Extensis PhotoGraphics 1

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A professional and seriously useful add-on that grafts vector-based text and drawing power onto Photoshop's photo-editing engine.

Extensis PhotoGraphics 1

The current hot issue in the world of graphics software is the integration of bitmap and vector processing. Revolutionary new object-based programs, such as Fireworks, PhotoDraw and Satori PhotoXL, are merging the two systems to offer vector-style control and bitmap-based end results. Extensis PhotoGraphics has a similar aim in mind, but takes a more evolutionary and complementary approach. Rather than starting from scratch, PhotoGraphics grafts its vector drawing power directly onto the world's most popular bitmap editor. The stated goal is to provide your "favourite illustration tools directly inside Photoshop."

As with all plug-ins, PhotoGraphics is accessed from Photoshop's Filter menu, though it also adds its own dedicated Extensis menu. Once opened, however, PhotoGraphics seems very different to the majority of plug-in filters acting much more like a full program in its own right. The large central preview window is surrounded by a toolbox on the left, a dedicated menu bar across the top and a range of palettes down the right. As with Photoshop itself these palettes are tabbed by default but can also be dragged off to float on their own.

As you would expect it's the toolbox that offers access to PhotoGraphics' main drawing tools. Photoshop's shape handling is generally pitiful involving complex workarounds with the selection tools or getting to grips with the Paths palette. With PhotoGraphics it's simple to add ovals, rectangles, bezier lines and polygons. By double-clicking on the polygon tool you can set the number of sides and also specify a radius setting to turn the object into a starburst. More importantly, thanks to their vector nature, all objects can be repositioned, rotated and scaled without affecting other objects and without their quality degrading.

PhotoGraphics also provides its own text tool. I wasn't really expecting much of this as Photoshop 5 offers its own object-based type layers, but the PhotoGraphics' implementation leaves Photoshop's trailing far behind. To begin with all editing is done in situ in the preview window and controlled in the Text palette. There's full support for horizontal and vertical scaling, baseline shifting, kerning and leading and formats can be saved as styles for future use. Most important of all, you can drag on screen to set up text blocks that automatically text wrap and at last you can even create fully justified paragraphs.

Once added, objects are formatted with the Colors and Options palettes. PhotoGraphics offers the same RGB, CMYK, grayscale, HSB and LAB choices as Photoshop, but also offers a new Web sliders option which ensures that colours will be web-safe. Also very welcome to Web designers is the ability to control the level of anti-aliasing on an individual object basis. Such control is welcome but PhotoGraphics' most impressive formatting feature is undoubtedly its ability to control transparency with the Opacity slider. Semi-transparency is a hugely important creative effect and usually only available in the most advanced drawing packages.

Other advanced features include the ability to lock, hide and control the stacking order of objects. This can be done on an individual object basis or multiple objects can be controlled simultaneously either as groups or by assigning them to their own layers. You can even change overall layer opacity - a feature that none of the dedicated drawing packages offers. Another feature that PhotoGraphics can be proud of is its text-on-path capabilities. Position the text tool over any other object and it turns into a text cursor, click and start typing and the characters automatically follows the object's path or outline. Text can then be formatted with the Text palette or repositioned. You can even add multiple text blocks to the same object.

Such advanced control is impressive but dig a little deeper and you soon come across PhotoGraphics limitations. There are no grid or spiral tools, for example, and no texture or even gradient fills. There are no options for skewing objects either let alone enveloping, blending or extruding. Of course it would be unreasonable to expect the most advanced features from a dedicated package within a plug-in, but there is one inexcusable disappointment in the lack of any alignment or distribution features. Even so, on the basis that 20% of a program's features are used 80% of the time, PhotoGraphics really can claim to provide a useful subset of drawing power.

Once your drawing is complete, it's time to render it back to Photoshop with either the Apply or Apply To New Layer commands. As you want to be able to re-edit your drawing in future you should also use the Save With Image command which somehow embeds the vector information in your bitmap image - PSD, JPG, TIFF, PDF, EPS or DCS - ready for future retrieval. If you work with PSDs and keep your rendered objects on their own layers you can then use the Erase Layer and Apply command to edit and update your drawings whenever you need to.

The retrieve and re-render system certainly works, but it's here that working with PhotoGraphics is less than ideal. Even if all you want to do is to change a typo or move a square you're going to be involved in a laborious and often time-consuming process. In a way this is understandable as Photoshop is being forced into territory for which it was never designed. It's certainly not a criticism of Extensis which has done everything that could be expected of it. In the long run, however, the control PhotoGraphics offers, especially over text, is too important to be left to a semi-detached add-on no matter how professional.

As such, most users will probably choose to hold off and see if Adobe implements similar vector-based handling natively in Photoshop 6. For those users who can't wait, however, or don't trust Adobe to deliver the goods, PhotoGraphic's basic drawing capabilities make it a welcome partner to Photoshop's advanced bitmap handling.

Ease of Use

4

Features

4

Value for Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 1999


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