Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 162 / MARCH 1994 / PAGE 110

Designer 4.0. (draw software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tim Victor

When Micrografx began rewriting Designer, its premium illustration program, in 1991, it dominated the land of Windows graphics software. But as the Richardson, Texas, company worked to build a powerful 32-bit graphics engine and an efficient new user interface, a fearsome rival appeared. The Windows marketplace was booming, and Corel Systems was there to capture a huge chunk of the territory.

With the new Designer 4.0 pitted against a phenomenon like CorelDRAW! 4, the folks at Micrografx seem like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett at the Alamo: outmanned and outgunned. Compared to the Swiss Army Knife of Windows software, Designer can't match CorelDRAW!'s 640 megabytes of clip art and fonts, or features like cartoon animation and multimedia presentations. But Micrografx believes that graphics professionals, the customers who'll spend $700-$800 for high-end drawing software, are less concerned with those extras than with the functions needed for demanding jobs like technical illustration and graphic design. Designer's appeal comes form its flexible user interface and from the power and precision of its core drawing and designing functions.

Naturally, Desaigner offers the full range of 2-D graphics, with graphic primitives such as lines, polygons, curves, bitmaps, and text, as well as sophisticated warping and blending effects for more complex objects. Designer also supports 3-D shapes, with interactive control over lighting, shading, and perspective. Advanced desktop publishing and color prepress deatures give the control needed for professional-quality output, and the included 24-bit PhotoMagic program handles bitmap editing.

Designer's graphics engine resolves dimensions as small as one micron or as large as several kilometers; it's precise enough for nearly any drafting or design task. For the ultimate precision in creating and modifying objects, operations can yse exact numerical dimensions via the Coordinate dialog box, and dimensions can use any unit of measurement, including custom-defined units, scaled dimensions, or even nonspatial units like time and temperature measurements.

With professional tools, common tasks should be fast and simple, while features used less often should be easy to locate and learn. To meet the challenge, Designer's interface uses a toolbox at the left edge of the window, with buttons for tools such as 2-D drawing, text, and editing. Selecting a tool changes the ribbon above the drawing window, displaying buttoms for specific operations like drawing rectangles and reshaping curves. But the toolbox is customizable. You can add buttons for common operations to the toolbox, where they'll always be available with a single click. Context-sensitive help aids in finding new features, as does a hint line describing the function of the button, menu item, or dialog box underneath the mouse pointer. Many operations also offer interactive previews, while a 99-level undo feature reduces the worry level when trying something new.

This isn't a program for wimpy PCs. My test system was no slouch, with a 50-MHz CPU, 8MB of RAM, and accelerated local-bus graphics, but Designer brought it to its knees at times. Some delays came from CPU-bound operations, particularly when formatted text was involved, but most of the time memory paging caused the slowdown. Designer is quite a large program, and though Micrografx lists 4MB as the minimum needed, the main executable file alone weighs in at a Texas-sized 4.8MB. You'll find that 8MB is really the bare minimum, and if you plan on using Designer professionally, 16MB of RAM should be part of your business plan. For dealing with complex Designer illustrations, no PC is too powerful. But if you have the hardware to run it well, Designer is an excellent tool for demanding illustrators and designers.

Though it can't match CorelDRAW!'s awesome roster of accessories and add-ons, Designer handles the fundamentals of drawing and illustrating with power and precision.