Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Photopaint vs. Photoshop - Part 2

As you will recall, last month, our two graphic design titans Corel and Adobe continued to wage the war we initiated the month prior. We again pit Photoshop 5.5 and PhotoPaint 9 in opposition to one another, in an effort to determine once and for all which vendor will emerge the king of the graphic applications ring. You may remember that we ended our last month's issue with Adobe edging Corel at a score of 3 to 2 in our web page generation project designed to evaluate the relative strengths of each.

The Battle Rages On

Now that (last month) we have created our placeholders for elements on the page, added textual navigation aids and imported the main graphic element into our design, we want to spice things up a little with some effects. But first, one item I neglected to mention last time around was a great feature in PhotoPaint which allows you to immediately resize a layer when you've imported it, unlike Photoshop, which requires you select the layer contents manually and then apply a "Free Transform" to perform the same operation.  A small point, but one nonetheless for Corel.

Now we're going to add simple drop shadow to the main bitmap. In Photoshop, I merely right click on the layer in question, and select effects. As drop shadows are almost painfully ubiquitous (nearly as commonplace  as the word ubiquitous!) nowadays, this option is automatically selected for you along with some default parameters which you may alter to your heart's content. I completed the task in less than 10 seconds. In PhotoPaint, while I could select the layer and apply a simple drop shadow utilising the toolbar's corresponding menu item and had a few more canned options to work with  (including some nifty perspective enhancing shadow effects) overall, I found Photoshop's implementation easier to use and provided more flexibility by way of all the additional simple layer effects available to the user.

Next I wanted to create some Java rollovers to give some pizzazz to the navigation cues. Here's where I hit the wall with PhotoPaint. While the application includes some very rudimentary publish to HTML facility, it is not even worth mentioning when compared to the raw power available in Adobe ImageReady 2.0 which ships as a companion app with every copy of Photoshop 5.5. As Image Ready used to stand on its own as a separate product, I'm not sure that the comparison is overly fair here, but due to the tight integration with Photoshop I'm going to proceed.

With the click of a button at the bottom of the main toolbar in Photoshop, your document is automatically opened in ImageReady wherein a host of options is available to the web developer. As ImageReady's layout and graphics functionality is nearly identical to Photoshop's, you'll find you are immediately comfortable and able to perform many of the same operations you are used to doing in the latter application. In addition, however, you can create rollovers with ease by merely adding content to a new layer and creating a frame (as in a movie). You then simply inform the application at what point you'd like the new material to be visible in the same manner as you would normally enable layer visibility in Photoshop – clicking the eyeball on the layers palette. That's it! Secondary rollovers, wherein a mouse over event in one area on a page affects changes in another, are just as easy.The creation of animated GIFs is also a snap using the same frame addition technique.

While all this is great, the best feature of ImageReady is its ability to slice a document into component parts and apply different optimization techniques to each slice. This means the counterintuitive days of creating a table in an HTML editor and trying to fit content into it are over! The combination of Photoshop and ImageReady has definitely made the lives of countless web developers much easier! Now you can design exactly what you'd like your web page to look like in Photoshop, press a button to open the same document in ImageReady, slice up the document in order to define areas where you'd like to place text and what attributes (format and compression ratio) you'd like the graphics in each non-text slice to possess. You can then preview the result and fine tune the graphic optimization settings in order to achieve the ever-elusive balance between opposing aesthetic and bandwidth concerns. Once satisfied, you merely select the "Save Optimized" menu command, and the application generates all the HTML and associated graphics for you. No more screwing around – you're done.

You might have noticed that I quit keeping score... in consideration of the additional functionality afforded by ImageReady, the results would have been severely skewed in favour of Adobe's products. As far as the graphic applications on their own are concerned, each is certainly capable of producing admirable results, although with differing associated levels of effort. Clearly, Corel is cognizant of who the market leader in the space is, and has tried to incorporate many of the same features inherent in  Photoshop within their competing product – even going as far as using much of the same terminology for menu items. As a result of this follow-the-leader strategy, they have produced a fine product which addresses some of the shortcomings of its competitor, yet lacks certain critical components today's designers demand. This may not remain the case forever though - the recent in depth feature leak concerning Adobe's upcoming release of Photoshop 6 by an online magazine may provide Corel with just the info required to fine tune its next product offering in order to leapfrog the competition - though in light of the company's current difficulties, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Originally published in HUB: Digital Living magazine, June, 2000, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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