ImageReady, Fireworks simplify graphics

ImageReady, Fireworks simplify graphics

For years, Web designers have had to make do with ad hoc collections of graphics utilities to prepare artwork, animations, and other Web page fixtures. Luckily, products such as Adobe ImageReady 1.0 and Macromedia Fireworks 1.0 both offer an array of tools to make this process easier.

For the most part, I applaud both products for delivering well-designed packages and each having much to offer; however, they both can improve on certain features.

ImageReady offers a familiar interface, although its text features fall short; many users will still require tools available only in Photoshop or Illustrator. Still, in some respects it's easier to use than Fireworks.

Fireworks, by contrast, includes a wealth of image editing and drawing tools, making it difficult to use at times due to its complexity. However, its strengths still outweigh its weaknesses.

ImageReady fulfils the basic requirements of a Web graphics preparation application: image optimisation, GIF animation, browser previews, the capability to create client-side URL image maps, text tools, and batch processing. Moreover, its familiar interface offers an easy learning curve for current users of Adobe products.

With real-time image compression via its LiveView window, ImageReady makes it a snap to compare original and optimised graphics.

I could also create copies of the image and experiment with additional optimisations, including file type and colour palette adjustments. Once I'd settled on a successful optimisation, I could easily apply it to a list of files using ImageReady's Droplets feature. The Droplets function allows you to drag-and-drop a collection of graphics to an icon. ImageReady then applies the set of saved actions that make up your optimisation to the entire collection of files.

ImageReady offers basic text features, and it's a simple matter to quickly add a text layer to an image. However, unlike Fireworks, creating text effects is limited, at best. Instead, I found it easier to jump to Photoshop, create a text effect, and return to ImageReady.

Unfortunately, ImageReady does not support changing text effects once they've been applied - you need to delete the layer and repeat the process.

Overall, ImageReady offers top-notch GIF animation features, although it pales in comparison to Fireworks in creating image slices, which are particularly useful for JavaScript animated rollovers. Image slicing, which involves splitting a large graphic into a series of smaller images then reassembling it as an HTML table, has become standard practice in Web design. ImageReady offers only limited support for this technique.

There's no doubt that features abound in Fireworks. However, particularly when working with large files, I found that performance lags substantially compared to ImageReady. Opening my 5MB test file resulted in significant performance degradation until I resized the image using the Export Wizard file optimisation tool.

This wizard offers an excellent interface that's intuitive and flexible. Within the preview pane, I could display up to four previews, each with different optimisations applied.

Unlike ImageReady's Droplets function, Fireworks uses a step-by-step approach for processing groups of images. Fireworks offers many more options for adding text to images than ImageReady does. In addition to creating image slices, creating image maps and animated sequences, Fireworks also provides excellent JavaScript rollover effects.

These capabilities well exceed ImageReady's. Best of all, Fireworks makes such tasks fairly simple.

Overall, I found that adjusting to using ImageReady took less time than adjusting to Fireworks. But Fireworks outshines ImageReady in its number of features and its flexibility for developing an assortment of graphics. I hope that Fireworks will acquire a less-cluttered interface in its next release.

ImageReady, although simple to use, would be more helpful if it included a few more of Photoshop's image editing features. Thanks to its familiar interface and integration with common Adobe graphics tools, it will be a particular boon to current users of Photoshop and Illustrator.

The Bottom Line

Adobe ImageReady 1.0

Pros: Easy-to-learn interface and functionality; well-designed, customisable palettes; easy batch processing and animation creationCons: Text creation and editing limited to basic features; limited image editing and image slicing featuresPlatforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, MacOS 7.5.5 and later (PowerPC)Price: Available on applicationDistributed by Adobe Systems AustraliaTel 1800 065 628Macromedia Fireworks 1.0Pros: Robust graphic optimisation tools; excellent text, image slicing, and animation tools; creates JavaScript animated rollovers.

Cons: Sluggish performance; cumbersome image editing tools; lacks palette minimise feature.

Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, MacOS 7.5.5 and later (PowerPC)Price: Available on applicationDistributed by Firmware DesignTel (02) 4721 7211

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