Micrografx Designer 9

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Improved DXF import and new PDF and Flash output, but Designer 9's core power remains unaltered - and an awkward mix. 

Ten years ago Micrografx was one of the design front-runners on the PC. In fact at one time mainstream dominance beckoned with rumours of a buy-out by Microsoft. That didn't happen and two years ago the company seemed to go through a form of mid-life crisis re-launching its programs under a new iGrafx brand and seemingly doing everything it could to shake off its previous user-base. Now, thankfully, the iGrafx experiment is over and new versions of Picture Publisher and Designer have finally been released. So has it been worth the wait?

The first noticeable difference is that Designer 9 now uses the Microsoft Installer, which makes set-up simple both for standalone users and for enterprise deployment. Otherwise nothing has changed in terms of the interface with the toolbar down the left-hand side of the screen, context-sensitive button bar across the top and the Object Explorer panel down the right of the screen for selecting and controlling pages, layers and individual objects.

The Object Explorer gives Designer a more technical feel and this is apparent throughout the program. Further examples of Designer's almost CAD-like approach are the range of grids and guides, dimensioning options and especially the dynamic snap - as you draw you'll find that your cursor is constantly being attracted to the defining points of existing lines and shapes like a magnet. In version 9 these snap points are now clearly indicated as you move the cursor near them.

Designer's power is concentrated on technical drawing.

Designer's dynamic snap certainly helps produce precise 2D technical drawings, but the program can't compete with dedicated 3D-oriented packages with true isometric capabilities. What Designer can do though is work with the drawings produced with these dedicated CAD packages which is why its ability to import technical standards such as CGM, DSF, DS4, DRW, GRF and MGX format files is so important. With Designer 9 this capability is extended with the ability to import the latest DXF/DWG files from AutoCAD 2000 and to pick-up the current scale and to convert colours.

Once you've created or imported your drawing, you can embellish it with a wide range of formatting options including technical favourites such as customizable hatching and more creative options such as bitmap fills and even variable transparency. You can also import and place bitmaps and Designer 9 includes the full Picture Publisher 9 program (reviewed issue ) for just this purpose.

Designer also lets you enhance your drawings by marking them up with its Callout tool. Simply click on an object and drag to produce a linked callout. You can enter the callout text yourself or automatically pick-up dimensions such as the object's area or perimeter. Now with the Callout tab of the Dimensions dialog box you can control everything from the inner and outer margin between the text and its border through to the "halo width" which is the blank space around the callout line.

It's a welcome addition but the ability to fine-tune callouts isn't going to set the world on fire. So where is the new power in Designer 9? The answer lies in its output capabilities.

To begin with Designer 9 now offers the ability to output to Acrobat PDF files so that its drawings can be viewed in the widely and freely available Acrobat Reader program. Multiple page publications are supported along with four different levels of export quality ranging from Web to Pre-Press. Designer isn't the right program for producing commercial print, however, so it's definitely Web delivery which is the main target - an impression reinforced by the ability to set up hyperlinks to other pages and to external targets.

Multi-page drawings can be exported to PDF.

Web output is also catered for with Designer 9's new ability to export its drawings as Flash files which have the advantage over PDFs in that they can be fully integrated into the HTML page. Output of drawings to SWF is relatively straightforward thanks to the Publish to Web command which offers a preview, the ability to set size and quality and which also produces the necessary HTML code.

More importantly Flash also offers the ability to create vector-based animations. There are two ways to bring your drawing to life in Designer. The first is to create each step of the animation on a separate layer and then map each layer to a frame in the Flash setup dialog. Alternatively you can use the Transform or Blend effects to create a grouped series of objects that you then apply an AsAnimation property to.

Designer can create Flash animations - but the system is awkward.

This property-based approach to animation has certain strengths such as the ability to make elements draggable and to set up crude rollover effects where the colour of an object changes when the end-user's mouse moves over it. Generally though it's an intimidating and awkward way to set up and manage animations and interactivity. While it's relatively straightforward to convert existing flat drawings to SWF, you certainly wouldn't want to use Designer to produce Flash animations from scratch.

This is typical of Designer as a whole. The program offers an odd mix of CAD-like technical drawing functionality and more creative graphic design capabilities. Most users will tend to fall into either one camp or the other and so would be better off with a more dedicated application. Where Designer does come into its own though is for those users wanting to translate between the two worlds. If you want to take an embellished CAD projection through to Flash or PDF output, Designer comes into its own.



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System  Requirements : Pentium or higher, 64MB RAM, 200MB disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000 or NT 4 (SP3), SVGA, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

October 2001

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