Program a worthy rival for dominant Print Shop


September 12, 1994|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

For years, Broderbund's Print Shop programs have set the standard for kids and adults who want to create signs, banners, greeting cards, certificates and other graphics projects with no fuss and muss.

But Print Shop now has a worthy competitor in Print Artist from Maxis Software, a company that is branching into productivity programs after years of success with Sim City, Sim Earth, Sim Ant and other simulation software.

In a single program running under Microsoft Windows, Print Artist will do most of the things that Print Shop Deluxe and Print Shop Companion (two separate programs) will do, and a few things that they won't.

Most noticeably, Print Artist runs much faster and redraws the screen more quickly, particularly on older computers.

Both programs offer a simple series of menus that allow you to select the type of project you want -- sign, greeting card, business card, etc. -- and then design it from scratch or select from a wide variety of filled-in templates.

If one of the templates is close to something that you'd like to do, such as a kids' party invitation with flying saucer graphics, all you have to do is replace the elements you want to change.

Like Print Shop Deluxe, Print Artist creates projects using a combination of graphics, text borders and other objects moved around and resized.

Because it uses vector-based graphics and Windows True Typeor Adobe Type 1 fonts, pictures and text can be scaled to any size without losing quality.

Print Artist makes it particularly easy to manipulate objects on the screen by displaying each one in a frame with a series of "handles." Click your mouse on the handle protruding to the right, and you can rotate the object.

Click it on the handle protruding from the top, and you can skew, or slant the graphic or text, right or left. This is one of the most intuitive graphic manipulation devices I've seen and makes the program a pleasure to use.

Tricks with type

There are other nice usability features. For example, the program employs "tear-off" menus which will stay on the screen even after you've made a selection.

This makes it much easier to change type faces in several places without constantly returning to the font menu at the top of the screen.

For those who like to play tricks with type, Print Artist can apply a bewildering variety of effects, including fills, shadows, tints, layers and outlines.

It also offers three special type styles, tilted, staggered and "wacky," which the kids will undoubtedly love, and it can bend type into virtually any shape. The program comes with 22 True Type fonts which, unfortunately, automatically install themselves with the program. Because I already suffer from font overload, I'd like the opportunity to select which typefaces I want.

Print Artist comes with 700 color and black-and-white clip art graphics stored in its proprietary format. However, the program can import Print Shop Deluxe graphics, and can import and export pictures stored in most popular Windows formats.

By way of comparison, Print Shop will import foreign graphics, but to export its graphics, you have to use a separate program that runs under DOS, not Windows.

Kids love it

In short, Print Artist does what it does very well. Kids will love it, and it's easy enough for adults to use. At less than $50 on the street, it's a bargain. For information, contact Maxis Software, 2 Theatre Square, Orinda, Calif. 94563.

Now to the mailbag. With school starting, several readers have asked me to recommend a good children's word processor. Quite frankly, if you have an IBM-compatible computer running Microsoft Windows or an Apple Macintosh machine, virtually any word processor is kid-usable, given the what-you-see-is-what-you-get display. On the other hand, I have yet to find a kid who instantly takes a shine to WordPerfect running under DOS.

However, if you're looking for programs designed specifically for students, consider Microsoft's Creative Writer for younger children and The Learning Company's Student Writing Center for older youngsters. Both are available in Windows and Macintosh versions.

Writing programs

Creative Writer is a wacky program that will let your youngster create basic reports or crazy multimedia documents that involve all kind of graphics and loony sounds, all with the help of a big-nosed supernerd called McZee. It's easy for kids to use because it was designed for the way youngsters work, which is different from the way adults do things. I recommend that adults stay out of earshot because kids love noisy programs. In particular, watch for the vacuum cleaner that appears when your kids erase things.

For more serious work, the Student Writing Center is a stripped-down word processor that gives students the features they need for reports, newsletters and other projects without the glut of useless features and needless complications of big-time word processors.

The program, also available in Windows and Mac versions, will handle basic text formatting and such chores as footnotes, end notes, title pages and bibliographies quite easily. The bibliography maker, with templates for 20 different types of references, is particularly handy.

The latest CD-ROM version for Windows includes both a spelling checker and a thesaurus with more than 660,000 words, as well as grammar, punctuation ad writing tips.

The Student Writing Center is also adequate for basic desktop publishing tasks. It supports multiple columns and has the ability to use its own clip art collection or import graphics stored in a variety of formats.

It's certainly all that most students need, and come to think of it, probably enough for most adults, too.

For information, write The Learning Company, 6493 Kaiser Drive, Fremont, Calif. 94555.

Michael J. Himowitz is a staff writer for The Baltimore Sun.

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