Quantum Paint 1.2
The Newest Entry in the Supercolor Paint Sweepstakes
by Marcus Badgley
It's just not enough to release a mere 16-color paint program anymore. Since the advent of Spectrum 512, GFA Artist and others, ST paint programs have progressed from being mere drawing and sketching tools to those for advanced artistic expression, both for still images and animation sequences. And no longer are we bound by the 16-color, low resolution limit of the ST. With advanced programming techniques, paint programs have transcended the original limits of the ST's hardware and have given us palettes rivaling the Commodore Amiga.
Eidersoft's Quantum Paint is the newest entry in the ST "supercolor" sweepstakes. Basically, Quantum Paint is a simple drawing program capable of displaying 4,096 colors simultaneously, in addition to cel-type animation capabilities (although the latter works only in low-res color). The program has numerous unusual features: some fascinating, others that are quite annoying. Let's take a look at both sides of the coin.
Quantum Paint (QP) works in low, medium and high resolutions. All of its drawing functions are available from two main menus: one with the primary drawing and animation tools, the other for disk functions and tool modification. The latter menu has several blank spots, which, I hope, will support additional features in future releases of the program.
QP's array of drawing tools are simple and basic: Freehand Draw, Erase, Rubber Line, Rays, Poly-line, Polygon, Flood Fill, Text, Airbrush, Zoom, Move Copy, Stipple Circles, Ovals, Frames and Boxes (with or without rounded corners). The program provides sixteen user-definable brushes, although these are available only in Freehand mode. You can grab Blocks of an image (which you can use as brushes), in either Lasso or box format, with solid or clear (X-Ray) backgrounds. QP also has an excellent airbrush, with a wider spray size and flow range than any other ST drawing program I've worked with.
QP's text features are adequate--the program comes with several different type sizes and styles (italics, bold), which you can type in four different directions. QP also allows you to load standard GDOS fonts.
Barely adequate are QP's workscreens--there are only two, and you can't transfer work between them. Another quibble I have is that QP's R-frames and R-boxes (rounded corners) features are misleading--the corners aren't rounded but beveled at 45 degrees. You can do a bevel easily by hand, but a true rounded corner is difficult, and is best left as a built-in feature in your drawing program.
QP will let you load and animate drawings done on other ST art programs, such as NEOchrome and DEGAS, although it's a one-way ticket: the program allows you to save your images only in QP format. Finally, QP has standard options allowing you to print out your images, on either dot-matrix or laser printers.
Different Color Modes
QP's main attractions lie in its four expanded-color modes: 128, 32, 512 and 4K. These modes refer to the number of colors capable of being displayed simultaneously. Mode 32 works only in medium resolution and, yes, you can display 32 colors simultaneously.
Both modes 32 and 128 are similar: they use a technique called "widebanding," whereby the screen is sectioned into vertically stacked bands which represent each palette. You can adjust the width and vertical position of each band, or palette, by hand. Mode 128 stands for 16 colors times 8 palettes; mode 32 stands for 4 colors times 8 palettes.
If you're working in modes 32 or 128, using all of your available colors results in distinct color bands which run the full 320 pixels across. Unless you really want this color banding, you must plan your drawing vevy carefully beforehand. This you can do by having different palettes share colors, although by sharing colors a potential palette of 32 or 128 colors can be substantially reduced.
QPs 512 mode is pretty straightforward; its only color limitation being that it can display a maximum of 40 colors on a single scan line. Mode 4K uses a special technique called "interlacing" in order to display a supposed 4,096 colors (more on this in a moment). Since both of these modes eat up so much of your ST's 68000 processor time, certain drawing features slow down substantially, while others (flood fill, move, copy and animation features) simply aren't available at all.
Using The Expanded Color
When you use the 4K mode, you actually have to create your drawing on a "draft" screen, which can display only 16 colors (in low res) simultaneously. Even if your final drawing will contain hundreds of colors, you must "assemble it" in groups of 16 colors from within draft mode. This limitation makes working in detail or with many colors of similar value difficult at best. In order to do detail work you must use either the regular zoom or the color zoom. The latter reduces the current draft colors to a minimum number, allowing you to apply more colors clearly.
In order to see exactly what your image looks like you must update the screen continually; you do this by setting QP's update control or pressing the ALT key. After updating your image, you may or may not see the screen display or particular color bands flickering. This flickering is caused by "interlacing" colors together in order to create in-between colors. In the documentation, the developers refer to this flickering as "slightly objectionable"--I found it quite annoying.
Mixing color in modes 32 and 128 is fairly simple, yet it takes time to get a full working palette. You access the RGB sliders by double-clicking on a color, which you can then adjust, or choose a new color by picking one from a 512-color palette.
The QP's Spread function will calculate smooth transitions between two colors, and Copy will do just that--copying from a single color to whole palettes to new locations. In order to adjust multiple colors you must double-click on each color then exit the RGB box for each color; a tedious process.
An added benefit in QP is its color-cycling ability. In 128- and 32-color modes, QP's color-cycling has greater potential than most other ST drawing programs, as multiple palettes can cycle independently, and at different rates, directions, and speeds.
And finally, in modes 512 and 4K, the RGB sliders have been expanded, having a range from 0 to 14. Unfortunately, both modes lack any real color mixing capabilities; you just select a color from the sliders and draw. When working with such a large palette the difference between two very similar colors is quite small, and they're often hard to locate. It would help if QP displayed the RGB numbers of the colors in the palettes.
If you want to make your artwork come to life, QP's animation tools will come in handy. Although you can do animation only in modes 128 and 32, this is one of QP's best features. The animation functions let you create cel-type animation quite easily.
To create an animation, simply paint an image, click on Insert and it will be inserted into an animation sequence. Alter your drawing a bit, click on Insert and another frame is inserted. It's that simple. You can play sequences in an endless loop or just once, and at any speed. You can fast forward or rewind to any frame, enabling you to rework it, possibly to smooth out a transition or movement. QP also uses a technique called delta compression to save its animation sequences. Delta compression saves only the differences between each frame in a sequence, thereby allowing you to store much longer animation sequences on disk.
Although QP's programmers have succeeded in pulling off an interesting technical feat, their user implementation leaves much to be desired. While using this program I constantly felt bound by the technology and not freed to create. Other annoyances--for example, when you load the program, a dialog box appears asking for a password from the manual. . . and after crashing several times this entry fee seemed rather steep. In addition, I found myself very frustrated waiting for QP to update my drawing when I was working in the 4K mode, and the lack of tools was frustrating.
|Quantum Paint's main workscreen. The
program lets you create art with up to 4,096
colors, and allows you to animate low-
resolution, 16-color images.
My main gripe about QP is that, while it has a supposed 4,096 colors available for your drawings, creating an image actually using many of these colors would be quite cumbersome and time-consuming. And unfortunately, QP has no "smart" processor-intensive tools such as anti-aliasing, complex BLOCK functions, color mapping (as does GFA Artist) or gradient fill (as does Spectrum 512).
Being familiar with other ST drawing programs that offer expanded color capabilities and/or animation (GFA Artist, Cyber Paint, Spectrum 512), I wonder why the developers of Quantum Paint have taken the route they did. Quantum Paint's authors don't seem to mind that the actual drawing is secondary to the technical accomplishments they've achieved. As an artist, I want powerful, easy-to-use tools to enable me to get images out of my head and onto my canvas (electronic or otherwise) with a minimum of difficulty.
To sum up, Quantum Paint is only for the experienced ST artist who craves color and cel-type animation who is also willing to put up with the program's difficult-to-use interface. Only with great planning and patience can you successfully exploit the program's unique features, and you have to ask yourself if it's worth it: taken with the aforementioned drawing programs, Quantum Paint suffers by comparison.
Marcus Badgley is the head of Gravity Design, a San Franrasco art studio, and the author of "Art: From Cave Walls To Glowing Phosphor" in the Graphics and Music Special Issue of START.
Quantum Paint, $44.95. Eidersoft, Inc., PO. Box 288, Burgettstown, PA 15021, (412) 947-3739; (800) 992-9198.