Price: 448.21 . 284.68
Pros: SketchFlow prototyping tool; Behaviors; Silverlight 3 effects; wider PSD support; enhanced interface; improved States and Assets; sample data.
Cons: No Mac version; Expression Media component removed; fairly steep learning curve with Web; UK version overpriced in comparison to US.
You can also import images from Photoshop files and Illustrator directly to Blend. These can retain layers, shapes and text elements, but Adobe Live Effects, blend modes, and the symbol sprayer are not supported.
The States workflow and the Asset Library have been much improved, with redesigned dockable panels for each that can remain open while you work on the artboard. Assets are now categorized for easier searching and organization – as a result, asset handling is much better than before. Support for the Silverlight Visual State Manager (VSM) makes handling ‘states’ (the visual feedback you receive when you mouse over a control, for example) much easier to organize.
Transitions between states have been much improved, including support for a gradual transition that reflects smooth changes to layout properties.
Interactivity is improved, thanks to a panel of pre-defined Behaviours that speed up the application of repetitive code. These triggered ‘events’ can be dragged onto any object on the artboard to enable mousewheel scrolling to control storyboards, or mouse clicks to play animation, for example.
Animation in Blend, with its keyframe and timeline-based ‘storyboards’, has been boosted for Silverlight projects: you can now animate more properties than before. New preset easing functions are available to be applied to the keyframes in Silverlight projects, while WPF projects use both a drop-down menu of values and a keyspline graph to adjust easing.
As for the other components of the suite, the Expression Media cataloguing tool is now sold separately. Expression Encoder has been enhanced with a Screen Capture facility to record screen-based demos while encoding formats now include improved H.264, AVCHD and QuickTime ProRes, multi-channel audio and Dolby Digital.
The design experience is much improved in Studio 3: as well as featuring a far better interface, many of the improvements have made the Silverlight authoring process significantly faster.
A design for life
Expression Design is the graphic art component of the Expression Suite. In it, you can create images with the drawing tools or blend vector paths and imported bitmaps together.
It now offers full docking support for all panels, but the interface is otherwise unchanged. Images can be exported as various XAML (Extensible Markup Language) file types, including a copy-and-paste method for use as media or resources in Blend, with new support for a Silverlight 3 canvas format. However, this workflow still requires you to specify the clipboard format in advance.
Silverlight 3 and WPF 3.5 SP1 offer better support for effects throughout the Expression Suite, so if you use Drop Shadow or Gaussian Blur and export the elements by copying them as XAML, the live effect is preserved and can be further manipulated or animated in Blend or Expression Web projects.
In reviews of previous versions, we found fault with Design’s limited support for Photoshop and Illustrator files, but Design 3 has gone some way towards addressing this. PSD files can now be imported as single layers, groups or Photoshop layers — including support for Adjustment Layers.
In short, Design 3 is a much-improved tool, and if you can get your head around the various requirements when exporting XAML formats, you’ll find it a useful one.