Micrografx iGrafx Designer 1

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The new name for Micrografx's high-end graphics suite can't hide the fact that its central drawing and bitmap modules are still overly technical for the intended market and seriously showing their age.

iGrafx effects

Micrografx the company behind iGrafx was one of the  graphics software pioneers but, although its budget Windows Draw program  has proved popular, its flagship applications - Designer and Picture  Publisher - have never really established themselves. Now Micrografx is  again tackling the higher end of the market with its all-new iGrafx  Designer suite, "a revolutionary system of intelligent graphic solutions  that help people visually communicate and analyze key corporate  information, processes and ideas to solve real world business problems."  Don't get too excited, however. iGrafx is less revolutionary than promised  with its two major vector and bitmap modules none other than the venerable  Designer and Picture Publisher in disguise!


In fact there's not even very much disguise. Micrografx is pushing the new Office compatibility of the suite but, apart from Designer's revamped menu structure, flat toolbars and more comprehensive right-click menus, there's little difference. Worse, one of the biggest interface changes is negative with the dropping of the previous user-friendly Hint box. This is regrettable as Designer is an intimidating program. Select the oval tool, for example, and you must then choose between ten options for how to define the shape whether by simple dragging, setting the radius, defining points and so on. This power is ideal for technical drawing but confusing for everyone else.

In terms of functionality it's primarily Designer's CAD-like features which have been expanded. The Dimension tool has new options that allow it to measure angles and also the diameter and radius of circles. A new Area, Volume, Perimeter command has been added to give feedback on these parameters for any selected shape. The Callout tool has also been enhanced so that it can automatically pick out these measurements for any selected object. To help create the shape in the first place, Trim and Extend functions have been added to the Effects menu. Best of all is the new Object Explorer window which shows a hierarchical tree view of the objects in a drawing for easy selection and formatting.

iGrafx Designer 1

iGrafx Designer's technical bias is clear in features such as sticky lines and the Object Explorer.

One obvious business use for Designer is the creation of flow diagrams, but in the past the options for this have been surprisingly limited. Not any more. A new Dynamic Snap button has been added to the standard toolbar which makes the cursor snap to the defining nodes of existing objects as you browse over them. This is particularly useful when working with the new Sticky Line tool which adds connecting lines between objects that automatically accommodate repositioning. Objects can also be given linked "label text" simply by selecting and typing while the new Make Same Size command allows selected objects to be given a uniform appearance.

In terms of formatting, Designer's most eye-catching new feature is the ability to add transparency. This is applied through a tab in the Object Format dialog, so it isn't as intuitive as the interactive transparency tool in Corel Draw, but its graduated transparency options are more than FreeHand offers. Also advanced is the ability to use an object like a magnifying glass using the Effects>Magnify command. Even so, without options such as Pantone and fractal fills, Designer's formatting focus remains technical rather than creative as is evident through the new enhanced line styles which include stitch patterns and cyclical lines.

iGrafx effects

Designer offers object transparency and a magnifying lens effect.

All told, Designer is an impressive performer in its own area of expertise, technical drawing, and for producing schematics or floor plans it is an obvious contender. However, for more general graphic design its technical bias is a problem and functionally it has fallen well behind the big three, Illustrator, FreeHand and Draw. At least Micrografx has now recognised the crucial importance of the Web as an output format and has added a Publish to Web command that allows its vector drawings to be exported for Web viewing either through a Java-based player or its QuickVector plug-in. However in most instances a bitmapped GIF or JPEG would prove more useful which makes the lack of any export preview or the ability to produce image maps unforgivable.

Image / Picture Publisher

Of course for such work, Micrografx would argue that you should be using the dedicated bitmap-editing module, the former Picture Publisher which has now been renamed as iGrafx Image. Like Designer, Picture Publisher boasted a long pedigree and in its most recent release attempted to take the challenge directly to Photoshop with features such as print-oriented CMYK-based editing. This is even more pronounced with iGrafx Image which now offers support for Photoshop's native layered PSD files along with professional features such as 48-Bit RGB and 64-Bit CMYK modes.

Image's other new features are all direct lifts from Photoshop. The biggest change is the inclusion of a Channels palette which makes it simple to work with an image's individual RGB and CMYK components while the new Channel Mixer enables these components to be creatively combined and manipulated. New tools include variations for the Probe tool to enable multiple samples to be monitored and an onscreen ruler for measuring angles and distances. The Path tool enables selections to be defined as vector shapes but these have to be saved to disk and loaded individually rather than being managed from a dedicated Paths palette. Finally new merge modes, such as dodge, burn and dissolve, have been added to the brush and retouching tools which again bring Image more into line with the market leader.

iGrafx Image's channel palette

iGrafx Image's colour handling has been improved with a Channels palette and Channel Mixer.

However much it tries, though, Image just isn't in the same league as Photoshop. Native CMYK editing is all very well, for example, but professional users actually want to be able to work in RGB while targetting CMYK. Without a CMYK preview or gamut warning that's just not possible. To be able to offer such features Photoshop has to juggle both sets of pixel values simultaneously in real time, but Image seems to find it hard enough coping with one. Even simple tasks seem slow and you might as well put the kettle on when applying some filter effects.

Without this core processing speed it means that Image simply isn't up to modern bitmap tasks such as handling adjustment layers, huge files or frame-based video editing. It should still be capable of dealing with the more reasonable requirements involved in producing Web graphics, but again this is a disappointment. Image does offer dedicated GIF and JPEG Export dialogs but the single preview doesn't allow for comparison and important features, such as control over dithering, are missing whilst access to the crucial web-safe palette is hidden away in a dropdown list in an obscure sub-dialog. Sadly this is typical. Image is just too slow, too technical and too fussy to win many friends.

Ironically the one feature that both Designer and Image share is that neither program is obviously geared for the corporate market Micrografx claims to be targetting. The situation is marginally improved by the bundling of two utilities: Share Media, which offers access to graphics and clipart from within Office apps, and Share Viewer, which allows iGrafx drawings to be annotated. These are the only programs covered in the manual and they certainly don't provide the promised ability to analyze key corporate information, processes and ideas. However there was also a CD marked "Business" in the box which I assumed would at least offer some business-orientated clipart.

In fact the CD contains the full iGrafx Business suite reviewed and recommended in issue . Launching iGrafx Business with its opening choice of vector, bitmap or 3D editing is again eerily familiar and it's no surprise to find that the suite is actually an updated version of Micrografx' Windows Draw with its PhotoMagic and Simply 3D modules still in place. In many ways that's no bad thing. The drawing module in particular is especially strong with project-based help to build everything from an award certificate to a full newsletter. The program has also matured from its early consumer bias and now offers some serious business charting power while maintaining the usability offered by its visual toolbar and drag and drop gallery. The bitmap and 3D elements are less powerful but again adequate and easy to use for occasional users.

iGrafx Business

The bundled budget iGrafx Business duplicates much of the functionality of the Designer suite and in many ways outshines it.

There are two problems. The first is that the Business suite was clearly never intended as part of the Designer suite with the bitmap module in particular duplicating much of the functionality of iGrafx Image and so simply wasting disk space. More importantly the Business suite shows just how a corporate graphics program should work by offering the right level of functionality, integration and ease of use to help occasional users produce their best work. By bundling its budget solution Micrografx has highlighted just how badly its higher end solution fails to deliver.

Neither Designer nor Image are bad programs and both have areas of strength, but they are certainly not the tools of choice for most high end corporate users. To provide that, a change of name and some minor tinkering won't be enough. Micrografx will really have to go back to the drawing board.



Ease Of Use


Value For Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

August 1999

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