• Price: 359

  • Company: Microsoft

  • Pros: Slice tool can isolate, hide and select parts of an image before exporting slices in different file formats; bitmap export options.

  • Cons: Windows only; no standalone application, Design is only available as part of Expression Studio; no support for PSD layers.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Expression Design 2 is Microsoft’s vector graphics tool for creating components for the WPF workflow. Version 1 offered non-destructive Live Effects, bitmap tracing and a wide variety of fills and stroke settings. Design 2 scores over its predecessor in a number of ways.

First is slicing. In common with other applications, the Slice tool in Design is used to select and isolate areas of the document that you want to export. Slices can snap to each other to simplify alignment and, like layers, they are saved with the document. Design’s slices resemble layers in other ways too – slices have their own dedicated panel where it’s possible to quickly hide any layers or individual objects that you do not want to appear in your slice.

This means that rather than cutting round an object when you don’t want the background to appear in a specific slice, you can hide the background with just a click.

Another key feature is exporting. Design could always export bitmaps such as PSD and TIFF, but using slicing it can now export the whole artwork or just sections as different file formats. For example, you could export the title area in your user interface mockup as a PNG file and export another section as a Silverlight XAML file. Meanwhile, a new Snap to Pixels function lets you export vector art as bitmaps.

Another innovation is that all the export options for slices and other artwork are now unified into a single dialog box. You can also specify the size of exported images, which is useful when exporting vector art into a specifically sized icon.

Unfortunately, Design’s import functions are rather less impressive. Though a variety of bitmaps and vector formats are supported, PSD layers are still not editable, and while AI layers are preserved, some Illustrator-specific properties will not be carried over.

Microsoft has persisted in making Design only available as part of Studio, although given the new features it could probably work fairly well as a standalone application.