Draft & Print. (computer graphics software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Steve Hudson
These days, everybody's producing drawing programs for PCs. At one extreme are products aimed squarely at the professional market. At the other are packages intended for more casual use. Draft & Print, from Spirit of Discovery, seems to shoot for the middle ground. The package says it's "simple enough for the beginner, yet powerful enough for the professional."
How does it measure up? Generally speaking, it measures up well, starting with a straightforward setup routine. Besides letting you specify input and output devices, setup lets you set screen and text colors and even "linearize" your display so circles do indeed appear as circles on your screen. You also specify scale and drawing units, although only the English system (feet and inches) is directly supported.
D&P's drawings screen is a sight for sore eyes, especially once you've customized the colors to your own preferences. The drawing area is neat and uncluttered, with a space to the right reserved for cursor coordinate displays, menu commands, program messages, and so on.
How about drawing tools? D&P lets you draw lines, boxes, circles, arcs, grids, and more. You can move, mirror, rotate, and smooth, and you've got unlimited zooming. You can layer drawings and add, scale, and rotate text. Importing symbols is easy, and DXF files provide AutoCAD compatibility. A built-in library of basic symbols is useful, too.
The program can also give you exact dimensions, and it shows areas and perimeters of boxes and circles. Additionally, an Area command lets you calculate the area and perimeter of irregular figures, even those containing openings. You can use up to 2000 data points to define irregular shapes.
Oddly enough, D&P doesn't let you directly draw an ellipse. To create an ellipse, you must first draw a circle and then apply a scaling factor in the x or y direction.
D&P connects well with the outside world. It supports printers, plotters, and digitizers, and it can output high-resolution drawings on dot-matrix printers. Paper size can be specified from 8 1/2 x 11 inches to 34 x 44 inches. D&P also includes a utility (Slidesho, executed from DOS) that lets you sequentially display a set of PIC files.
One unusual feature of D&P is spoken confirmation of commands. This package talks to you via Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, and Tandy sound, as well as through your PC's internal speaker. Voice quality is generally good, although the inflection may get on your nerves. One hearer likened it to the unfailingly sunny voice heard when you call information ("The number is ...")! It should be noted, however, that the voice wasn't always understandable during testing of this feature using the internal speaker on two different PS/2s. Fortunately, you can turn off the voice during setup.
Another interesting feature: You can configure D&P to your level of ability (beginner, intermediate, or advanced). However, the only result at the lower levels seems to be the exclusion of certain subsequent setup options and program commands. On the beginner level, for instance, the Hatch command is not available and you cannot install a digitizer or plotter. The book says this keeps beginners out of trouble. But isn't experimentation one of the best ways to learn a program?
D&P features a menu-based point-and-click help feature. Clicking on an entry opens a text window where short entries describe the purpose and use of the designated command. Some entries also include a note which may contain additional information--or which may say "See manual for crucial details regarding this command." It would be helpful if those details were presented onscreen. Context-sensitive help would be even better.
Overall, D&P is a genuinely useful program. It's easy to use, and though the documentation lacks screen shots, it's loaded with helpful examples.
In fact, there's only one real complaint: D&P offers as options some things that other packages include as standard equipment. For example, D&P does offer math coprocessor support--but it's an option that costs an extra 30 bucks and must be ordered from the manufacturer. That's an aggravation in a package said to be powerful enough for pros. Other add-ons include a library of nine type fonts ($15) and a 50-minute training video ($20), plus an additional symbols library that's sent almost free ($5 for shipping and handling) to users who send in the registration card. These extras are nice, but I expect most users would gladly pay a few dollars more to have them included with the basic program.
Should you consider Draft & Print? Busy design professionals will probably want a package with built-in math coprocessor support. But if you're a beginner or an intermediate user, or even a pro who doesn't want or need a more costly package such as AutoCAD, then Draft & Print is definitely one to consider.