Print Shop, an old friend made better Adults will like this new incarnation of old kids' toy

Your computer

September 07, 1997|By Michael Himowitz

EVERY year, hundreds of new programs hit the market. A year or two later, they're history. So when an old friend like Print Shop appears in a new incarnation, it's worth taking notice.

Since it was introduced in 1984, this simple, friendly graphics package from Broderbund has evolved from a toy for the kiddies into a remarkably competent design program that's just as good for parents who need to turn out fliers, brochures, invitations, business cards, labels, certificates, banners and other goodies in the office.

Print Shop has also spawned many competitors, especially now that inexpensive color printers, scanners and electronic cameras have turned digital imaging into something easy enough for a grown-up to do. At the high end, Microsoft Publisher has added fun features such as greeting cards to its bag of adult tricks, while a dozen graphics packages (some bundled with printers and scanners) can do the same.

But Print Shop Premier Edition 5.0, which runs under Windows 95, still does what it does very well. The new release adds plenty of bells and whistles -- some borrowed from the competition. These include better photo handling, new projects, improved step-by-step instructions, direct support for scanners and digital cameras, Internet connectivity and thousands of new graphics.

Broderbund says the program requires a computer with an Intel 80486/66 processor and 8 megabytes of memory, but I wouldn't try it on anything less than 90 Mhz Pentium machine with 16 megabytes of RAM. Although it comes on a CD-ROM, Print Shop will also claim 35 megabytes of hard disk for a minimum installation, and 80 megabytes for a full installation, which will make the program run faster.

As always, Print Shop hides its heavy-duty programming behind a deceptively simple facade. When you fire it up, you'll see a screen that gives you a choice of 13 types of projects -- signs, greeting cards, banners, etc. New to this release are pamphlets, note cards, tri-fold greeting cards and Post-it Notes (You'll need to buy sheets of 3M Post-it stock for these).

Once you've picked a project, you have three more choices. If you don't need help at all, ask for a blank page and go to work. If you need a little guidance, Print Shop will walk you though the design process by offering menus of backdrops and layouts. If you're artistically challenged (as I am), you can pick one of 1,000 professionally designed layouts and modify it to suit your needs. Purists may cringe, but this is the fastest way to get a decent project done in a hurry.

To create or modify a masterpiece, all you have to do is select from a menu of backgrounds, borders, graphics, photos, text boxes and headlines. You can move any element anywhere on the page, resize it or rotate it by clicking your mouse on "handles" that appear on the edge of the object.

If you're not satisfied with the 23,000 graphics and photos that come with the package, you can import your own. Print Shop handles most common graphics formats and can load graphics directly from any scanner or digital camera that complies with the industry's TWAIN standard.

While most graphics programs can do these tricks, I was particularly impressed by a few of Print Shop's features. With my Lexmark 7000 ink jet printer, it reproduced scanned photographs beautifully and did a particularly good job with gradient fills and blends (backgrounds that change shade or color gradually). And, it will flow text into odd shapes, such as hearts or circles, a trick usually reserved for high-end design software.

There's also a nifty new project called an Online Greeting. Create a greeting card on the screen, dial up your Internet provider, and Print Shop will automatically e-mail it to the recipient of your choice. Most e-mail programs, including Netscape Navigator's built-in mail client, can display images saved in the JPEG format that Print Shop uses. Be warned, however, that it can take a few minutes for the program to generate the image and send it.

While other publishers have abandoned manuals in favor of cheaper, online help menus, Broderbund includes not only a clear, concise instruction book, but also a 650-page color catalog displaying every graphic and font. This convenience alone is worth the price of admission.

There are some annoyances. Unlike its competitors, Print Shop doesn't provide simple drawing tools for lines, boxes and circles. To create one of these basic elements, you have to select it from the graphics menu and modify it.

The program also suffers from typographical overkill. It adds 180 True Type fonts to your system, which is about 130 more than anyone needs. Too many fonts eat up memory and can slow your system down. You'll probably want to remove at least half of them using the Windows control panel.

The Print Shop comes in a variety of configurations. The $50 Premiere Edition runs on Windows 95 only. You can also buy it as part of the Print Shop Publishing Suite, which includes Press Writer -- a more sophisticated desktop publishing program. The revamped Print Shop Standard Edition, which comes with fewer graphics, fonts and other features, will run on older machines using Windows 3.1.

For information, point your Web browser to http: //, or call Broderbund at 800-548-1798.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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