PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Paint Shop Pro and Flash upgrades
January 2001

The capability of graphics software continues to grow at an alarming rate. This month I’ve been looking at Paint Shop Pro 7, and I think I can say that I have written on the subject of each version of Paint Shop Pro since the very first. What a difference 6 versions makes – but a lot of what is now possible is only (practically) possible thanks to the progress of PC hardware. Even so, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly happen next.

The Big Thing with drawing and imagery in general is the speed of production. Some operators can turn out great stuff in minutes, others toil away for weeks on end to get the same point. So since no amount of software can make up for the crap designer at the controls, then perhaps truly slinky integration to a decent on-line art archive containing partially and completed artwork is about the one thing that’s missing..?

PSP7 is not a vastly new product compared to version 6, although the interface has been quite extensively rejigged. Old familiars like the screen capture can only be found by using the help system, or – hush my mouth – reading the manual. But it’s worth saying that the help system with this edition maintains the ultra high standard of the previous editions, and is probably the best help system of any paint product out there. And yet despite this, the printed manual is also a darned useful thing, and contains some of the best “quick access” information on the process of desktop imaging mangling available anywhere.

Features introduced in version 6 like the DigiMarc watermarking option and the delightful thumbnail navigation options are well worth restating; and a couple of the most obviously usefully new additions include the ability to navigate a zoomed project with the Overview Window Palette.

The vector graphics features have been bolstered with extended gradient support and patterns fir stroke and fill. Web graphics get an Image mapper and slicer with JavaScript rollover creation support.

Maybe one of the main reasons to upgrade to PSP7 is to get access to the growing library of support of digital cameras. In terms of digital photography essentials, Version 7 provides automated removal of the dreaded redeye effect. The various image filters and funny effects stuff continues to provide more than enough scope for the creative types to turn an otherwise elegant illustration into something that looks like an AOL user’s home page.

Although pretty much “lobbed in” to the bundle without much of a fanfare, Animation Shop version 3 edges ever closer to the Xara and Ulead animator products. The morphing option it lots of fun.

Bottom line PSP may not have the ultimate integration with all the high end design tools of Adobe Photoshop, but it’s a whole lot faster to open and use, and an essential graphics tool on any PC. The UK distributor of the product is Digital Workshop ( and the price is £34.95 for the upgrade, or £79.95 for the full edition. Plus VAT.

Also in the graphics department doing the annual upgrade round comes Macromedia’s Flash 5. Hats off, these people have created a major web design standard under the noses of Microsoft and Adobe. Flash 5 produces the lowest bandwidth dancing images browsers can view – and you don’t need me to point out the effects of the Flash standard on any cruise around the web.

Whilst in the hands of a demonstrator at a show, products like Flash 5 perform various magical feats – but for the rest of us, producing animated graphics is notoriously tricky – not to say downright dangerous. But a month with a tool like Flash 5 should get a competent computer designer up to speed. Integration with Freehand 9 (the MM alternative to Adobe Illustrator) is useful, and Freehand will be intuitive to most Illustrator users.

However – and here’s a big rub for all graphics developers to bear in mind – I don’t think there is a single TV set top box with a mangled subset browser that can do anything with Flash content (yet), If people like On Digital and Sky are really getting (and holding onto) millions of STB users for internet access, then it will be necessary to produce multiple versions of websites to cope, unless you want to put up with the lowest common denominator.

However, all the STB users I have come across regard internet via the TV set as an irrelevance, not even an amusing diversion – especially with the hidden costs involved – and it certainly isn’t going to persuade anyone to give the PC just yet. But just in case, could anyone currently doing any sort of shopping via their STB please stop encouraging the medium..? Thanks.