capsule review

Expression 2

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The first incarnation of Expression didn't register on many designers' radar. But the ingenious drawing tool-which lets you create beautiful vector-based brush strokes, painterly textures, and illustrations that you can open in Macromedia FreeHand or Adobe Illustrator-has been rescued from obscurity by its creator, Creature House. Expression 2 adds needed export options and tools for handling bitmap images: you can not only import them but also colorize, distort, and even apply Adobe Photoshop filters to them.

Not a One-Trick Pony

Expression 2's illustration tools are deceptively easy to use. Preset brush strokes, patterns, and textures let you produce professional-level drawings right away; pros can adjust and refine the presets or create their own. But Expression is much more than a tool for adding brush strokes to vector-based illustrations: it lets you create photorealistic paint-media artwork, layered Photoshop documents, antialiased text effects, and even interactive Flash animations.

Expression's once-simple interface is now a profusion of palettes and hidden options, and the oddly named icons can be confusing. But with a little practice and some help from the HTML-based tutorial, you'll be up-to-speed in no time.

No Tablet Required

At the heart of Expression's power is its proprietary Skeletal Stroke technology, which yields variable-width strokes and subtle calligraphic and illustrative effects that otherwise usually require a drawing tablet. You can adjust a line's thickness by dragging an anchor handle, or add a calligraphic touch by changing the angle of a line's thickness. And with Skeletal Strokes, you can use entire graphics as repeating images along a path. A variation adds instances to each stroke's thickness or shape, resulting in a mini-animation. Unfortunately, the controls for creating such strokes are hidden and poorly labeled.

You can import and export raster-based images in the TIFF, BMP, JPEG, GIF, and Photoshop formats, and export your creation as a Flash, EPS, or Illustrator file. You can also produce interactive buttons, banners, and stand-alone Flash files ready to be added to your Web page.

Master Strokes: Expression 2's Skeletal Stroke technology lets you distort, refine, and resize each stroke using a simple anchor tool.
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