Price: £329 plus VAT
Micrografx made its name with business graphics rather than professional design, and despite having engendered a loyal user base, Designer has never threatened the likes of Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia FreeHand, or CorelDraw. This latest release, however, has some clever features, including CAD import and Flash export. Certainly they attracted Corel, which will complete its purchase of Micrografx by the end of 2001. Designer is a vector-drawing package with a leaning towards technical illustration. You can work with CAD-like precision down to one micron on documents which can be 2-x-2km in virtual size. Its approach of providing lots of toolbars containing plenty of variations on path drawing is reminiscent of some CAD software, and is possibly more versatile in this respect than, for example, Deneba Canvas. With its new call-out feature for creating diagrammatic captions, plus its existing dimensioning tools, we can see Designer as a viable alternative to products such as AutoSketch. File format support These features are now complemented by the ability to import data that has been saved in DWG format from the likes of AutoCAD, or indeed DXF format from a whole variety of CAD and 3D applications. However, these come into your Designer documents as flat 2D outlines from a top-down view only; this might suit floorplans, but it’s slightly irritating when you find that your 3D camera view is completely ignored. The data itself arrives as a bunch of loose objects which are then difficult to edit and manipulate. But then Designer is not a CAD package by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it intended to be. It’s a vector all-rounder that occasionally manages to put the big-name software to shame. Unlike Illustrator, you can work on multiple pages. Unlike FreeHand, you can export to version 1.3 Adobe Acrobat PDFs. It also supports vector-object transparency, either as a single value or as a gradient, and this can be applied to strokes and fills independently. Working with transparency is easy thanks to Designer’s clean and palette-light – if rather ugly – interface. Tricky Flash export In some areas, though, the Designer interface is a right old pig. Take Flash export, for example, which is part of the program’s pompously titled ‘intelligent graphics’ features. You can build simple animations with multiple objects as in other professional illustration packages, but instead of sending them to frames, you have to mark them up with a special ‘AsAnimation’ property tag; woe betide the artist who can’t remember the tag names. You can sidestep this exercise by working across multiple layers, but we found Designer layers to be fussy and awkward despite the friendly-looking tab system across the bottom of the screen. And no, there isn’t a Send To Layers command in the program. Another disappointment is the lack of optimization previews when saving to compressed Web formats – JPEG, GIF and PNG. This puts the program at a major disadvantage next to the competition. Also lacking is a bit of speed when working in the best preview mode. Worst of all, manuals are bizarrely vague. We look forward to seeing what Corel does with Micrografx’s technology, but this version isn’t compelling for anyone but the business and technical artist.