Getting creative with art software Images: The drawing program included in Microsoft's operating system is woefully inadequate. Here are a few programs that will beef it up.

June 22, 1998|By Dwight Silverman | Dwight Silverman,HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Every copy of Windows comes with Paint, a modest little art program that lets you draw your own pictures and make changes in images created by others. But "modest" is the key word here - don't call on Paint to do any heavy artistic lifting.

For that, you'll need software tools with a higher level of sophistication. Here's a look at two software programs at two ends of the price spectrum, and a low-cost drawing tablet you can use with either one:

Paint Shop Pro 5.0, $99, Jasc Software: If you've used consumer photo editing software such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe or Microsoft's PictureIt! - and have been disappointed with the lack of flexibility or power - Paint Shop Pro is worth considering.

And doing so is a snap. A fully functional version is available for downloading from Jasc's Web site at www.jasc.com. Grab it, try it, and if you decide to use it you can get a registration key, or order the disk and accompanying manual online.

Paint Shop Pro has long been considered an alternative to the pricier Photoshop, but it has always been a step behind in capabilities. On the other hand, Paint Shop Pro has been easier to use than Photoshop, and its developers tried to automate tasks wherever they could. This new version, though, brings Paint Shop Pro to near parity with Photoshop. It now includes the ability to do layers, albeit with a simpler system than Photoshop.

It also borrows from other programs, such as MetaTools' Fractal Design Painter. It has nozzles that let you paint with specific objects. For example, you can lay down a row of dice, cars, airplanes, stars or any one of several dozen icons just by clicking and dragging with your mouse. You can add others, too.

Paint Shop Pro will read and save images in almost any popular format, including Photoshop files.

Photoshop 5.0, $995, Adobe Systems: This is the Cadillac of photo-manipulation software. And it's priced like a Caddy. (If you're upgrading from earlier versions of Photoshop, or from the "light" LE version, it's a lot cheaper - in the $200-$300 range.) However, if you are a professional who works with digital art, or someone who's adamant about having the best, Photoshop is the real thing.

Version 5.0 is not a radical departure from its predecessor. Instead, developers have concentrated on making Photoshop - which has a notoriously steep learning curve - easier to use. Many common tasks, such as shadow creation, have finally been automated.

Adobe has tweaked some of its commonly used tools in Photoshop to make them friendlier. For example, artists who wanted to indicate the edge of an object in an image had to painstakingly draw around those edges. Now, the pencil and lasso tools are magnetic - the program itself senses where the edges are and clings to them.

Photoshop 5.0 also has multiple undo capability, so you can move backward through various changes you've made.

Adobe also has greatly enhanced the text features of Photoshop. lTC Text now has its own type of layer, with its own capabilities.

Pablo, $99, KidBoard: When it comes time to draw something, nothing beats a pen and paper. But most computer users who aren't professional artists still struggle with a mouse, a distinctly clunky drawing device.

Computer drawing tablets have been on the market for years, but generally they've been priced out of reach of many consumers. Pablo is the first quality drawing tablet aimed squarely at the home market.

Its drawing area is decently sized, at about 8 inches by 6 inches. An attached overlay of plastic lets you put images underneath for tracing.

The stylus can be attached by a cord on either side of the table, making it comfortable for either right-or left-handers.

Pablo comes with two great software titles - MetaTools Dabbler, a drawing program that's a subset of the higher-end Fractal Design Painter, and Kai's Power Goo LE, a "light" version of the popular photo-distortion program.

Using Pablo is simple. Just press a button on the stylus to activate it. With art programs designed to work with a tablet - and all the titles mentioned here will - the effects are similar to using a real pen, brush or marker. The longer and harder you press down, the darker and more pronounced the image will be on the screen.

Dabbler is particularly good for this, because, like Fractal Design Painter, it emulates "natural" media, such as chalk, charcoal or even crayons.

Send e-mail to dwight.silvermachron.com.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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