Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Graphics options give big bang for a small buck

    by  (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #708 May 20-26, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    In issue No. 701, we looked at Adobe's Photoshop Elements 2.0. It is aimed at users who have outgrown the software that came with their digital cameras but don't have either the needs or the budget to take on Adobe's pro-level graphics software.

    Elements offers 85 per cent of the power for 15 per cent of the cost of the full Photoshop. But its interface, closely resembling its pro-level sibling's, may seem too complex for many.

    Those users may want to take a look at Microsoft's Picture It! Digital Image Pro. The program combines ease of use with a wealth of features that used to be available only in complex and expensive high-end software.

    Picture It! comes in Basic ($50) and Premium ($75) editions, but the best features are found in the $160 Pro version. These include the ability to alter the lighting in a digital photo, adding fill flash or reducing backlighting. Photos can be tinted, wrinkles can be removed, and there's now support for Adobe-style plug-in filters (150 filters are included).

    While the Pro edition's power has moved into Adobe's territory, the program's interface is much friendlier. It starts up with offers to help with five common tasks, including scanning or importing photos from a camera, and shows thumbnails of recently used photos. The Mini Lab lets users work on multiple photos at once (handy if you need to rename or rotate a bunch of pictures).

    Picture It! includes thousands of potential projects, helping users make stickers, albums, calendars or cards, adding fancy borders and edges. Within the program, you can e-mail the results or connect on the Net for commercial printing on anything from fridge magnets to baby bibs.

    Photoshop Elements offers more power and sophistication, but Microsoft's Picture It! Pro is easier and more fun, at least for Windows users.

    Ottawa-based Corel's flagship application CorelDraw has a 15-year history bringing graphics power to Windows users. The company has pretty much accepted that graphics pros are not about to abandon their infatuation with Adobe's high-end products, and is now aiming CorelDraw at non-professional business users.

    Despite this refocusing, CorelDraw Graphics Suite 11 ($400) packs a lot of punch. CorelDraw remains a powerful illustration program in a class with Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand. The new version has been optimized for Windows XP and Apple's Mac OS X. The user interface is easily customized, letting users keep the most-used tools right at hand while putting less-used tools out of sight.

    Corel has put a lot of effort into its import and export filter. Users can open files from Adobe's Photoshop or Illustrator, or send CorelDraw files to those applications and expect to have everything show up as expected. CorelDraw has always done a good job applying spectacular graphics effects to text; the new version continues that tradition. The ability to create libraries of frequently used artwork, saved as symbols, is new. It's quick and easy to drag a symbol from a library and drop it into your illustration.

    Also in the package is PhotoPaint 11, the latest take on this photo editor and paint program. A new CutOut tool simplifies making complex masks for applying filters and other changes to just part of a picture. The new Image Stitching feature creates panoramas from multiple photos. Image Slicing does the opposite, cutting a large image into pieces, letting an online picture load faster.

    CorelRave 2.0 creates simple animations and Web rollovers, compatible with the popular Macromedia Flash format. As well, Corel bundles huge amounts of fonts, clipart and photos. CorelDraw Essentials (about $150), which is the older CorelDraw 9.0 repackaged, is also available.

    Don't expect the sort of handholding Microsoft's Picture It! provides. But if you're prepared to spend a few hours learning it, CorelDraw provides far more graphics bang.

    Buy Picture It! from

    Buy Corel Draw 11 from

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan