic surface, to the text and distorted it with a bulge effect. With most other programs you would have to convert an object to a bitmap before attempting these tricks. You would also have to guess at how the final effect would look, a problem that PhotoDraw's previews feature eliminates.

Back on the photo side, I loaded an office image and added a neon glow - one of the designer effects - with one mouse click. The effects menu also offers quick access to Photoshop effect plug-ins such as MetaCreations' Kai's Power Tools. It's equally easy to capture images from scanners and digital cameras.

PhotoDraw includes traditional vector objects such as rectangles and ellipses (plus bezier curves). Moreover, you can make exciting objects from basic shapes by applying an extrusion.

Starting with a line drawing, I opened the 3D gallery and instantly turned the graphic into a dimensional design. Texture mapping quality is excellent. I easily worked slider controls to vary characteristics like extrusion depth, bevel style, lighting, and camera position.

In both this exercise and earlier tests, all objects remained live so I could go back and vary an effect or move different shapes around the layout at will.

One more detail that you won't have to sweat is which format to use when saving graphics. The Save for Use In Wizard asks whether you are producing a printed or Web page, lets you preview various quality settings, and saves the file in the appropriate format. However, for Web use, PhotoDraw does not slice up large illustrations nor build the underlying HTML code. To create finished pages, you have to assemble individual images with a Web editor like Microsoft FrontPage.

But for the majority of business graphics needs, PhotoDraw 2000 is up to the task. Its clear interface lets fly some elaborate special effects that would ordinarily require purchasing several programs - not to mention the art training needed to execute. PhotoDraw isolates users from knowing anything about different types of graphics files. And the included library provides a great starting point for many different types of designs.

The Bottom Line

Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000

Users can combine and apply special effects to photos, illustrations, and clip art; the software's tools help generate original illustrations.

Pros: Paint tools capture, retouch, manipulate digital images; can easily modify clip art shapes; no need to convert between file formats; more than 350 special effects; large library of vector and bitmap objects.

Cons: Lacks fine control of high-end offerings.

Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0.

Price: estimated retail price $189.

Microsoft

Tel (02) 9870 2100


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