Wright Design 1

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A revolutionary design package that sets new standards of speed, integration  and versatility for high quality, high-end bitmap and vector processing.

 Wright Design

Wright Design is a truly extraordinary program. It comes from an Australian company but it is so different to the rest of today's PC design software that it could almost have come from another planet. In fact in many ways it does come from another world - the world of high-end pre-press work on Sun workstations. With no history on the PC platform to hinder it, the program is free to take a completely new and radical approach to the fundamentals of computer-based design.

This difference to current solutions is apparent as soon as you try to load an image - and initially it is far from favourable. Selecting the Import Picture command, for example, only offers three supported file types - TIFF, EPS and JPG. What's more, trying to load the common LZW-compressed flavour of TIFF simply leads to an error. More disconcerting still is the fact that when an image is imported it doesn't actually appear on the page at all. You have to select another command, Place Picture, to finally get the image onto the screen.

It's a clumsy and roundabout procedure, but it soon turns out that there are very good reasons for it. In the process of importing, Wright Design actually converts the picture to its own *.SPL file format. This is a format that has been designed from the ground up for fast and efficient processing. This really has to be seen in action to be fully appreciated but, take it from me, Wright Design is amazingly fast. Bitmaps of 100Mb and more can be resized, skewed, mirrored and free rotated in real time as if they were little more than 100k.

It's important to realise that this speed isn't due to a low-resolution proxy system. All the image data is available for processing as can be seen if you zoom in on a detail of your artwork. However it's clear that only the image data necessary for accurate screen work is being dealt with at any given time. This has a slight drawback in that when the final output is prepared - either as a TIFF or EPS - the whole image has to be processed. Even so, this is still reasonably fast and a small price to pay for the benefits of real-time working. What's more it means that Wright Design's memory demands are very low with complex 100Mb+ compositions manageable on systems with as little as 32MB RAM.

Wright Design's second great strength is that it is truly object-based. Other drawing programs have been slowly breaking down the distinction between vector and bitmap, but Wright Design simply acts as if the boundary doesn't exist. As you would expect the program comes with the normal selection of vector tools for producing rectangles, ovals and freehand shapes each of which can be given solid or gradient fills. Crucially, however, it is also possible to give each object an imported picture as a bitmap fill.

In practice this means that it is easy to create vector-based crops or masks to isolate areas of an imported image. The resulting section of photograph is still a vector object based on its mathematically defined clipping path. As such the object can be moved, scaled, rotated, sheared, mirrored and perspective-transformed at any time and at great speed so that creating complex photo-compositions is simple. What's more the clipping path mask can always be fine-tuned with the shaping tool which gives far greater creative freedom and flexibility than is available in the once-and-for-all photo editors.

For most montages the photos that make it up will actually be kept as vector objects throughout the compositing process, but Wright Design also allows them to be converted to true bitmaps. This automatically produces an 8-bit alpha mask layer that allows the creation of special bitmap effects such as feathering and shadowing. Wright Design's bitmap capabilities don't stop here. In particular the program also allows bitmap objects to be created directly with a range of bitmap tools including pressure-sensitive airbrush, chalk, charcoal, crayon and splatter brushes.

Being able to combine freeform painting and drawing in this way is virtually unique, with Deneba's Canvas the only program that comes close. What really sets Wright Design apart is that each brush stroke is stored as an independent object. This becomes clear if you open the Object List palette where all the objects that make up a composition are listed and can be selected. This means that any brush stroke, even an airbrush stroke, can be repositioned, scaled, rotated, sheared, deleted and so on, at any time in future.

That's not all. The central Paint Styles palette opens up a huge array of further editing possibilities through its choice of nine different style effects. The most basic of these is the tint control that allows any object to be given a colour fill and level of transparency. This enables us to retrospectively fine-tune the hue and opacity of our selected airbrush stroke, for example. Other options allow tint effects to be set up that interact in various ways with the objects below and for advanced gradient effects to be applied.

Each of these paint style effects is called a "layer" and each object can have multiple layers so that complex interacting effects can be built up. The most common use of multiple layers is with the colour correction and filter styles and imported photographs. Using a colour curve layer, for example, the contrast in shadowed areas of an image could be boosted while a selective colour layer could add magenta to the yellows and a filter layer could add unsharp masking.

The huge strength is that because the actual data of the underlying image is unaffected, the effect of each layer can be infinitely fine-tuned either by setting new parameters or, most easily, by changing the layer's opacity. If you don't like the results you can always just delete the layer and have another go. The nearest equivalent features to Wright Design's paint style layers are Photoshop's adjustment layers and Painter's dynamic floaters, but in practice they pale by comparison.

Again it largely comes down to a question of speed. Because Wright Design defers all but the necessary screen-based image processing, the response even with multiple 100Mb images with multiple layers remains virtually instantaneous. None of the other existing PC programs that process their files as they go along can hope to compete. The combination of Wright Design's speed, its vector-based handling of bitmap images and the complete editability it offers over work in progress are unique. At its best, the program behaves like a cross between Corel Draw and Adobe Photoshop working at ten times the speed!

That's not bad going and there's no doubt that Wright Design shatters the mould of current design software. However it's not all good news. With such power on tap it's inevitable that some complexity will creep in, but the interface hardly helps. In particular the attempt to control multiple layers, applied not only to fills but also to strokes and alpha channels, all from within the one cramped Paint Styles dialog is asking for trouble. Sadly this is only the start of the program's complexity and with poor manuals and online help the user is largely left to struggle alone.

It's also important to recognise that in spite of its power, Wright Design does have areas of weakness. While its bitmap controls such as artistic brushes and colour-based masking are amazing for a drawing program, for example, there are still major limitations. The selection of six filters, for example, is disappointing compared to the hundred or so offered by Photoshop. More limiting still are the typographic controls. Although the typeface, point-size, alignment, leading and tracking can all be controlled there are none of the paragraph-based options for controlling spacing and bullets that are essential when working with longer sections of text.

This is a major weakness compounded by the fact that each design is limited to a single page. This immediately rules Wright Design out for the production of publications. At the other end of the scale, for less demanding vector-based jobs like the creation of logos and simple graphics, the basic tools and transformations that Wright Design offers are adequate but hardly inspiring. For the majority of desktop-based design work then, the market leaders Photoshop and Corel Draw are still safe - at least for the moment.

However, for those professional designers attempting to combine high-resolution bitmaps and vector artwork, the limitations of current software have long been apparent. To these users the speed, integration and versatility of Wright Design and the creative freedom that results will come as a hugely welcome breath of fresh air.

Ease of Use




Value for Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

August 1998

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