Real-DRAW Pro 3

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New tools, effects, formatting power, output options and Web authoring keep Real-DRAW Pro's creative pot bubbling.

Real-DRAW Pro is a one-off application that seamlessly mixes vector-based drawing and illustration with bitmap-based effects and painting and then throws in some unique special effects for good measure. I was amazed by the sheer range of power on offer in version 2 and my jaw dropped when I found out that the whole program was written by just one person. The author, Roman Voska, is clearly a genius - and he's been hard at work again.

As its name suggests, Real-DRAW's heart lies in its drawing capabilities. New options have been added to the core drawing tools to enable control over the shape of rounded rectangles and stars as you draw them and there are also new Frame and Torroid tools (essentially two compound rectangles or ovals). The range of shape tools might seem limited at first but there are plenty of other drag-and-drop shapes available from the Quick Styles palette and you can also now import dingbat and symbol glyphs from any TrueType font.

You can combine these basic building blocks to build up more advanced creations using Real-DRAW's new Boolean combination modes and you can choose to break apart, simplify or un-combine the results at any point in future. Another way to create more complex shapes is to use Real-DRAW's brush tools to quickly paint an object and then use the new Convert to Polynome command to turn its outline into vectors. You can also trace imported bitmaps, for example to quickly vectorize your signature. This new tracing capability is useful but it's only designed to produce a single object so it's not up to converting continuous-tone photographs.

Once you've created your objects, you're ready to format them and this is where Real-DRAW really comes into its own. Where most drawing programs encourage the use of vector-friendly flat fills and gradients, Real-DRAW lets rip with a whole host of pixel-based formatting. With separate palettes for managing Colour and Texture, Outline, Transparency, 3D Bevel, Shadows and Effects and even 3D Lights you can quickly create amazing effects blending colours, textures and graduated transparencies with drop shadows, glows and realistic lighting!

Real-DRAW 3 offers even greater formatting control.

The creativity is so enormous that it can be difficult to keep on top of things. New in version 3 is the sidebar down the right of palettes that lets you quickly swap between the main formatting options. Even better is the new ability to quickly and consistently apply formatting to multiple objects (you can also now select multiple objects from the Layers palette). There's also new formatting power on offer from the Surface Skin palette, which provides subtle surface texture effects for your fills, and the Bump Map palette, which provides raised textures that interact realistically with any 3D lights that you've set up.

Real-DRAW's pixel-based formatting power is dramatic and it's immeasurably enhanced by the program's ability to create bitmap objects from scratch, to paint on existing objects and to "package" objects up so that you can apply bitmap-based effects to them. It's this bitmap-based power that is the secret of Real-DRAW's creativity, but it means that the program isn't suited to producing scalable and pin-sharp vector artwork such as logos.

Having said this, version 3 does now boast Pure Vector Export to EPS, SVG, DXF, EMF and PDF format but, as all formatting information is dispensed with to leave just solid vector shapes, there doesn't seem much point. Much more useful is the program's MegaRender capability which takes Real-DRAW's low-resolution, screen-based image and re-renders it at a higher resolution. With version 3 you can now use this capability for high quality print and for outputting layered Photoshop PSD files.

MegaRendering seriously boosts Real-DRAW's print credentials but in many ways the program is still best suited for creating screen work. In particular its combination of vector-based control and editability and pixel-based creativity and output is ideal for producing web graphics. Version 3 recognises this and offers a dedicated HTML Slicing Editor in which you can mark up hotspots, links and text cells and leave Real-DRAW to output the separate graphics and HTML table code necessary to create the final page or navigation bar. Using the revamped Multimedia Extension palette, you can also set up fully styled rollovers or you can do this with a range of preset effects from directly within the Slicing Editor.

You can now create advanced web pages within Real-DRAW.

The power is impressive but it's not pushing back the boundaries. There are two areas however, where Real-DRAW 3 does show its talent for innovation. The first is the unique Push-Back tool which uses lenses to swap the order of the underlying object stack - great for producing interlocking effects such as Olympic-style rings. The second is the Fit to Path command. Of course text on a path has long been a drawing staple and Real-DRAW's version is comparatively limited and awkward, but the idea is given a twist with the ability to automatically stretch or repeat text - and to apply the same effects to any object!

Real-DRAW Pro 3 offers some unique new effects.

This combination of a few rough edges with some inspired creative thinking is typical of this latest release. There's not the same wow factor that there was with version 2 and the program's maverick tendencies are more obvious, but the new power still comes as a welcome addition to Real-DRAW's existing strengths. And with just one developer to support, the price is extraordinary.

Real-DRAW Pro is the best value graphics application around and - more importantly - one of the most excitingly creative.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

February 2003

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