Getting the Picture

***Ready, Aim, Fireworks

Version 1.0 of Macromedia's Fireworks was just slightly better than ImageReady. Each had their strong points. Want to do GIF rollovers? Fireworks. Quick animations? ImageReady. Glowing text? Fireworks. Need ultimate control over your GIF color palette? ImageReady.

But while, as of this writing, ImageReady sits on version 1.0, Macromedia has released Fireworks 2.0, an update that tips the scales even more in Fireworks' favor.

Macromedia, which doesn't have an image editor among its stable of moneymaking products, has loaded Fireworks with great tools. The rubber stamp and airbrush are both here, for example. And since Fireworks is related to Freehand, you can apply effects either in vector mode–meaning you can actually edit your brush strokes, drag them around, change their color, whatever, any time you want–or in Photoshop-style pixel-by-pixel mode.

It's pretty easy to create rollover effects–you know, those images on Web pages that change when you put your mouse over them–in Fireworks, and the program will even generate the accompanying rollover JavaScript in an HTML file for your use. You can apply any or all of a number of special effects–glows, bevels, drop shadows–to any object as you see fit, making it really easy to create a glowing text item on a beveled button, for example.

Fireworks is a complete tool. If you don't have Photoshop and can only buy one Web graphics tool, this is the one. Even if you do have Photoshop, this is probably *still* the one –by dint of how easy it is to create rollover effects, if nothing else.

***Doing It With Style

But before you think I'm being unduly hard on Adobe, let me applaud that company for releasing a product that deserves much more appreciation than it's received. That product is Adobe ImageStyler.

You may have missed this program, because it's geared toward the PageMill crowd, and therefore hasn't been advertised or covered as it should have been. For people who aren't HTML and Photoshop whizzes, it's a revelation. There's no pixel editing involved at all –it's all about shapes and text. ImageStyler comes with a library of shapes and you can draw your own using various shape tools and even a free-form drawing tool. Creating a rollover effect is a matter of a few mouse clicks. And it's easy to create glowing text, drop shadows, button bevels, and any number of other effects, either via the program's cornucopia of controls or via drag-and-drop from the dozens of preformatted styles in the Styles palette.

Even if you are a graphics whiz, ImageStyler is worth a look. If working in Illustrator or Freehand is your thing, you should be especially intrigued, since all of the shapes ImageStyler uses are EPS files –meaning it's easy to create a logo or shape in one of those programs and then drag and drop it into ImageStyler for beveling, texturing, shadows, whatever.

On the minus side, ImageStyler doesn't do animation and it can't edit pixel-based images (though you can place them and resize them, you can't edit the actual pixels). But if you're using Photoshop for image editing and don't need those animation features, ImageStyler will serve you just fine.

***Final Synthesis

If Adobe put Photoshop, ImageStyler, and ImageReady in the same application, I'd be in hog heaven. But here's the scorecard of what I use on a day-to-day basis, given that I have all these tools.

I use Photoshop a lot. I would be very sad if I didn't have it. But I only use it for image editing these days –not really for making GIFs and JPEGs.

I almost never use ImageReady anymore. And now that Fireworks 2.0 offers more control over GIF color palettes, I wonder if I'll ever use this version of ImageReady again.

I use Fireworks quite a bit, for optimizing Web graphics, creating logos and the like. If I was limited to one Web graphics tool, I'd probably pick this one.

But the Web graphics tool I use the most, and get the most enjoyment out of, has been ImageStyler. Fireworks 2.0 mimics many of its features, and so in the future I may use it less, but I still prefer Adobe's palette-driven interface to the dialog boxes I get when applying glows, bevels, drop shadows and the like to objects in Fireworks. And since I've been spending a lot of time taking EPS logos from Illustrator and FreeHand and making them presentable for the Web, I've come to appreciate ImageStyler that much more.

Which tool is right for you? That's for you to decide. Like I said, demo versions of all these applications should be available from their respective companies' Web sites. Check out the ones that sound interesting to you. If you're looking for a general Web graphics tool, though, I heartily recommend that you check out the Fireworks demo –in my mind, it's your best bet.


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