Don’t be confused by the name. There is no “non-Web edition” of MetaCreations Painter 5.5 Web Edition. Instead, this is an upgrade to MetaCreations Painter 5.0, the popular natural-media painting program. Though most of the upgrade’s new features are Web specific, longtime users will be glad to see a new editable text function and support for Adobe Photoshop 5’s layers complementing Painter’s existing array of painting tools.
It Slices! It Dices! It Juliennes!
Painter 5.5 sports the same interface as version 5, a somewhat palette-heavy, complicated affair that more or less succeeds in organizing the program’s many tools and variants. Painter also makes extensive use of floaters, similar to layers in Photoshop. However, unlike Photoshop layers, floaters can be different sizes and can function as plug-in utilities as well as image repositories.
Painter’s tool set is both a strength and a weakness. No other product comes close to offering the sophistication and power of Painter’s brushes and tools, but the sheer number of options makes this a program that can take a while to learn. Still, the results are worth the effort.
Painter 5.5 adds a new Image Slicer plug-in floater that performs automatic slicing on any document. Web slicing chops a graphic into segments you can reassemble in an HTML table. Slicing typically makes images download faster, particularly if only one slice is changing from page to page.
You define slices in the Image Slicer floater by placing and dragging horizontal and vertical rules over your image. In addition to specifying file names and URLs for each slice, you can also define separate compression settings, allowing you to choose the best compression options for individual segments.
When you export a sliced image, Painter automatically creates a separate document for each slice, as well as an HTML file that reassembles the images into a table.
Because slicing is implemented as a plug-in floater, you don’t have to flatten your image, so you can slice while preserving all of your separate layers. However, we’d like to see a preview window that shows the effects of different compression settings.
This method feels a bit clunky, but it works and it forces you to keep your document organized into layers with different buttons and states, making it easy to edit your work later.
Because Web pages are constantly updated, MetaCreations has added a Dynamic Text tool, a plug-in floater that lets you add editable text to your Painter documents. You enter text in a dialog box instead of typing directly in your image, but the program updates the image in real time, letting you see the effects of font, color, tracking, translation, and leading controls. The plug-in also lets you fill text with a pattern and add automatic, editable drop shadows.
Painter 5.5 can now automatically create server- and client-side image maps based on URLs attached to each floater. You can also preserve layering in imported Photoshop files, but the program cannot export layered Photoshop files.
MetaCreations is touting several other Web features in Painter 5.5 that are actually holdovers from previous versions. For example, the Bevel World feature is great for making buttons, and seamless texturing is useful for creating backgrounds.