Pros: XAML Copy and Paste. Live Effects. Text, bitmap import and autotrace options. Integration with Expression Blend. Illustrator-style interface.
Cons: Limited PSD and Al file import; no Mac version; no support for CMYK colour separations.
Expression Design, the product formerly known as Acrylic or Creature House Expression, ships as part of the Expression Suite – which is touted as competition to Adobe’s Creative Suite. It’s a vector graphics tool, suited to producing content for Microsoft’s Web tools Expression Blend and Silverlight.
Design’s interface will be familiar to Illustrator users, with a large artboard view, toolbox and Action bar (Control/options bar). A properties panel holds the equivalent to the colour picker, filter list, a well-stocked brush/stroke gallery and some of the transform tools.
The layout is completed by the layers panel, which operates in the standard industry fashion. The properties and layers panel can also be set to float on the artboard, but some features can be hard to find, hidden within these panels rather
than in a menu bar. For example, only by clicking on a colour value can you activate a pop-up offering five colour models.
Bitmap images can be imported and files like BMP, TIFF and certain other industry formats are supported. PSD files are handled, but layers can’t be edited.
Illustrator PDF files and .ai files are also supported, but only if Illustrator’s Create PDF Compatible File feature is enabled. An Autotrace option is available to convert a bitmap into a vector image. The obvious parallel is Live Trace in Illustrator, but while perfectly usable, Design’s options are more limited.
The main draw for this application is the ability to save artwork out as a XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) file. This is the format used by Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), the application development platform designed by Microsoft and pre-installed in Windows Vista as well as other .NET Framework 3.0 technologies. It’s also used in Expression Blend, the Web development component of the suite.
When seen in this light, the value of the package becomes clearer. Rather than provide output options however, you are meant to copy and paste between Design and XAML-aware applications. The Clipboard (XAML) page of the Options dialog
box lets you control how XAML code will be written to the Clipboard.
The Canvas option is for objects that can be animated or manipulated interactively, as in Expression Blend. The Silverlight option is to be used when working on an application built for Microsoft’s Silverlight while the Resource Dictionary method treats the content as a collection of reusable assets. This does seem a bit of a disjointed workflow, but it may work well if you’re using the Expression Suite to create .NET 3.0 apps. As Design is only available as part of the suite, it could be thought of as a free graphics tool for these tasks.
If you’re already an Illustrator user, there’s a free WPF-compatible XAML export plug-in available online, so there’s no real point in switching to the Design component, especially as the import options are limited. But if you’re a Mac user you can forget it completely –-- this is Windows only for the time being.
You can still download the original Creature House version for free, as well as a free trial of Design itself, from Microsoft.