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PHOTODRAW 2000, version 2
reviewed by Jim Sutherland

PhotoDraw 2000 Version 2 is billed as the, "MS Office Graphics Program." In spite of that proclamation, MS Office is not a prerequisite. PhotoDraw 2000 can and will function as a standalone program. Microsoft has combined traditionally separate types of graphics programs, drawing and photo/graphic editing, into a single program that shares a common work space. It is designed to open, create, and edit just about any graphic format you can think of. It even has the ability to create web-ready elements such as buttons, banners, and animations.

The package has three discs. Disc1 contains the working program, Disc2 contains the content (effects and such), while Disc3 contains the clipart files. A thorough and easy reading user guide is included.

Installation is as simple as inserting Disc1, provided your "auto-insert notification" is enabled for your CD-drive. Total install time was about five minutes and a complete install will occupy approximately 190MB of disc space.

PhotoDraw's real benefit for the average Joe's & Jane's of the computer world is the absolute need to know NOTHING about graphics concepts or jargon! Don't quite understand the different graphics formats or image resolutions? A little fuzzy on the difference between vector graphics (images made up of points, lines, and shapes rather than individual pixels resulting in small files that can be scaled without affecting image quality) and raster graphics (image files that store information for each individual pixel, commonly known as bitmapped images)? Can't recall what effect produces what output? Well, all is forgiven with PhotoDraw. Much like the way Windows acts as a visual bridge to system-level text commands, so does PhotoDraw provide visual aid to graphic manipulation and creation.

The program uses unique interface elements such as a Picture List that shows all open documents, a Visual Menu that uses icons to identify tasks, and a Workpane that displays options for the current operation. You literally see what you get...before you get it! The icons that identify tasks/effects are formatted to look like the effect they produce. All this 'visualization' comes at the cost of having a slightly busy interface and a sometime crowded screen. I would recommend no less than a 17" monitor set to 1024x768 resolution for acceptable elbow room. Even with that proviso, the interface is always highly comprehensible. PhotoDraw's ease-of-use is undeniable. It offers 300 business templates for brochures, flyers, letterheads, business cards, Web banners, and but-tons.

The clip art and content CDs include 20,000 graphics that offer backgrounds, graphics, and photos. All of these items are customizable; you can change clip art with watercolor brush strokes, distortion, or increasing/decreasing transparency to achieve an entirely different appearance. You can also use homemade graphics by importing text or a photo from a scanner, a digital camera, or even another graphics program like Microsoft Paint. PhotoDraw's photo editing capabilities include all the usual suspects such as cloning and touch-ups to remove red-eye; cleaning dust and scratches; correcting brightness, contrast, and color, etc. Most of the automated settings for these functions produced good results, but I achieved better results in brightness and contrast by working manually. I was able to transform a bright, sunny picture of an iceberg into one that looked as if it was taken during the darkest, most violent period of an Arctic storm. (I have never actually been in an Arctic storm myself, but if it looks anything like that,...count me out!)

While PhotoDraw's templates look great, they concentrate on design elements and single-page documents, so multi-page creators must look elsewhere. I suppose you could just keep making new single-page documents that follow the design of the original, but that would probably be quite time consuming and tedious, not to mention contrary to PhotoDraw's simplicity mandate. Sharing images with other applications is quite easy; just drag and drop pictures into other programs. I had no problem dropping images into PaintShop Pro or Photoshop. PhotoDraw offers several unique options when working with other Office applications. For example, you can launch PowerPoint (a presentation program) or FrontPage (a web-page design program) directly from PhotoDraw to insert images. And, in keeping with the simplicity concept, PhotoDraw shares color palettes and theme templates with other Office applications. That will save you countless hours of reformatting when moving objects/projects from one application to the other.

With the drawing and painting tools you can create your own objects or spice-up others. There is a wide variety of artistic brush strokes, such as dry brush or charcoal, that you can use to create an image or outline an existing one. While the effects are not as robust as some dedicated painting programs such as Dabbler, the results are more than acceptable for all but the most demanding professional.

Painting is a "free-hand" style in that whatever effect you choose will follow the path you created by dragging the pointer, regardless of how many turns or twists you may make. Drawing, on the other hand, allows you to create precise shapes and gives a much greater degree of control. If you absolutely, positively, have to have a perfectly straight line in your work, use the drawing tools, but if you want a more home-spun look, then the paint tools are for you. Either way, the process is simple, painless, and produces excellent results.

One group of tools, the Photo Brushes, is especially neat. The brushes can outline images, predefined shapes, or hand drawn items with a variety of preset objects such as paper doll chains, alligators, or pencils. Unfortunately, you cannot define your own graphic to become an outline, but the ones provided seem to have enough variety.

Autoshapes and Shapes are twin sons of different mothers. Let me explain. They each provide a way to insert shapes, as the names suggest, but each has its own unique shapes and method of insertion. Autoshapes draws the actual shape from the moment you start dragging the mouse until you stop. By contrast, with Shapes, you drag an empty box to the size you want and the program fills it in with your selection. As with everything else, they can be modified and adjusted to your hearts content. In either case, placing and assembling graphics such as stars, flowchart symbols, and just plain shapes is extremely quick and easy.

For text, PhotoDraw 2000 offers 200 fonts and a variety of excellent 3-D effects. You can bend text around an arched or circular shape, but you can't flow text along an irregular path, like the edge of a waving flag. Each text and painted piece is an individual object that can be manipulated at any time with a multitude of effects. A multiple undo feature lets you correct modifications several steps at a time (note- the undo feature is available globally, not just for text modifications). You can view all the modifications in a drop-down list and undo multiple steps at once, rather than continually clicking the undo icon. It saves time but I would have liked to been able to pick each modification individually, say numbers two and six, rather than one thru six. A minor quibble, I know, but I gotta complain about something! PhotoDraw also supports extra plug-ins (plug-ins are small "helper" programs that work with and rely on host pro-grams to apply their unique effects usually designed by third party developers) for additional content and effects. PhotoDraw can't import text files of any kind, and I found that inserting large text blocks slowed down the program's performance somewhat.

If you design web pages, PhotoDraw's Web Effects tools offer a wonderful gallery of predefined styles. You can include hyperlinks (special strings of text that tell your browser to go to a specific web-site when clicked on), slice images, and create animated GIFs. And, PhotoDraw can even create rollover buttons (rollovers are effects that change the appearance of the selected object when you hover over or click it). When creating a Web page, all text is treated as a graphic. That's a mixed blessing; on a positive note, if you resize the text-box, the text will auto-fill to an appropriate size to maintain readability; on the negative side, you can't apply an effect to just some text to make it standout. It's a minor annoyance if you are accustomed to using desktop publishing programs like Publisher that allow such text manipulation. Also, you can't assign hyperlinks to a text string located within a block of text. It too must be in a separate text-box. In addition to various templates for producing Web graphics, PhotoDraw provides a Web color palette, a Web wizard to help you save your file in the optimal format, and a preview option that displays different settings and download times. The Web wizard provides feedback on image quality and download times but offers only simple choices for GIF or JPEG output. If you want more control over the image settings, you must use the Save As dialog box, which unfortunately has no preview.

Assembling the various images you create to fashion a Web page requires a separate Web editor such as Front Page. Help is available at every step with a tutorial offering sample projects, the Answer Wizard, and a dialog box that accompanies every icon. Microsoft's attempt to provide a full-featured, yet simple-to-use integrated graphics program is a success. PhotoDraw 2000 offers neophyte graphic artists just enough creative guidance, and an abundance of powerful tools that are easy to use and understand, needed to design professional looking projects.
Above all, using PhotoDraw 2000 is simple and just plain fun! Even my nine and twelve year-old sons were working solo after only a few minutes of instruction from yours truly. Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft, reverence or loathing, you have to give them kudos for developing a truly workable, useful, and stable (so far!) program.

PHOTODRAW 2000, version 2
by Microsoft (
List $99, street $79
System requirements: Pentium 166 or higher; Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000; SVGA monitor, 1 MB video memory; 32 MB of RAM; 80-200 MB of hard drive space; CD-ROM drive
Tested with: WinME/Celeron 466; 256 MB RAM; 32 MB video

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