How to choose and use a draw program. (includes related article on emoticons) (Compute's Getting Started with Desktop Graphics) (Buyers Guide)
by Gregg Keizer, David English
Architects and automobile designers swear by them. So do artists and illustrators who've abandoned messy oils, fragile watercolors, or immutable ink. Kids vouch for them, too, as they doople with a latter-day Ech-A-Sketch that throws colors around like sand at the beach.
Draw programas help you sketch, scribble, draft, and diagram. They're the software tools that turn the artitically impared--those of us who don't know a Bezier curve from a bottle of paint--into journeymen artisans with the click of a mouse and the yank of a menu.
In fact, picking the right draw programs is one of the hardest chores you'll face as an electronic artist.
The luck of the Draw
Actually, draw software is but one half of the computerized illustrator's toolbox. Paint programs flesh out the other side of the palette.
Basic differences separate paint from draw software. By definition, a draw application creates complete objects on the screen that can be revised, altered, moved, and modified with a couple of commands.
In contrast, a paint programs puts individual dots of color on the screen, much like a pointillist painter dabs the canvas with tiny brush marks.
Paint programs give specific control over each dot, or pixel, but it surrenders the ability to change things easily. Draw software excels at graphis editing.
The Right Tool for the
When fondering the purchase of a draw package, there are two critical criteria: price and power. Don't spend more money than you need, but buy all the power you require. Striking that delicate balance may be difficult. Still, there are some basic questions you should ask yourself when you shop.
* Does the package match the problem? It may seem obvious, but don't underestimate your needs or indulge in graphical overkill. If you're an accomplished designer who's thinking of going electronic, compare and consider only the most powerful programs. But if you just want to taste computer illustration's capabilities, skip the high-priced, feature-laden packages.
* What kind of tools does it have? One straigt forward way to compare draw software is to count the tools. Numbers aren't everything, of course, so look for such important tools as Bezier curves, gradient fills, autotrace, and rotation.
* How well doews it handle text? Don't assume all your draw time will be spent with shapes and colors. You'll also want type in text, then stretch and bend it to create logos and other character-filed designs. Make sure your choice has some powerful tex-manipulation tools.
* Does it come with clip art? If your artistic talents are so weak that you spend most of your time modifying clip art, count the pieces of clip art that come with the program.
* Which formats does it support? Rarely will you keep your art isolated inside the draw program. You'll move your finished work to other applications or bring in existing images for finetuning. At the least, the draw program should support PCX, WMF, TIFF, AI, and EPS graphics formats.
* Is it true Windows program? With its what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, this graphical user interface is the perfect canvas for a draw program. Has the program you want made the move to Windows?
Getting It Right
Even the least expensive draw program can handle the basics, and then some. Every draw application lets you create shapes--both geometric simpletons and intricate designs--fill with color, and enter text, then move, rearrange, extend, rotate, and group the objects you've made. But not every program works equally well at every task.
If most of your draw time is spent altering clip art for your desktop publishing venture, consider a package like arts & Letters Graphics Composer (Computer Support, 15926 Midway Road, Dallas, Texas 75244; 214-661-8960; $395). It includes more than 5000 pieces of clip art and limited selection of drawing tools.
Widows Draw (Micorgrafx, 1303 Arapaho, Richardson, Texas 75081; 214-234-1769) is hard to beat for basic business graphic creations. Its $150 price and powerful too set recommend it to almost anyone, but the tex-manipulation tools make it particularly effective in producing logos. Arts & Letters Apprentice (Computer Support; $169) is another entry-level draw program.
The best-selling draw program is CorelDRAW (Corel Systems, 1600 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1Z8R7, Canada; 613-728-8200; $695, floppy disk version, $795, CDROM version). Its four main competitors are Harvard Draw (Software Publishing, 3165 Kifer Road, Santa Clara, California 95051; 408-986-8000; $595), Micrografx; $695), Aldus Free-Hand (Aldus, 411 First Avenue South, Seattle, Washington 98104-2871; 206-628-2320; $595), and Arts & Letters Graphics Editor (Computer Support; $695). These five applications are best suited for the professional artist, if only because of their cost $360-$460 by mail order. With such advanced features as wireframe representation, color-matching for professional printing, extruding shapes front changes, and extraordinary object-stretching tools, big-league draw packages let you do almost anything you can imagine, and a few things you can't.
That's part of the thrill of delving program--it frees you from the murdane decisions of how to sketch that line and lets you push your creativity to its limits.