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Arts & Letters Express ver. 6.0 
Software Review by Jacquelyn Sykes

My System

Arts and Letters Knife LogoBefore I begin my review of this program, I must tell you about my computer setup since it affects my evaluation.

 I installed the program on a Gateway 2000 4DX-33 (486 processor chip running at 33 MHz) with 20 MB RAM and a 250 MB hard drive, very small by today's standards. Attached to the parallel port, in order, are an Iomega Zip drive, a Backpack quad speed CD-ROM drive with built in sound card and an Epson Stylus Color 500 printer. While I keep most of my data files and any programs that I can run at an acceptable speed on Zip cartridges, my hard drive is about 90% filled. The hard drive contains a 61 MB compressed drive. My operating system is Windows 3.1 and MS DOS 6.2. 
 
 

What does the box hold?

I own several other Computer Support Corporation's Arts & Leisure (A&L) programs, so the opportunity to evaluate and review Express 6.0 really excited me. In fact, I opened the box before the meeting started on February 10. I found the following three CD-ROM's and 2 manuals in the box: 
 
 
  • Arts & Letters Express 6.0 CD-ROM 
  • Arts & Letters Picture Perfect CD-ROM 
  • Premier Clips 15,000 CD-ROM 
  • Arts & Letters Express 6.0: Drawing on Your Imagination User's Guide: Getting Started (which contains 116 content pages, 4 table of contents pages and 4 index pages) 
  • Arts & Letters Picture Perfect User's Guide: Getting Started (which contains 88 content pages, 3 table of contents pages and 4 index pages)
I read the manuals that night; all right, I skimmed some material since many features are similar to A&L's Jurassic Art and Space Age. 

 Unlike other high-end graphics programs, the manuals do not contain thumbnails of all the clip-art, symbols and photographs that are on the various CD-ROM's. Computer Support Corporation tries to save resources and does not provide huge printed manuals with its programs. However, they include the tools for you to print the on-line help files, user manuals and thumbnails. 
 
 

Systems Requirements

The basic requirements for all three CD-ROM's are: 
  • 386SX or better processor 
  • 4 MB RAM (8 MB recommended) 
  • CD-ROM drive 
  • Windows 3.1 or better 
  • Mouse or other pointing device 
  • Additional requirements for Express 6.0: 
  • Full hard drive installation requires 166 MB 
  • Partial hard drive installation requires 46 MB 
  • Minimum CD-ROM installation requires 13-37 MB hard drive space 
  • To run the program totally from the CD-ROM drive required 31.2 KB of my hard drive. 
  • Additional requirements for Picture Perfect: 
  • SVGA Monitor 
  • About 8 MB of hard disk space. After installation you can conserve hard disk space by deleting the Photos directory and its contents. It's available on the Picture Perfect CD-ROM. (This saves over 2.5 MB of space.) The program files take just under 6 MB of hard drive space. 
  • Additional requirements for Premier Clips 15,000: 
  • 4.2 MB hard disk space. 

Setting Up

I highly encourage you to read the manuals before installing the programs. They will give you a feel for the program and will allow you to complete the Express 6.0 tutorials quicker. You follow a normal Windows install procedure that is quick and easy for each program. All the install programs allow you to put the programs wherever you want them. Where you have a choice of files to install on the hard drive, the install program clearly presents all your options and tells you how much hard drive space they need. 

 When I ran the Picture Perfect Browser, after installing Picture Perfect, and double clicked on a thumbnail to see the photograph full size I got an out of memory error after Picture Perfect had loaded. I closed the programs and exited Windows 3.1. Then I restarted Windows 3.1 and Picture Perfect Browser. This time, the pictures loaded much quicker and I did not see an out of memory message. I recommend that, after you install Picture Perfect, you run Picture Perfect Browser and then close the program, exit Windows 3.1 and return before you begin to use it. 
 
 

Using Premier Clips 15,000 and the Clip Art Viewer

What is the Clip Art Viewer? The Arts & Letters Clip Art Viewer allows you to view and copy images from your Arts & Letters CD. In addition, you can use the Viewer to print a complete clip-art handbook (or any lesser selection of the clip art images). The Clip Art Viewer displays thumbnails of the images in rows in the center of its main screen. You can view more thumbnails using the scroll bar. With the Clip Art Viewer, you can view selected images full-screen, either singly or in a slide show. You can also copy a selected image to the Windows Clipboard in BMP or WMF format for use in other applications. I found this CD-ROM to be the least valuable part of the package. Although, I did not view all the graphics in each directory, I looked at over 10 of them. As far as I could tell, these images are WMF versions of the graphics in Express 6.0 itself. 

 On my system, it takes a long time to open each directory to view the thumbnails. Express 6.0 loads and displays thumbnails much more quickly on my system. It allows you to export any of its images in several different formats. While you can only do so one at a time, I prefer the speed in which I can view the images in Express. Since I don't plan to print a clip-art handbook, I don't have any need for this program. (I do have image browsers that came with other programs.) All the image file names are numbers so it's not feasible to access the images through File Manager or a general purpose viewer such as those which come with utility suites. 
 
 

Using Express 6.0

This is the core program of the package. I find that it takes a few minutes to load the program and the graphics libraries into memory on my system. Those of you with faster processors and internal CD-ROM drives will probably experience faster loading. After that it takes no longer to access different areas of the program than programs I do have loaded on my hard drive. Bringing clip-art into my project and screen redraws take the longest periods of time. While having the whole program loaded on my hard drive might increase performance some, I really need a faster processor. This is a very powerful drawing program. "Top of the line of Arts & Letters graphic arts products, Express 6.0 comes complete with over 15,000 Drag & Drop clip-art images, advanced drawing and editing tools, typefaces and special effects." The list of features and capabilities is much too long to repeat here. I will tell you that you can create 3-D text and images right in the program. This is a high-end program comparable to Corel Draw. 

 I found it very easy to start using the program. This may be because of my knowledge of their other programs since they look and operate almost the same. The differences lie in the added abilities of Express 6.0 and the greater number of clip-art images. 

 The program includes many sources of help in learning the program. In addition to the written manual, there is an on-line User's Guide in the form of a Word Perfect Envoy Runtime document. It contains 210 pages of content, 9 table of contents pages and 8 index pages. 

 The Help File is very well done with sub-windows, links, and glossary entries everywhere. It almost makes the User's Guide redundant. 

 There's a narrated Art Show that tells some of Express 6.0' s features while showing you actual art work. And the art files are available for you to use. It has an audio description of tips to increase your productivity. A written list is also available if you have no sound card. 

 Express 6.0 also has a group of tutorials organized into beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons. They teach you how to use the program with hands on experience. While well done, they will take you time to do. I completed three of the lessons and recommend them. Do click on every highlighted word. Some will show you the graphic in the correct size to use in the project; some will give you additional information on the task. 

 Like any high-end program you need to invest time to use Express 6.0 well. However, you can learn to complete projects, using the clip-art, backgrounds, and samples provided, very quickly. I specially like the prepared color sample clip art that you can print out to see how the colors will look on paper using your equipment. 
 
 

Other components of Express include:

  • "BOSS Fonts -- Don't let your fonts boss you around. Manage them with the BOSS Font Manager. Includes 1,000 True Type and 1,000 PostScript fonts, custom-kerned with up to 400 pairs per font. Use the Font Manager to view, install, or uninstall fonts: even print a catalog of your entire font collection."

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  • "Logo Design Guide -- A 36-page Envoy document you can read on screen or print to any printer. This guide offers useful tips and techniques on using EXPRESS to create your own logo, stationery and envelopes. Also included is information about trademarks, protecting your trademark, patent and trademark depository libraries."

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  • Decipher Vector -- "Decipher converts files saved in a vector format, typically WMF (Windows Metafile) or EPS (PostScript), into a proprietary format that can be processed by Express 6.0. You can import vector-based files directly into Express 6.0 using the Import feature in the File Menu. This utility is intended to be used when converting many files at one time and for analyzing errors that occur using the direct import filter in Express 6.0." Decipher converts files from the following six formats into either the Express 6.0 GED or the Windows Metafile format: CDR, CGM/CTM, DRW, DXF, PostScript, WMF.
Express 6.0 imports files directly in the following formats: BMP*, CDR, CGM*, DIB, DIF (for charts*), DRW, DXF, EPS*, PIC, SYLK (for charts*), Text, TIF*, WMF*, WPG* (* Export in this format is also supported). It exports files in these additional formats: CSP, SCD. 

 I didn't actually use any of the above components. Since the package contains so much, I couldn't examine everything before the review was due. 
 
 

Using Picture Perfect

"A full featured photo (bitmap) editor, Picture Perfect combines color manipulation and image enhancement tools with an extensive set of import and export filters." This quotation doesn't tell the whole story. The program also has a wide variety of painting tools allowing you to create original paintings. It has paint brushes, water colors, chalk, charcoal, and ink pens. It also has sharpening and smoothing tools that allow you to do small areas of a photo besides the whole image and large area filters. 

Again, this is a high-end program. It also has an on-line User's Guide in the form of a Word Perfect Envoy Runtime document. It contains 145 pages of content, 4 table of contents pages and 6 index pages. While this User's Guide tells you how to do tasks with both the mouse and the keyboard, it doesn't always tell you why to do them and when you should use the various tools. 

 The Windows Help File uses tabs to organize its information, links, and glossary entries. Unlike Express, the Help drop-down list on the menu bar doesn't contain links to the on-line User's Guide. 

 I didn't find this program as polished as Express 6.0. The help file seemed very lean and there are no tutorials. I, for one, could use some in this program. However, all the tools you'd expect to find in an image editing program are here. Most of them have preview boxes to help you decide if you actually want to use them on your photo. 

 I did find one undocumented menu item in the Image drop-down list. This is the Trace command. It works really well with some images and others give you random lines and dots. I could not find any information on this command at all. 

 After working with this program on several images, I found that it was quite good at applying filters for special effects such as mosaic, blur and emboss. I found it very slow to apply gamma correction and change the contrast and brightness in Picture Perfect. In this instance, I am comparing it to L-View Pro, a shareware program. L-View Pro allows you to use sliders to change the gamma, contrast, and brightness and shows you almost immediately, in preview mode, what the image will look like. (The comparison is particularly striking when you know that L-View Pro resides on my compressed drive and Picture Perfect resides on my hard drive.) However, L-View Pro doesn't have the filters and painting capabilities that Picture Perfect does. 
 
 

Where Can I Buy It? How much will it cost?

Computer Support Corporation (15926 Midway Road, Dallas, Texas 75244, Tel: 214-661-8960, Fax: 214-661-5429, Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:30 am to 6:30 pm, CST) has a suggested retail price of $249.98. You can find it on the shelves at Computer City for $94.00 as of February 17, 1997. With the Alamo PC discount you should be able to get it for several dollars less. If you're not sure that this program is for you, you can rent it at Spin (see their ad on page 41 of the January PC Alamode). They'll sell you the program for $99.95. 
 
 

Recommendations

Despite the faults I found with this package, it contains good programs. The street price makes it a real bargain. I plan to continue using the program. If you want a high-end graphics program that does it all without the high price, buy this program. If you don't have any drawing or painting programs at all, buy this program. If you have paint programs, but no drawing programs, buy this program.