OF THE THOUSANDS of computer programs that come to market every year, only a handful will be around next year.
But now and then a useful program appears, hangs on and gets better as time goes by, largely because the original programmer had a good idea to start with.
Print Shop and its cousin, Print Shop Companion, started off years ago as nifty little programs aimed at schoolchildren. The idea was simple: give kids an easy way to use a dot matrix printer to make attractive flyers, signs, announcements, banners, calendars and greeting cards.
But parents quickly found out that the kids were on to a good thing. Print Shop soon became a favorite among small businesses, clubs, church groups and other organizations.
The latest versions, which require an IBM-compatible computer with at least 512K of memory (640K and a hard disk for color printing), are much more sophisticated than the originals.
They take advantage of high-resolution graphics adapters, laser printers and color printers. They produce a greater variety of documents, and the quality is a lot better. But they retain their original simplicity and elegance.
The New Print Shop couldn't be much easier to use. From an opening menu, you can choose to design a greeting card, sign, certificate, poster, letterhead, banner or calendar.
Next, you choose a border design and one or more simple graphics to decorate your creation. Then select a typeface and size and enter your message. Preview the result on your screen, then it's off to the printer.
The program comes with a variety of graphics in business, educational, sports and holiday themes. The New Print Shop allows you to place multiple graphics in various positions around your document. With a simple graphics editor, you can alter the graphics or create your own. If you need more, additional graphics libraries are available at extra cost.
To enhance the quality of the result, each graphic comes in three different sizes. Earlier versions used the same basic dot map for each graphic and enlarged it, which resulted in pretty crude output at larger sizes. The new version actually stores a different drawing for each size.
When it's time to print, you can now adjust the contrast to control darkness and density (not to mention wear and tear on your printer ribbon). If you have an EGA or VGA color graphics adapter and monitor, you can also get a color preview.
Print Shop's support for color printers is commendable, considering that they account for only a fraction of the market today. Any graphic can be printed in a single color, and there are special graphics and border designs that automatically print in multiple colors.
Print Shop performed flawlessly with the Star NX-1000 Rainbow color printer my kids use (a wonderful little machine if you're looking for a Christmas gift). Likewise, it had no trouble with the HP LaserJet II and beat-up old IBM ProPrinter in the office. The program will drive most popular printers, and a few I've never heard of. I do have one gripe about laser printer support. Because it was originally designed for dot matrix machines, the program produces multiple copies of an item by printing it over and over.
While a simple command to a laser printer will get it to produce multiple copies, Print Shop doesn't handle it this way. It sends the data over and over again, which can tie up the printer and the computer much longer than necessary.
You won't mistake Print Shop's quality of the output for a phototypesetter, but for quick flyers, banners, party invitations and the like, it's certainly acceptable. Plenty of small businesses (including computer stores, which presumably have access to much more powerful software) use the program regularly to promote sales and specials.
A nice feature is a small database that lets you store names for automatic custom printouts of greeting cards, invitations, certificates and the like.
The New Print Shop Companion is a separate program that adds even more bells and whistles. Using the same graphics, border and font files as Print Shop, it can act as a mini-desktop publisher, letter writer and envelope maker.
It contains a more sophisticated graphics editor than Print Shop. It will also take graphics from popular drawing programs such as ZSoft's PC Paintbrush, Windows Paint, Gem Paint and Deluxe Paint II and convert them into Print Shop's graphics format.
Likewise, it has editors that will let you modify or create your own fonts and borders for use with Print Shop or the companion.
The envelope maker is a particularly good idea, since kids like to use the program to make greeting cards and invitations. The envelopes can incorporate the same graphics and borders as the other documents, as well as some original decorative designs.
Without going to an expensive stationery store, it's hard to find envelopes designed for a sheet of 8 1/2 -by-11 paper folded in half twice, which is how the program produces greeting cards.