Network: Move the goalposts on your own PC: You no longer need a Mac to improve your images. Michael Crozier reviews Picture Publisher 5.0

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Until recently, the camera never used to lie. The images you saw in newspapers, magazines or on television were faithfully captured by the photographer and faithfully reproduced by the printer.

Image-editing programs, introduced at the beginning of this decade, changed all that. Programs such as Photoshop enabled you to make unimaginable changes to an original photograph or drawing. Those programs have now themselves been overtaken by a new generation of software, exemplified by Micrografx Picture Publisher, which was released in version 5.0 earlier this month.

Whereas most image editors use Photoshop on Apple Macs, this software brings the technology to IBM-compatible PCs for the first time. Picture Publisher runs under Windows on a 486 PC with 4MB of RAM. The combination of its IBM compatibility and its lower cost will make image manipulation accessible for the first time to hundreds of photographers, graphic designers and desktop publishers.

Image manipulation, however, can be a dirty phrase among the purists. It has come to mean changing the subject or composition of the image - such as the football that suddenly appears in the back of the net. But these criticisms are misguided. The techniques now made possible enable photographers and graphic artists to enhance and control their work; they can change colour balance, background, hue and contrast. This editing control is important: it means that the user can send his or her final approved image to the printer on a diskette, and be reasonably sure that the image created on a desktop will be printed on paper as planned.

Picture Publisher is aimed primarily at the middle ground of PC users and desktop publishers who might create magazines and use scanned images within text. But it would be equally attractive to larger operations planning to use Windows PCs for graphic production.

One of the program's most pleasing features is that it builds a 'command list' of operations performed on an image, so that the user can undo mistakes and repeat things already done once. With Photoshop, many graphic artists have found themselves forced to go back to scratch when they make a mistake.

Better still, Picture Publisher allows the designer to work on low resolution versions of images, and then apply what has been done to the final, higher resolution version for downloading on to a page or to a printer. This saves huge quantities of computer time, for picture files become bigger and bigger as the scanning quality improves. The time taken to save and correct, say, a 16 megabit, high-resolution image, has often deterred designers working to a strict deadline.

Despite its simplicity, Windows- based software can be annoying with its seemingly infinite number of options and 'nannying user- help'. Picture Publisher makes it possible to bypass some of that, by creating your own default toolboxes with customised commands, macros and tools.

The most time-consuming and wrist-aching jobs for the graphic artist are often masking - cutting out an image and putting it against a different background. Picture Publisher has a masking tool that seems to take the hassle out of this, and allows the image to be blended neatly in with the background behind it. It looks fine on screen, but a designer would need to be confident of the printed results before trusting it too much.

I found that combining text with images was much simpler than with Photoshop or Quark XPress. Text is entered and edited on screen and not in a dialogue box; because of the program's object-based structure, you can see exactly where it is appearing and move it without doing it all again.

Photo-montages - building pictures from a number of photographs - used to be carried out with a scalpel. The process was time-consuming and tedious. If you made a mistake, you would have to get another bromide to work from until you pasted the whole thing together by hand. With this software, all objects that have been pasted up electronically can be moved and edited separately - cutting out the need to go back to scratch.

To combine several images into a single picture, the program provides an ImageBrowser that shows you on-screen thumbnail sketches of the files on disk before you need to open them. Picture Publisher supports most file formats.

As usual, the user's guide can drive you to distraction, but a page at a time reveals the kaleidoscope within. For many image editors, some of the functions will be redundant or unnecessarily fussy. But Picture Publisher provides quite enough applications for the skilled user who wants to play God and create the world in his own image.

Micrografx Picture Publisher, 5.0 pounds 395 ( pounds 99 for upgrade from earlier versions). Requirements: 386 processor, 4MB of RAM, hard drive, Windows 3.1, mouse, VGA. Recommended: 486, 8MB RAM, SVGA, CD-rom. Micrografx 0483 747526.

(Photograph omitted)

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