Graphics software

More and more images are appearing in agency documents and presentations
and on Web sites—and for many reasons: the demands of a more visually sophisticated
audience, low-cost high-resolution color printers and flexible, feature-full graphics

Agency publications managers find that images are easy to include, enhance their
products and make information a lot easier for their readers to apprehend. This buyers
guide is an overview of presentation, paint and draw programs, and some business graphics
applications, including chart and graph utilities.

Most of the categories can overlap. If you have a paint program, you can use it to
generate charts or presentation slide images. But if you need to do so often, you’ll
need at least low-end dedicated software for each graphics task. They come in separate
packages or in an office suite.

The biggest difference between draw and paint programs is how they store images.

Draw software uses vector graphics—shape-representing equations with defined start
and end points—to create and store images in a compact and easy-to-manipulate form.

You can shrink or enlarge vector images arbitrarily and perform calculations and
sophisticated transformations on the objects and the relationships between them.
Computer-aided design programs are an example of sophisticated draw software.

Paint software uses rasterized images; it defines each pixel, yielding more realistic
images such as those in photo-editing software.

That realism comes at a price, however. File sizes are large, and because the image is
not comprised of separate objects, you cannot perform the same kinds of calculations that
you can in a draw program.

You can use either kind of tool to duplicate the results of any other graphics software
tool. But unless it’s a one-time effort, it pays to find a program designed for the

High-end graphics packages may cost only a few hundred dollars, such as
MetaCreations’ Bryce, which is unexcelled in creating photorealistic landscapes to
use as backgrounds. But some software can cost tens of thousands of dollars, such as
Softimage Inc.’s powerful animation programs.

High-end graphics programs can be used many ways in government. After a professional
illustrator has created an image in Bryce, you can use it even in basic presentations; the
Softimage programs are suitable for sophisticated training videos or simulations.

Mainstream, do-all illustration packages such as Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia
Inc.’s FreeHand and Corel Corp.’s CorelDraw have all been enhanced recently, but
their core drawing and rendering capabilities remain nearly unchanged. Many of the recent
functional changes in older graphics programs are tweaks to filters and user interfaces,
but they’re useful tweaks and integration tools that make life easier for users.

To complete a project, graphic artists may use several illustration and graphics
applications. They may need to exchange files with other users or move from one package to
another to employ features in different vendors’ tool sets.

Preliminary designs may come from one department, be refined by graphics experts, then
further refined and integrated into desktop publishing documents for final rendering. The
ability to import and export files in different programs’ file formats is vital.

Manufacturers have often ignored this important feature, possibly to keep users locked
into one software family. Users have fought back by adding file conversion utilities such
as the versatile $70 Riptide from Vorton Technologies [GCN, June 15, Page 38]. Users
sometimes discover that the conversion programs also provide all the illustration tools
they need.

Nowadays major vendors are working toward better integration with competitors’
packages. Some offer the option of using another program’s keystroke patterns, making
it easy for users to move between programs without extensive retraining.

Another trend is to promote illustration programs as Web authoring tools. Macromedia
has improved integration of FreeHand into the company’s $300 Flash animation tool.

Complete graphics programs offer functions essential to illustrators that are not in
less sophisticated packages. For example, FreeHand lets users import an image of a
Photoshop or .eps format file that may combine drawing and text, such as a logo, into a
FreeHand document and link it or embed it.

Alter the original Photoshop or .eps file, and the next time you click on the linked
image in the FreeHand document, a dialog box will pop up, remind you of the alteration and
ask if you would like to refresh the link. Embed the image, and it becomes a part of the
new document. Change your mind, and you can click on the image and extract it. It again
becomes a standalone file, which you can import into Photoshop or another program, alter
and start the whole process over again.

FreeHand lets you customize it to use the same keystroke commands as QuarkXPress and
Adobe Photoshop, programs many illustrators use for both preliminary and final design
work. FreeHand can also emulate Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw keystroke shortcuts.

The ability to integrate files generated in a graphics application into desktop
publishing programs such as QuarkXPress, from Quark Inc. of Denver, or Adobe PageMaker may
be a major reason to select a graphics program.

In fact, many users decided that QuarkXPress and Photoshop are good editing packages
and demanded additional tools for them to include the capabilities of graphics programs.

But they are specific programs that do not offer the illustration strength and
flexibility of mainstream graphics programs.

Adobe is working on a major upgrade to Illustrator 8. Code-named Elvis, the package
will be available in the fall.

The company is moving its application’s functionality into the desktop publishing
arena, adding tools borrowed from PageMaker, Photoshop image manipulation tools and
scripting for common tasks.

The next version of Illustrator will likely also be able to import CorelDraw and
FreeHand file formats, although it may not be able to export them.

Of course, the challenge isn’t simply to import or export files in non-native
formats but to keep as many of the original illustration’s features as possible. How
this will work in your environment can only be determined by testing.

Even when a program can handle another software’s file formats, it could be losing
some important features.

For now, vendors are making their graphics programs more productive and easier to
integrate with other software. But there is a disturbing trend in the making, similar to
what happened with word processing software years ago. We might see vendors bloating the
software to combine their illustration programs into desktop publishing, illustration,
photo-editing and Web publishing suites.

Speaking of feature bloat, CorelDraw 8 has everything but the kitchen sink. CorelDraw
is still strongly focused on usability and graphics creation, so many buyers may like the
option of buying one program and getting just about every graphics tool they’ll ever

Packaged with the powerful and feature-laden CorelDraw software is Corel’s paint
and photo-editing program, Photo-Paint 8.

In addition to its conventional illustration tools, CorelDraw 8 comes with Dream3D for
3-D design and rendering, Texture to let users design complex natural surfaces, OCR
Trace8, which converts scanned bitmapped images to vector format, automation tools for
various tasks, a variety of powerful wizards to help novices or experienced designers,
thousands of photographs, 450 templates and nearly 50,000 clip-art images.

Adobe PostScript 3 output and color separation previews are just two of the new options
provided with CorelDraw 8.

The even newer Macintosh version of CorelDraw 8 is reportedly well-designed for
Macintosh users and has received favorable user comments.

In fact, it’s difficult to think of any graphics tool an average office would need
that isn’t supplied by this one massive program, which comes on three CD-ROMs.

But because many office suites and other Microsoft Windows applications come with
built-in graphics features, you may already have the tools to handle basic graphics tasks.

To create a chart in a Corel QuattroPro spreadsheet, all you do is highlight rows and
columns of numbers and click on the Chart button to activate a wizard, which immediately
displays a chart template. You can accept the default layout or modify it.

That simple a data chart is probably best used in documents created in a word
processor. It’s a waste of resources to produce snazzy graphics and fine detail to be
printed on a standard laser printer. Save the high-end production for when you’re
using desktop publishing software and commercial reproduction.

Although paint and graph-generation tools in office suites are usually less robust than
those in dedicated programs, a suite’s presentation software might be all you need to
create slide shows or print transparencies on an ink-jet printer.

Presentation images must be simple for audience members who will be simultaneously
peering around the person in front of them, listening to you, taking notes and whispering
with neighbors.

What presentation software brings to the table is a simple way to build consistent
images with similar or identical backgrounds.

Presentation wizards offer a variety of shows for you to fill in your text and run.
Most do the trick with little or no modification. Of course, you’ll have a
presentation that resembles every other presentation built with the software. But for
occasional use, the presentation feature of an office suite is a cost-effective way to
meet your needs.

Flowcharts are a valuable management tool. They clearly describe how information or
responsibility passes through an organization.

Twenty organization chart formats come with Corel WordPerfect Suite 8, but they may not
be adequate to describe the complex structure of a government agency or project.

One of the most sophisticated flowcharting programs, SPSS Inc.’s allClear, has
changed ownership several times but has kept its basic character.

Many organizations fail to produce task-specific flowcharts for big jobs because the
software is too difficult to use. Instead of the common drag-and-drop method, allClear
uses an easy-to-learn scripting language. Once learned, the program makes it easy to build
or alter complex flowcharts and easily produce charts for each new project.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in choosing graphics software is finding the program that
is sophisticated enough to meet your needs without overloading users with needless

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.

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