IBM-style AutoCAD plus desktop publishing
PCA's Graphic Artist ($199) is a very sophisticated program that manipulates graphics and text for sending to a plotter, laser printer or dot-matrix printer. Graphic Artist has professional-level ambitions in computer-aided design (CAD), business graphics and desktop publishing. You can create some great on-screen graphics with Graphic Artist, but the program's real purpose is to print its end results on paper.
With a dot-matrix printer you have the standard what-you-see-onscreen-is-what-you-get-on-paper. But with a plotter or laser printer, what you get on paper is much better than what's on the screen. The video image is essentially only a rough mock-up of your eventual hard copy from laser or plotter.
Minimum system configuration is a 520ST with TOS in RAM, single-sided drive, and a dot-matrix printer. But you can use either a color or monochrome monitor. A color monitor in medium resolution lets you color the different overlays for better representation. A monochrome monitor still lets you view all the layers, but they are all the same color.
Graphic Artist has a 400-page manual that lies flat without hassles. Documentation quality equals that of high-priced turnkey CAD systems. It's a guidebook to the program, not a tutorial on traditional drafting concepts, graphic arts technique or typesetting. It's simply written and easy to understand, with at least one example of the use of each command or function. You also get a manual for building a driver to run just about any printer or plotter.
Two disks, not copy-protected, contain the program, fonts and data files. A demo disk has numerous examples of drawings, floor plans and an amazing map that starts out with a satellite view of the East Coast and zooms in gradually on the lettering of a billboard in Washington, D.C
If you're familiar with CAD software, such as AutoCAD for the IBM PC, you'll feel right at home with Graphic Artist. The top portion of the screen is reserved for the current graphic cursor X-Y location plus the available files and fonts that can be loaded.
About 85 percent of the screen is available for viewing the work area. But the Pan command can stretch this to almost unlimited size, while the Zoom feature can magnify or condense a portion with no loss of graphic detail onscreen, or of numerical detail in the "spreadsheet."
A spreadsheet grid is maintained within memory to record all your interactions while creating a drawing. The spreadsheet cell locations can be jockeyed around with various cut-and-paste, copy and computation techniques using relative and absolute variables, which are very handy in dealing with big clumps of design data.
Wisely, GEM pull-down menus are not used in Graphic Artist, as they would only obscure the work area. Instead, the 60 or so commands scroll across the bottom of the screen, controlled by the arrow keys. Extensive help boxes pop up whenever you request them.
From almost anywhere in the program, you can complete the command sequence or back out altogether. Once you put a graphic primitive or text on the screen, though, it's not easy to undo. The implementation of the [UNDO] key to delete the last command would be a nice timesaving feature to have. But as it is, you have to "cut" the mistake from the spreadsheet.
Via the Grid and Scale commands any unit of measurement such as inches, yards, or microns can be defined within a graphic "world." A grid based upon this unit system can be turned on or off for reference. This is important for accurately describing the objects being drawn and for producing a scaled drawing on a plotter.
Objects and symbols can be created, scaled, rotated, zoomed in on and combined with a variety of text styles that can be manipulated in a similar fashion.
By now you've probably got the drift that Graphic Artist is not a lightweight drawing program. Let's take a closer look at the CAD portion.
Your background drawing surface can be set to any one of four colors in medium-res or one of two colors in high-res. You actually draw on any of the 256 overlays, which are like clear acetate sheets superimposed over the background, and over each other, with exact registration. Each overlay can be defined as a unique plotter pen color, while onscreen you can use the maximum number of colors available in that resolution and mix ST palette colors from within Graphic Artist.
For example, if you are designing a printed circuit board with Graphic Artist, each side or layer can be an overlay, with additional overlays used for legends, pad layout without traces, mounting screw hole layouts, you name it. This lets you use the same drawing file data to rapidly create a fabrication drawing for the boys in the shop, a pictorial for a client or for advertising, etc. Each drawing would contain the same basic information but would include or exclude details, depending on its purpose.
You first determine a layer to draw on, select a graphic primitive and determine its dimensions using the mouse pointer, numeric keypad entry or by accessing spreadsheet data already on disk or in memory. Redrawing standard components and arranging them into a new design is eliminated by calling them up from a user-created library and putting them into the new design on the same or different scale.
Some expected CAD features, however, are conspicuous by their absence. There are only six line types, with no way to define custom types, even though there are many others that are both necessary and standard in professional CAD systems. There is no provision for changing the line weight (thickness). Using the overlays for these can be a way around this for plotter output, but it's cumbersome.
GEM has numerous predefined fill-patterns within VDI, many of which are ideal for architectural design. But few really useful patterns for CAD use can be called up from-within Graphic Artist. You're stuck with about 10, including the common hatch types useful for sectional drawings and shading.
Apparently there's no way to draw precise line angles- not even the common ones like 30, 45 and 60 degrees. One of my clients has me draw large, complex wire-bending jigs with as many as 20 oddball angles that must be displayed for shop workers. I could not produce this job using Graphic Artist.
These omissions are serious, reducing the possibility of using this program professionally. You could try creating lines of varying thickness as symbols and patching them together on screen, but that takes the time and effort that a CAD system is supposed to eliminate.
Other bugs inhabit the CAD portion of Graphic Artist, some minor, some serious. If you forget to turn off the grid before filling an outlined object or area, the fill-pattern leaks out through the grid dots on the object edge and bleeds through, ruining your drawing. And when you cut an object or symbol into the buffer, what you end up pasting is not always what you cut. This seems to happen mostly when the screen-part being cut is filled with a pattern.
The business graphics functions include bar charts, pie charts and exploded pie charts. The data for these is extracted from the speadsheet by the user, following on-screen prompts to specify the range -of data cells along with the size of the chart and legends desired. Only six data fields may be graphed, which hardly seems enough for even casual data analysis to be charted.
The program automatically selects fill-patterns for each bar or pie slice, eliminating your option to customize charts for your own taste. Although it's not mentioned in the manual, you can get around this by changing an existing chart in the spreadsheet, changing the fill-pattern and then redrawing the chart.
Overlays can be used to produce charts for multi-color output on the screen and/or the plotter. Again the number of fill-patterns available is limited and you can't create custom fill-patterns. You can laboriously hand-create a sheet of custom fill-patterns point-by-point and save them to your ever-growing library of symbols, but you still can't tell Graphic Artist to use them in the business charts. You can fudge a little and simply create your own charts and graphs by hand, but this again defeats the program's purpose.
The last portion of Graphic Artist is for creating formatted text for your CAD designs, business charts and desktop publishing endeavors. The program lets you enter text, edit it, copy blocks and move them around, and define several parameters such as rotation, justification, boldface, etc. All text typed in is entered into the spreadsheet cells line by line. The maximum line length is 60 characters, which doesn't seem like enough if you plan to use small type, as with footnotes or legal forms with the proverbial fine print.
Eight fonts are supplied, with a font editor for creating your own, or you can have PCA develop them for you for a reasonable (though unspecified) fee. Only one font can be contained in memory, so if you must redraw a design with multiple fonts, the program must load each font change before laying it on the screen. This is where a RAM-disk is a real time saver.
Of the three business applications, desktop publishing has the fewest bugs and conflicts between the documentation and actual program operation.
I used several plotters, including the HP model that the driver was designed for, with mostly good results. A few unpredictable things did occur, such as the plotter apparently losing track of where it was and laying portions of designs in the wrong places. (This only happened with drawings over 15 layers.)
Four drivers for Epson-compatible dot-matrix printers that employ varying dot density modes are supplied. A driver for just about any dot-matrix printer can be constructed easily with the supplied driver editor program. Canon laser printers can be run using supplied drivers, or you can create your own using the same driver editor for the dot-matrix models.
To get a printout of your design you must first make a print file to be compiled by a separate printing program. Depending on complexity of the drawing, this process can take from less than a minute to over an hour.
I found this version of Graphic Artist (version 1.02) too unpredictable, slow and limited for my professional needs. According to PCA, version 2.0 is due out in September and will take care of many of the problems mentioned here. I hope to confirm this with a follow-up review later this year. In the meantime, I consider the present version of Graphic Artist to be excellent for training newcomers in 2-D CAD operation.
Michael Nowicki is a professional CAD drafter, graphic artist and programmer, based in San Jose.
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