Web design: Two to try for those who loved Photoshop

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The Independent Culture
ONE TOOL dominated the field of graphics (Web or otherwise) long before the Web was even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee's eye: Adobe Photoshop.

Most professional graphic artists were using Photoshop when the Web came along, using it for the production of print graphics. So, naturally, they chose to adapt their favourite tool to the new medium. Yet Web graphics require specific skills and a delicate touch, and Photoshop has done little to adapt to the changing needs of graphic artists.

Now, two new programs are presenting themselves as the Web graphics program. One is from Adobe (no surprise); the other comes from Adobe's chief competitor, Macromedia. Both will cost you about pounds 299 (rrp), but each offers unique strengths and capabilities.

Adobe ImageReady 1.0

Imagine a version of Photoshop that has been tailor-made for the Web and costs about half as much and that pretty much sums up Adobe's ImageReady.

The big change it offers is obvious yet powerful: a dynamic preview window that allows you to see the image as it will look in virtually any Web graphic format - but without having to make permanent changes to the image itself. You can see what your graphic will look like as a GIF (using any bit-depth, dithering method or colour palette); JPEG (at any level of compression); or even as it would look in the woefully under-used PNG format, all while you are working on the image. The preview window also shows you how the graphic will look in Mac or Windows systems, the file size of the compressed version of the graphic, and an estimate of how long the image will take to download at various modem speeds.

ImageReady also adds features previously only available from specialised Web software, such as image map editing and GIF animation.

However, most HTML editors now include integrated image map editors, and the GIF animation capabilities leave a lot to be desired. Its painting and drawing tools are a slightly smaller subset of those you will find in its older brother, but they will suffice most Web designer's needs, and you still have access to layers, transparency, masks and clipping capabilities, allowing you to move between ImageReady and Photoshop without converting the files too.

Until the end of next month, Adobe is offering ImageReady for the knockdown price of pounds 79.


Macromedia Fireworks 1.0

A lot of Web designs start out as vector illustrations, created in programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand, and are then imported into a bitmap editing program, such as Adobe Photoshop, to finish the product.

Realising this, Macromedia created a Web graphic program that integrates both vector and bitmap editing capabilities into one window. This allows great versatility in design and means you can quickly make changes in a purely bitmap-editing program.

Fireworks also includes a plethora of special effects, all of which can be applied, changed or removed with the click of a mouse.

Imagine adding a drop shadow to a button, adding a texture to the shadow, changing its colour, making the shadow darker and larger, and then removing it all without having to open a new control panel or creating any new layers.

While both ImageReady and Fireworks include ways of creating GIF animations, Fireworks will also automatically create the graphics and code for JavaScript mouse-overs that can be placed into your HTML document.

Unlike ImageReady, you cannot experiment with file types and compressions until you save the document. So in order to change your graphic to reduce file size, you have to cancel out of the save menu, make your changes and return to the save mode to see the effects. (http://www.macromedia.co.uk)

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Photoshop user and enjoy precise control over your images, ImageReady is probably your best bet. Although I'm not sure that I would recommend it over Photoshop itself, it is a less expensive alternative. For 79 quid, ImageReady is a really good deal and will be a useful tool regardless of the primary Web graphics program you end up using.

All things being equal, though, Fireworks is the better program. It offers faster access to more robust special effects than ImageReady and superior GIF animation creation tools. Its combined vector and bitmap editing capabilities will mean less switching between applications. Both ImageReady and Fireworks offer fully functional 30-day demos free for downloading from their sites. I recommend trying out both.

E-mail your comments or queries to Jason Cranford Teague at indy_webdesign @mindspring.com