capsule review

Lineform 1.3

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Lineform 1.3.2 is a refreshingly simple drawing program whose interface is similar enough to Illustrator’s (or CorelDraw’s, or other vector graphics programs) that experienced illustrators will intuitively find its key drawing tools. Lineform’s importing and exporting capabilities allow close collaboration between it and other more advanced illustration programs.

Lineform’s default drawing environment is almost shockingly sparse, giving you only Selection and Edit tools (the latter similar to the Direct Selection tool in Illustrator (   ), Paint and Pen tools, Rectangle and Oval tools, a Text tool, a Zoom tool, a Grab tool, and a Dropper tool that works like the Eyedropper Tool in Illustrator or Photoshop (   ). Despite this simplicity, experienced illustrators will find that 90 percent of the drawing they do is facilitated by these 10 tools.

Lineform’s inspectors (the equivalent of panels in Adobe products), provide similarly easy access to features like fills, stroke attributes, layer controls, effects, and filters. I particularly enjoyed the intuitiveness of the magnetic snapping capability, which makes it easy to attach these inspectors to each other. The program’s Media Browser inspector gives you access to your iPhoto library and other image folders on your hard drive.

The heart and soul of any drawing program is the ability to generate Bézier curves, built around what Adobe Illustrator calls anchor points, and Lineform calls nodes. Lineform’s Pen tool does a precise, controlled job of drawing Bézier curves.

Will Lineform’s stripped down interface make it easier to cross the bridge from far more popular and accessible raster editors (like Photoshop) to vector design? Yes and no. Mastering vector graphics still requires conquering the Pen tool, and learning to think in terms of counterintuitive control points instead of dots on a page. But Lineform helps beginners by displaying prompts below the toolbar for selected tools. And, for beginners struggling with the concept of vector graphics, Lineform won’t bog you down with an intimidating interface.

Illustrator file exchange

Given that Illustrator is, and likely will remain, the dominant vector graphics tool for professional designers for the foreseeable future, the viability of Lineform will depend to a significant degree on how well it supports importing and exporting files to and from Illustrator. Lineform approaches this challenge by supporting both the universal EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) format and Adobe’s SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. Championed for several years by Adobe, the SVG format never really caught on as an alternative to Flash for displaying vector images on the Web. But Adobe Illustrator includes SVG as one of the three supported file formats (in addition to Illustrator’s native AI format and PDF).

Importing and exporting SVG files worked much better than trying to use the EPS format as an intermediary between Lineform and Illustrator. That’s because EPS files imported to and exported from Lineform do not contain as much information as Illustrator files and some graphics are thus reduced to individual (and hard to edit) discrete lines.

I created several complex files in Lineform (containing effects, shading, and other elements), exported them as SVG files, and was able to open and edit them in Illustrator with no problem. As expected, Lineform’s filters and effects—which are essentially proprietary scripts for rearranging curves—did not directly translate into Illustrator effects and filters. Instead they exported as individual, editable curves.

Lineform was able to open complex Illustrator files using the SVG format. As was the case when I exported to Illustrator, proprietary filters and effects translated simply as lines and fills, but they were fully editable lines and fills when opened in Lineform. For example, I created a globe in Illustrator by generating a 3-D effect from a simple semicircle. After exporting from Illustrator to SVG, and then importing the SVG file into Lineform, I got an editable globe, but not the ability to reduce that generated effect back to a semicircle. That’s because Illustrator assigns effect attributes to curves that make a semicircle look like a globe. but the actual, editable element in Illustrator is a simple curve. So, in Illustrator, you edit the globe by editing the curve that the effect is built on. All this gets compressed into a simple drawing when imported into Lineform.

Lineform 1.3.2 has introduced SVG Gaussian blur support, and I was able to easily apply this filter to artwork. More interestingly, I could export that artwork in SVG format and open the illustration in Adobe Illustrator CS3 with the Gaussian blur filter applied and editable--meaning the Gaussian blur effect can be further edited (or removed) in Illustrator. This is a useful, if not exactly substantial expansion of the SVG export/import capability between Lineform and Illustrator, and it indicates a path by which Lineform can continue to enhance integration with Illustrator.

Lineform can export files to PDF, which means that just about any printer, and any desktop publishing program (like Quark (   ) or InDesign (   ) can render and print Lineform illustrations. Support for editing imported PDFs in Lineform however, is very limited. Lineform 1.3 let you import PDFs and featured a Parse function that enabled illustrators to make minor modifications to a PDF file. But even with the improved PDF parsing for gradients and text in version 1.3.2, this feature is still too primitive to allow serious text editing of PDF files. As it stands, you can create files in Lineform and send them to clients or printers who work with Illustrator EPS or PDF files. But if you open files created in Illustrator, you won’t have access to Illustrator’s effects, which rules out high-level collaboration on projects with other Illustrator designers.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, affordable vector drawing package that can create EPS and PDF files, it’s hard to imagine a better deal than Lineform 1.3.2. If you need to collaborate on projects with illustration professionals, you’ll need the more robust set of tools that come with Adobe Illustrator.

[ David Karlins has written a half dozen books on vector graphics including Adobe Illustrator CS2 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques (Adobe Press, 2005) and Illustrator Gone Wild (Wiley, 2005). David teaches an online Illustrator course for San Francisco State University’s Multimedia Studies Program. ]

Lineform’s toolbar is refreshingly sparse, with easily available basic drawing and navigation tools.This sphere, generated using Adobe Illustrator’s 3-D effects, opens as an editable vector drawing in Lineform.
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