Micrografx Windows Draw 5

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A Windows 95 graphics suite offering comprehensive vector, bitmap and 3D  image editing and management, all at an unbeatable price.

Micrografx Windows Draw

The latest version 5.0 of Micrografx's Windows Draw program is subtitled as a "Graphics and Print Studio." This might sound very grand for a budget program costing well under 50, but there are good reasons for the claim. Not only does the package include a drawing application, but also a bitmap photo-editor, a 3D object designer and a media manager for controlling these images and also the huge range of supplied clipart.

The central program remains Windows Draw, a vector-based design package. In keeping with the intended audience of occasional home and office users, the program is extremely user-friendly. When the application is loaded for example, the user is given the option to open a project wizard. There are 18 broad categories to choose from ranging from greetings cards to business forms. Selecting the letterhead option as an example, narrows the choice down to six further options, in this case, classic, jazzy, fun, floral, modern or natural. After further prompting for name and address details, the final letterhead is made up to order.

The help on offer doesn't end here, with plenty of assistance on how to customise the design available from a new Project Help panel occupying the rightmost quarter of the screen. In fact such advice is largely unnecessary as the Windows Draw environment is extremely transparent and self-evident. To change any object, for example, right-clicking calls up the shortcut menu with access to the Format Properties option. Selecting this opens a single tabbed dialog where everything from the fill, line, shadow, text, size and position can all be set clearly and precisely.

In spite of the hundreds of pre-supplied templates and simple customisation, for serious work you will almost certainly end up working from scratch. This is no problem with Windows Draw as the program comes with a complete set of tools for adding over 30 geometric shapes. In addition to the obvious lines, ovals and rectangles, many of the elements are special "CoolShapes" which have a measure of intelligence built in. To draw a realistic cube or pyramid, for example, you simply draw the main rectangle or triangle and then drag out from it to automatically create the shaded 3D extrusion.

New in version 5.0 are the "curveygon" and "megagon" tools which interactively and enjoyably produce snowflake-style objects. Just as satisfying, and potentially much more useful, are the border frame and border line tools. Selecting either of these calls up a small dialog in which you can choose between simple bevel effects and complex patterns such as confetti or kites and also set a width and spacing. After the parameters have been set, dragging on screen will automatically produce a working border to the desired specification.

One of Windows Draw's more surprising strengths has always been its diagramming capability. Thanks to the ability to apply label text to any drawn element and the use of connector lines to automatically link objects, the creation of flow diagrams has always been simple. Now with the ability to set a scale so that each unit on the page is equivalent to another unit in the real world, it also becomes possible to create accurate technical drawings. Used in conjunction with the architectural and construction symbols available as clipart, you can even redesign your kitchen or garden.

Another addition to version 5.0 is the mail merging capability. Text fields can be added to a drawing that refer to the names and details kept in an Address List. On the image these are shown as placeholders, but when printed they are replaced by the actual information. Existing databases can be imported from external sources, but the process in unnecessarily laborious. Even so, for the production of customised invitations or the annual Christmas mail shot, even such rudimentary mail merging is invaluable.

Of course there are areas where Windows Draw is limited. Although individual nodes can be edited, for example, there are no global perspective or enveloping effects. Text too is limited without the ability to justify paragraphs, let alone add advanced features such as bullets or tabs. Colour handling is particularly weak with no CMYK or colour matching libraries. Most fundamental of all is the lack of colour separation. If you are happy outputting to the printer connected to your machine this isn't a problem, but for commercial typesetting and print you will have to look to a more advanced solution.

On the other hand, at under 50, you can't really expect such professional features and in many other areas the power of Windows Draw is extraordinary. The implementation of layers, for example, is particularly elegant. Rather than depending on a clumsy on-screen palette for management, layers are shown as selectable tabs at the bottom of the drawing. Right-clicking on the tab name allows all options such as the visibility of the layer to be set. Even more impressive is the ability to apply bitmap image effects to vector elements. Over 50 artistic, colour and distortion effects can be previewed and, if the effect is applied, the vector elements are automatically converted to the appropriately sized bitmap.

Once a drawing is complete it is possible to export it to a huge range of formats. Even simpler is the ability to add it to collection of images in the ABC Media Manager. The image can then be dragged and dropped again into any other Windows 95 program. ABC Media Manager now supports 55 different file formats so it will work with almost any bitmap or vector graphics you can throw at it, but its most common use is to manage the 20,000 images of supplied clipart. The program is intelligent so that, if a drawn image is dragged into a paint environment, the vector image is automatically converted to a bitmap.

The bitmap editor that comes with Windows Draw is Photo Magic. This is a comprehensive program offering complete management of an image's overall tone and colour. The same image effect filters that can be applied within the Draw module are also available, though the fact that the preview is limited to a dialog thumbnail is slightly disappointing. For local editing, Photo Magic has a complete set of retouching tools with advanced controls over transparency and blending mode.

Photo Magic's global and pixel-based editing are good, but impressively it also allows areas of an image to be controlled as units through the use of masks. With a scanned portrait, for example, it is possible to isolate just the face to apply a sharpening filter. Masks can be built up with various tools such as the marquee and magic wand and the use of these can be fine tuned, for example to add to the mask or subtract from it, using the context sensitive "ribbon" under the menu bar. In some ways Photo Magic's creation of masks and selections is more advanced than Photoshop's.

Unfortunately, once created, the controls are much weaker. Masks can be saved, but only to disk not within the image itself. If a selection is cut and pasted it can then be repositioned and resized, but there is no layering system so that multiple elements of an image cannot be kept isolated and freely editable. Layers are essential for the creation of photo montages and this is the one area of photo editing that is well beyond Photo Magic. For simple scanning and retouching of images, however, Photo Magic is more than adequate.

Completely new to latest Windows Draw is the Instant 3D module. Working in 3D can easily become frighteningly complex, but Micrografx have chosen to keep their system as simple as possible even if that means cutting down on functionality. Everything is managed through dragging and dropping from a tabbed onscreen catalog. First the 3D object is chosen from around 90 supplied elements. Then a material, such as a wood texture, is dropped onto the object and then a background and lighting effect dropped onto the underlying window. The wireframe object can then be rotated and resized before final rendering and saving as a bitmap.

The process is about as simple as it could be, but there are two fundamental limitations. Firstly each "scene" is limited to a single object which is rather pushing the term. Secondly there is no way to create new objects or even to edit those supplied. Having seen the work involved in creating even the simplest 3D shapes, however, this is probably a sensible decision. In any case it is possible to create the most important type of object, 3D text, using the Text Wizard. With control over typeface, extrusion, bevelling and even deformation, this enables the creation of a wide range of 3D logotypes, which is all most users would be looking for anyway.

Instant 3D is by no means top-of-the-range in terms of functionality, but for the intended audience it offers just the right balance of capability and usability. Exactly the same can be said of all the other component applications. For the serious graphics user, the limited text and colour handling and the inability to produce separated output combine to rule Windows Draw out as a professional solution. For the occasional user, however, the combination of ease-of-use, excellent integration, surprising power and unbeatable value for money means that you need a good excuse not to buy Windows Draw.



Ease of Use


Value for Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

December 1998

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