Real-DRAW Pro 2

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Amazing vector and bitmap-based creative power - at an amazing price.

I often receive recommendations for bitmap editors that readers have found on the Web, but drawing programs are far less common and Real-DRAW Pro's combined vector and bitmap editing is a first. Usually when I look into these apps, they usually turn out to be cheap and cheerful, so idiosyncratic that they are almost unusable or fatally flawed. The more I looked into Real-DRAW Pro though, the more I was impressed.

To begin with it has a very simple interface built on a toolbox down the left-hand side of the screen, two toolbars across the top and bottom and a range of eleven floating palettes that are primarily used for formatting. It's very intuitive and you can begin work immediately and there's a good HTML-based help system there on hand if you need it.

In terms of the tools on offer there are the usual complement including rectangle, oval, rounded rectangle and freehand and Bezier-based pen tools. More advanced options include dedicated arrow and star tools and if you dig a little deeper you'll find a whole host of pre-drawn shapes in the Objects tab of the Quick Style palette. Even better you can store your own shapes for future use.  

Once you've added your objects, there's plenty of drawing control on offer. There are commands for flipping, reordering, combining and aligning on the bottom toolbar. The Size palette can be used to position and size your object precisely while the Rotate and Skew tools work interactively. There's also a Shape tool for node editing, while an envelope mode lets you distort any object as if it was on a rubber sheet.

So far so good, but where Real-DRAW Pro really shows its strength is when it comes to formatting. In terms of flat colour there's a wheel-based Colour Space palette for quickly selecting colours which you can then store in the Colour Memory palette for easy re-use. Colour can also be applied to object edges using the Outline palette which also lets you apply blurring and a 3- colour gradient.

More advanced is the Colour and Texture palette. This offers a wide range of swatch models for choosing colours and can also be used for adding linear and radial gradients. Using the texture option you can choose between hundreds of attractive natural - and unnatural - bitmap-based textures and then interactively control the bitmap tiling with the dedicated Texture tool. Even better you can mix colours and textures to create an infinite range of wash and tint effects. And if the bitmap textures aren't enough, you can even generate your own using Real-DRAW Pro's "GenetX" option which provides DNA-based texture mutation!

Real Draw Pro's formatting effects are fantastic.

This formatting power is surprising, but it's nothing compared to Real Draw's 3D capabilities. Using the Bevel palette you can apply no less than 22 customisable bevel effects to give your objects - and their fills! - the illusion of depth. Especially powerful is the ability to light your objects using the 3D Lighting palette where you can add multiple distant, spot and point lights which you can then interactively control with the dedicated Light tool right down to elevation, focus and even cone angle. Simulating 3D is a common drawing task and normally has to be achieved using complex blends, but Real-DRAW Pro lets you intuitively add a new dimension to your work.

Clever use of lighting can quickly create a photo-realistic 3D effect.

You can add even more impact using the Effects palette. This offers a whole range of customizable effects ranging from common options, such as drop shadows, insets and glows, through to more esoteric options such as the magnifying lens. My particular favourite is the Lens Flare effect which lets you turn any object into a light source that reflects the underlying scene and which would take hours of work to produce traditionally.

To round things off in terms of controlling object appearance there's the Transparency Palette which lets you apply flat, radial or linear transparency effects and edit these on the object itself. All told the formatting power is phenomenal and the creative options virtually limitless. This can be a danger in itself, but Real-DRAW Pro has the answer with its Quick Styles palette. This offers separate Texture, Transparency, Bevel, Effect and Lights tabs each with plenty of presets. Even better you can add your own settings to the palette to save formatting styles for re-use.

It's already clear that Real-DRAW Pro is happy mixing pixel-based formatting with its vector handling so it's no surprise to find that its bitmap support is impressive. Images can be previewed and imported in a wide range of formats and then controlled with the commands under the Bitmap menu. This offers basic brightness/contrast and hue/saturation management along with blurring and sharpening effects. At first the range of creative filters looks limited but under the Tweak command there are 27 colour, art and special effect options ranging from colour boost through to aged photo.

What really makes Real-DRAW Pro's bitmap handling stand out though is its ability to create its own with the Paint New Bitmap tool. Once this is selected, a new Brushes palette appears in which you can choose between a wide range of airbrushes, markers, artistic brushes and even image hoses as well as create your own. You can also choose between ten image modes, set an opacity and then paint with a colour, gradient, texture or combination! You can also set your brush to pick up underlying colours and all brushes are pressure-sensitive.

Once you exit bitmap-editing mode, a new independent Paint object appears which can be repositioned, resized and so on. Alternatively you can use Real-DRAW Pro's Paint On object mode. Select this and your object opens as a bitmap into its own window - ideal for example for painting on shadows or spraying on image hose-based special effects. Exit bitmap mode and your vector object now has its own masked bitmap layer. Working in a similar way with the Paint On Transparency tool you can even spray a completely freeform semi-transparency onto your vector objects!

You can easily paint on your vector objects.

This combination of vector and bitmap creative power is amazing and only Canvas can compete, but Real-DRAW Pro still has one more trick up its sleeve - and this time it's completely unique. Once you've created a section of the drawing, rather than grouping it you can "package" it. This cuts down on memory requirements and helps organize your drawings, but also offers much more.

To begin with packages let you apply both bitmap effects to vector objects and multiple effects simultaneously, such as a drop shadow and a glow. More importantly you can apply the same effects across multiple objects so that you can create a complex drawing and then, for example, apply a linear fade to it, mix local and global lighting or even apply a bitmap artistic filter! The real beauty though is that you can still drill-down to edit the individual elements in the package - all that you have to do is double-click on the package and it automatically opens into its own editing window.

Rdrawpack.png: Packages give huge power for managing your images.

Put everything together and Real-DRAW Pro offers some extraordinary power. Perhaps this is best shown in one of the provided sample images, a photo-realistic image of a video camera. Producing the same in a traditional drawing program would involve hundreds of objects and multiple complex blends and would offer very little editability. In Real-DRAW Pro the same image is built up of just a few objects with 3D lighting applied that are then organized into just eight packages - and you can instantly totally change the appearance of the final package!

However it's important to realize that there is a downside to the Real-DRAW Pro approach. In particular the program's massive creativity all stems from its decision to output to bitmapped images rather than to true vector files. You could save a traditional vector drawing as an EPS, for example, and scale it up to billboard size, but doing the same to a Real-DRAW Pro bitmap would result in horrible pixelization.

Real-DRAW Pro isn't the right program for producing scalable technical drawings or high-resolution commercial print then - so what is it good for? The first program to opt for using vector handling as a route to bitmap output was Macromedia Fireworks which also recognized how ideal the system was for producing Web graphics.

Sadly though this is Real-DRAW Pro's one area of comparative weakness. The Export dialog does offer a preview, for example, but GIF output depends on a downloadable plug-in and doesn't offer advanced control. Rollover production with the frame-based Multimedia Extension is also awkward, while controlling HTML and Javascript output depends on hand editing of templates. Making up for this, at least to some extent, are two advanced features with SVG support (stripped of all bitmap fills and effects) and E-JPG output (Web-browsable but also complete with all object information).

Real-DRAW Pro has its eye on Web handling for the future then, but for the moment Fireworks and Xara X offer better and simpler Web power. Rather than producing the elements of a Web page, Real-DRAW Pro's real strength is producing standalone images. The simplest way to do this is to save to JPEG and with the program's Mega Render technology you can render images in high quality up to ten times their original size. Even more powerful is the ability to output to Photoshop PSD format complete with layers - though this would be better still if it too could take advantage of mega rendering.

Drawings can be exported to Photoshop PSD format complete with layers.

The obvious question is - where's the catch? I tend to be suspicious of shareware generally and this feeling intensified when I found out that Real-DRAW Pro was written by just one programmer - Roman Voska - and in just a few months! Apart from some of the English in the help files however, the more I investigated, the more my doubts were laid to rest. It's not just the innovations - especially the combination of vector, bitmap and pseudo-3D processing - that make Real-DRAW Pro stand out; its usability and reliability are just as impressive. Roman might be a one-man band, but he's clearly a genius.

Overall Real-DRAW Pro wouldn't look out of place being produced by the likes of Adobe, but one thing's for sure - if it was, you wouldn't be able to pick up this sort of graphics power for just $49 !

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

In fact you can get Real-DRAW Pro even more cheaply by downloading the program from Mediachance, www. and then registering with a special 10% discount via the following link

Tom Arah

August 2001

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