REVIEWS

Luck of the Draw

Appsoft Draw puts drawing tools in the hands of mere mortals

by Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes

There is no better drawing experience on a computer than the one you can have with a good drawing or illustration program on a NeXT machine. The combination of Display PostScript, fast throughput, and real multitasking in the NeXTSTEP operating environment provides fertile ground for creative inspiration. Why? Because as you modify objects on the screen, the computer redraws them quickly and exactly, without the system or drawing tools getting in the way of the creative process.

Until recently, you could get this experience only by using a professional illustration program such as Adobe Illustrator. But why should only pro illustrators have this much fun? Everybody needs to draw, from marketing reps working on presentations to engineers working on prototypes. What these people need is an easy-to-learn drawing package that can produce multipage documents and offers automatic functions for the nonartist.

Appsoft Draw goes beyond these basic requirements by providing tools that professional illustrators would find useful. At $395, Draw is attractive to professional illustrators as a second drawing package for quick illustrations, but its biggest market is for NeXT users with limited drawing skills who need to produce professional-looking graphics quickly and easily.

Draw features multipage-document capabilities, easy selection tools, simple brightness and contrast controls for TIFF images, a page browser, and a matrix option for quickly designing row-and-column tables and illustrations, setting it apart from other programs currently available on the platform. In addition, it offers a Bezier-curve tool, 25 levels of undo, the capability to mask a TIFF image into an EPS object, tools for skewing, rotating, and scaling objects, overprinting, and text-wrapping within an object's boundaries. You can easily incorporate a Draw image into an Illustrator document or vice versa, thanks to the wonder of EPS, allowing you to use the best features of each program.

TopDraw reborn
Appsoft Draw did not suddenly emerge from the woodwork. Versions of the program, originally called TopDraw from Media Logic, have long been used to demonstrate the NeXT machine's capabilities as a drawing and illustration platform. But Appsoft Draw is light years better than anything TopDraw ever had to offer. Draw now conforms to all of the NeXTSTEP standards for tools, panels, and menus. Although it lacks automatic data charting and graphing functions (the only important omission), it makes up for this shortcoming by providing excellent text-handling and object-manipulation features. For those who absolutely must have charts and graphs, you can generate them in a spreadsheet and then bring them into Draw for sophisticated-looking presentation materials.

Appsoft Draw provides a Freehand tool for drawing objects from scratch or for tracing locked objects (a locked object can't be moved or otherwise changed until you unlock it). The Freehand tool creates an object with a path that has control points to manipulate and change the shape of its path. You can also adjust line smoothing (the degree by which the program will attempt to smooth a hand-drawn path). The higher the degree of smoothing, the less bumpy the path (and fewer control points generated).

We found one small bug in the Freehand Tool Settings panel: Even though we set the default path-smoothing tolerance to exactly 10, every time we subsequently opened this panel the default tolerance was set to 9. When we finally set the tolerance to 10.65, the default tolerance was properly set to 10 when we opened the panel again.

The path-editing tools are similar in some respects to Adobe Illustrator's, but Appsoft has added Loosen Path and Tighten Path op-tions for proportionately increasing or reducing the length of all direction lines in the path. With this simple adjustment, you can make curves tighter or looser, which is the kind of feature that best characterizes Appsoft Draw as a drawing program for the casual as well as the professional user.

Unique features
One of the best features of Appsoft Draw is the Matrix command, which you can use to create copies of an object at specific locations. Matrix is useful for creating multiple copies of shapes or lines of a form or bar chart.

Another excellent feature is the Grid tool. You can specify grids of any size, using various colors and positions. You can indicate whether you want Draw to snap any mouse motion to the grid for aligning and arranging objects. You can make the grid invisible or have it show its position in front of, or behind, the graphic objects.

Appsoft Draw makes it easy to import text that is saved as an RTF file by a word processor. Draw re-tains the formatting and lets you wrap text line by line inside any ob-ject. Draw offers manual and automatic letterspacing of characters, as well as complete control over font sizes, styles, character fill, line patterns, and colors. The program can set text along a path so its baseline conforms to the path.

Draw's handling of TIFF images is superb for a general draw-ing program. We expected the ability to drag-and-drop a TIFF image, and perhaps the ability to rotate a TIFF image, but Draw also lets you change the image's container to a Bezier object so that you can distort the curves and obtain a 3-D effect. Furthermore, you can mask the TIFF with any PostScript image so the TIFF appears only inside the other image.

Draw will perform color separations necessary for some kinds of printing. It can also print separate spot-color layers, with overprinting of one or more objects' fills and borders. Furthermore, you can control the chokes and spreads of overprinting for precise color control.

With its multipage facilities the Page Browser, text-layout features, text-file and TIFF-image file importing, TIFF-image brightness and contrast controls, and text- and image-reshaping capabilities Draw could be used to produce an entire newsletter. With a document as text-intensive as the newsletter file provided as a sample, however, Draw takes a long time to scroll the window to show more of the page. The program was optimized for handling graphic objects, not for text-intensive page layout, and lacks a facility for extending text flow from one page or block of text to another.

Limitations
Don't compare Appsoft Draw to an illustration program such as Adobe Illustrator, which has many more features for sophisticated illustration (such as data-driven graphics and text flow from one object to another). But while Draw may not do everything Illustrator does, it handles the job of drawing objects cleanly and simply. This is bound to make Draw popular among the majority of NeXT owners, even if they also use more-sophisticated illustration programs.

The package is complete, and the sample files are useful, but the quality of the sample and tutorial files is not as high as we would like. For example, the sample files used the wrong fonts; as a result, the text overstepped its boundaries.

The manual should better describe how to use the Freehand drawing tool by showing an icon of the tool in the manual (so that you know at a glance which tool to select). The path-manipulation tools are a bit hard to understand at first and are presented too early in the manual's tutorial before the user has a chance to master the easier tools. The tutorial section also neglects to mention how to make the direction points visible, and does not say why you need to use the Alternate key when selecting points for deletion. The tutorial uses the terms "anchor point" and "control point" liberally but does not define them.

These criticisms may be only minor quibbles, but beginners and nonartists need better hand-holding. In general, the documentation is thorough, but the tutorial section should be more understandable for people who are not accustomed to editing paths with a program such as Illustrator.

Still, Appsoft Draw brings out the best of the NeXT machine's graphics, text-layout, and image-handling capabilities and takes full advantage of the friendly interface of menus, tools, and panels. It may not be able to carry the weight of all illustration tasks, but it carries more than its own weight in providing quick, efficient drawing and image-handling functions.

Contributing Editors Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes publish the Bove and Rhodes Inside Report on Multimedia and Publishing Technologies. They can be reached at t-and-c@toad.com.


Draw

4 Cubes

Ideal as a basic drawing tool for both general users and professional illustrators, Draw offers unique features that make it well worth the money. Better tutorial files and documentation might provide perfection.

$395

Appsoft, 255 Shoreline Dr. #520, Redwood City, CA 94065.

415/802-2900.