My SystemBefore 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:
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
Systems RequirementsThe basic requirements for all three CD-ROM's are:
Setting UpI 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 ViewerWhat 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 6.0This 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:
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.
RecommendationsDespite 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.