by Andy Boze, Editor
- IrfanView 3.36 (Irfan Skiljan - www.irfanview.com)
- Satori PhotoXL 2.29 (Spaceward Graphics Ltd. - www.satoripaint.com)
- PrintKey 2000 v5.10 (Alfred Bolliger)
- WinGrab 1.40 (Per Skjerpe Henrik Ibsens - http://home.enitel.no/wingrab)
This month we'll take a look at a variety of graphics programs. Good-quality commercial graphics software is often expensive. One quality common to all the products reviewed below is that they are free, making them affordable no matter what your budget. There are trade-offs, however. These programs don't come with printed manuals or technical support, though they do come with online help or read-me files. Fortunately, most of these graphics programs are simple enough to use that a manual won't be missed.
Irfan Skiljan Postfach 6 2752 Woellersdorf Austria, Europe www.irfanview.com
System requirements: Windows 95 or higher
Good things often come in small packages. IrfanView is certainly a case in point. Its main function is to view files of various graphics formats. Although it's not a full-featured graphics editor, it can manipulate your images in various ways. You can also convert images from one format to another, either individually or in a batch. And perhaps most surprisingly, IrfanView can view various types of audio and multimedia files, too, and even play audio CDs.
IrfanView is simple to install. You download a ZIP file from the author's Web site. Unzip the file into the directory of your choice and the program is ready to run. If you'd rather, you can download an installer, which does all the setup for you and makes desktop and menu shortcuts if you want it to do so.
You can use the program to view just about any kind of graphics file, from the common GIF, JPG, and BMP to multipage TIFF and Shockwave files. IrfanView also handles Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, and more unusual types such as DjVu and Kodak Digital Camera files. A useful feature for some will be the ability to view icons embedded in EXE, DLL, and CPL files and to view cursor files, even animated ones. In addition to graphics, IrfanView can be used to view multimedia files including Real Audio, MPEG, Quick Time, and numerous sound formats.
It's often tedious in Windows to associate particular types of files with the programs you want to open them. IrfanView has an easy setup that lets you associate any of its supported file types with it. From then on, in an Explorer window you can double click any file type you selected, and the file will open in IrfanView. If you decide that you'd rather reassociate the file type with whatever program previously opened it, all you need to do is unselect the association in IrfanView. Of course, you can open any supported file from IrfanView's File Open dialog, or you can simply drag a file with your mouse onto IrfanView's window.
People who work with large numbers of graphics files will find the Thumbnails and Slideshow features handy. The thumbnail viewer is reminiscent of the two-pane Windows Explorer window. When you open the thumbnail viewer, you can navigate to any folder from the left pane, and all of the supported files in the folder will be displayed as thumbnail images in the right pane. You can select one or more thumbnails and then choose from any of several operations. The selected thumbnails can be saved as a single file or as individual thumbnail images. IrfanView can also create an HTML page of your thumbnail images. You can choose to make a contact sheet of selected thumbnails. The contact sheet is a new image consisting of the thumbnails, and it can be printed or saved as a graphics file. Finally, within the thumbnail viewer, you can choose to display images as a slide show. The slide show viewer opens and displays the full-sized images on your monitor at intervals you define.
Once you have loaded an image, IrfanView does offer some basic image editing functions. In addition to copying and pasting sections of an image, you can cut and crop selections from an image. You can also add text to an image, but the functionality is quite limited. Text placement can't be set very precisely and there's no option to center or justify text. IrfanView does have functions to rotate and flip images, to resize images, to increase or decrease color depth and to convert to gray scale, and a few others. The program includes several effects that can be applied to images. The effects include 3D Button, Blur, Emboss, Oil Paint, and Fine Rotation, among others. Most of the effects have parameters that the user can set.
IrfanView has a capture feature that some users will find useful. When Capture is activated, you can set a time or press a hot key to capture an image either of your entire desktop or the foreground window. The captured image can be immediately saved to a file or opened in IrfanView. Another handy feature lets you send any image as an attachment via e-mail directly from IrfanView without having to open your e-mail program. The Acquire function can be used to interface with your scanning software to scan an image directly into IrfanView.
Two advanced options make it easy to view images in IrfanView. You can add IrfanView to the "Send To" shell menu so that you can quickly open files in IrfanView, even if they haven't been associated with it. You can also add "Browse with IrfanView" to the shell menu for drives and folders. This will let you right click on any drive or folder, then select to open thumbnails of all the supported file types to see what's there conveniently.
It's important to note that many of IrfanView's features are incorporated through plug-ins. All of the plug-ins can be downloaded from the author's Web site. Installation is as simple as copying the plug-ins to IrfanView's plug-ins folder.
For a small program, IrfanView packs a lot of functionality. Anyone who works with graphics should take a look at it. The author offers it as freeware for private, noncommercial use, but if you like the program, he asks that you consider registering it for $10.
Spaceward Graphics Ltd. Denmark House, 3b High Street, Willingham, Cambridge, CB4 5ES, United Kingdom www.satoripaint.com
System requirements: PC with Pentium or higher processor or DEC Alpha, MS Windows 95 or later or Windows NT4.0 or later, 16MB of memory for Windows 95, 32MB for Windows NT or higher (64 MB or higher recommended), 10MB hard disk space, Super VGA (800x600) or higher with true color mode. Also supported: TWAIN-compatible scanners or digital cameras, Wintab-compatible tablet, or Windows-compatible tablet.
Satori PhotoXL is a full-featured, commercial graphics editing program. Version 2.29 is offered as freeware by Spaceward Graphics since the release of a later version. If you've used PhotoShop or similar programs, you'll find Satori just as capable. In fact, the company's Web site mentions that Satori was used to create graphics for the film The Matrix. The program can be downloaded directly from the Web site.
The only real drawback to the freeware version of Satori is its limited support for various graphics formats. Notably lacking is the ability to read or save GIF files. Web-page designers might find this alarming until they realize that there is support for PNG (Portable Network Graphics), which is supported to varying degrees by current Web browsers. Satori does support a reasonable variety of additional graphics formats, including TIFF, JPG, Targa, Photoshop, BMP, and PhotoCD.
Those who are already used to another graphics program may need a little time to get used to Satori. Once you see how the program works, it's comparatively simple to use. The Satori desktop will be familiar to anyone who has used a graphics editor. It has several tool bars that can be docked along the edges of the main work area, or they can be undocked and left to float anywhere on your screen. The color and zoom palettes can similarly be docked or floated. If your screen space is tight, you can turn off any toolbars or palettes you don't need.
The color palette is a typical color mixing and selection tool. It contains two color wheels, a color picker, and tabs to select from its various functions. A stripe at the palette's bottom shows the current color selection. Dragging your mouse cursor over the color wheels allows you to select a color. You can select a color from an image by clicking on the color picker button, then dragging the mouse cursor over the image. The color palette tabs are Scratch, Swatch, Mix, Slider, and Values. Selecting Values lets you view the numeric values for the current color. Slider lets you mix a color by using sliders for various primary colors. Mix creates a gradient of any two colors you select; you then can pick a color from the gradient. Swatch lets you select up to forty-eight colors so that you can easily choose among them as you work on an image. The swatches can be saved and reloaded for later use. Scratch is a sort of scratch pad that lets you preview how your brush and color will look before you apply anything to your image.
The zoom palette has controls to let you zoom into and out of an image or areas of the image that you select. You can edit within a zoom view, so you can get very fine control as you apply brush strokes. As you edit in the zoom view, you can also see the changes being made in the main image view.
Satori has features that you would expect to find in a good graphics editor. It supports multiple layers, and each layer can have a mask applied to it. This allows a section of a layer to become transparent so that lower layers can be seen through it. Satori also has a multilevel undo so any edits you make can be undone in the reverse order in which you made them. Satori treats each individual edit as an object. If you've made several edits and decide that you want to undo the first one, you don't have to undo all your edits. The object viewer displays a hierarchical list of all objects that have been applied to each layer of your canvas. Within the object viewer you can select any individual object for removal or further editing. Another useful feature is Satori's ability to unremove, or restore, an object that you removed.
Satori's main control is its actions palette, a collection of buttons and tabs from which you can access nearly every feature. Down one side of the palette are various categories of actions that you can perform, such as Paint, Geometry, and Canvas. Along the bottom are buttons that can turn on or off all the other palettes.
The Paint action lets you choose the brush you want to use, its size, and how much pressure you want to apply to the brush. Satori comes with over thirty-five brush styles, and you can design your own brushes if you are so inclined.
The Geometry action lets you choose from more than a dozen geometric shapes and similar actions that can be applied to an image. Beyond squares and circles, you can choose from lines, polygons, beziers, fills, text, and magic wand. To each shape you can apply color and various properties, image maps, and filter effects including Tint, Blur, Emboss, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen, and Drop Shadow.
The Layer action lets you perform operations on the current layer of your canvas. Some of the operations include scaling or rotating the layer or applying a warp distortion. There are several others. The Canvas action lets you crop a region of the canvas or select a new canvas size, and thus a new size for the final saved image.
Standard filters can be selected within the Geometry action. Satori comes with several dozen CanvasFX filters, which are selected most conveniently from the Filters menu. Among the CanvasFX filters are various glows, emboss, blur, frosted glass, tints, sepia, vignettes, magnify, and oil effect. Any filter can be applied to any Geometry action. It's possible to create your own filters or to add in Photoshop-compatible plugins.
Once you have completed a canvas, you'll want to save it by clicking the save button. This will save your canvas as a Satori canvas file. When you reopen a canvas file, you'll still have all of your layers and objects intact so that you can continue to work on it. If you click the Save As button, you can save your canvas into any of the various types of supported graphics file type. Once your canvas is saved as a graphics file - PNG or TIFF for example - you can reopen it in Satori or any other graphics program, but it will no longer have its layers and objects. When you save an image you can choose the final dimensions for it, as well as color depth and various other options.
I used Satori under Windows NT 4 on a 450 MHz Pentium III computer with 128 MB of RAM. Edits to images appeared immediately. Satori saves images quickly, if they are in the normal range of dimensions most people would use. I saved a canvas as a 640x480 pixel TIFF image in a second or two. The same canvas saved as a 6144x4096 pixel TIFF image, about eighty times larger, took nearly three minutes.
The only problem I ran into while using Satori was that once while working in a zoom view, the program crashed. Oddly this made me feel even better about using Satori. When I restarted the program, it knew that it had closed improperly previously and asked if I wanted to restore the canvas I had been working on. I lost absolutely no work. After having been an occasional user of Photoshop, I found Satori different enough to be a bit of a challenge to learn how to use its more powerful features. I was able to do basic editing tasks almost immediately, though, and there are tutorials on the company's Web site to help you learn to do more complex tasks. All in all, Satori is an excellent program that will suit the needs of nearly anyone. You can upgrade from the free version 2.29 to the current version 3 for $29.95.
Alfred Bolliger Lindauerstr. 37 8309 Neuerdorf Switzerland, Europe
System requirements: Windows 95 or higher
Per Skjerpe Henrik Ibsens gt. 10C, 4021 Stavanger, Norway http://home.enitel.no/wingrab
System requirements: Windows 95 or higher
If you are looking for a screen capture program, either of these is a good choice. Each has enough distinctive features that you might want to give them both a try to see which one is right for you.
Many people are unaware that in Microsoft Windows, pressing the Print Screen key on your keyboard doesn't print the screen. Instead, it just copies the screen to the clipboard. Anyone who has gotten numerous questions about why the screen didn't print will appreciate PrintKey's ability to print when the Print Screen key is pressed. Both programs actually have customizable hotkey combinations, but only PrintKey can use the Print Screen key as a hotkey. Both programs can be configured to start when Windows starts, so they just sit waiting for a hotkey to be pressed.
PrintKey and WinGrab can both be used to view images from files as well as to capture screens. PrintKey supports viewing the following image types: GIF, JPG, bitmap, icons, and Windows metafiles. It saves to all those formats except icons. WinGrab supports JPG, TIFF, PNG, and BMP.
Once you have opened a file to view or have captured a screen, both programs let you manipulate the image. PrintKey has more options, including converting to grayscale, mirroring, embossing, sharpening, adding a border, resizing, brightness, contrast, saturation, changing color depth, and several more. WinGrab's options are limited to reducing colors, grayscale, and resizing. WinGrab does a much better job reducing colors, which is important if you are working with Web pages. PrintKey is better at resizing images without loss of detail.
Both programs can save and print captured images or those opened from files. By default a captured image is opened in a viewer. PrintKey is especially handy for people who print most of their screen captures, since it can be configured to send captures directly to the printer without having to view them first. On the other hand, WinGrab has more sophisticated printing options.
Both programs are fine if you want to print your screen captures one at a time. PrintKey lets you control the placement of an image on a page and add footer information like date and time. You can also select how large the image will be printed. WinGrab gives you finer control over placement of the image. In fact, if you have many images to print, you can control how many are printed per page in as many columns and rows as you care for. This is handy if you want to make a contact sheet. You can just drag files from a Windows Explorer window to create a list of images for WinGrab to print. WinGrab will even let you preview the page before you print it.
Both programs let you capture entire screens or just a particular window using different hotkeys. In PrintKey for example, pressing Print Screen captures the entire screen, while pressing Alt-Print Screen captures the current window. A clever feature in PrintKey lets you capture an object just by pointing at it with your mouse. Using this feature, you could, for example, capture a screen saver. Both programs let you select regions of a screen to capture. I tend to like the way this works in WinGrab, but both programs are fine. In WinGrab, you capture something first, then you can select a cropping tool within the viewer. This also lets you crop images that have been loaded from files. In PrintKey, you first select a timer delay and then click the "Get Rectangular Area" button. After the delay, the screen freezes and you can drag your mouse cursor through the area you want to capture. Using PrintKey this way gives you time to open menus or other things that ordinarily wouldn't stay on the screen so that you could capture them. WinGrab has a similar feature.
While both programs have a timed capture feature, WinGrab's is more configurable. In PrintKey you can choose the location that the captured file is saved and the delay between captures. WinGrab lets you customize the saved file name to include the username, month and day, and a few other options. WinGrab also lets you choose to capture the entire screen or just the current window. PrintKey only captures the entire screen by timer. Both programs let you select the graphics format the timed capture is saved as. PrintKey pops up a little box whenever a timed capture takes place, which can be somewhat annoying. WinGrab can be configured to play a sound, to show a message box, or to provide no notification when a timed capture takes place.
These are both useful programs. PrintKey's strength is the ability to print captured screens with the press of a key. WinGrab is more useful if you want to save captured images as files. The programs will easily coexist with each other while running at the same time.
A newer version of PrintKey, PrintKey Pro, is available for $19.95. It has many new features not included in PrintKey 2000. It can be downloaded for a thirty-day free trial from www.warecentral.com. Print Key 2000 v5.10 can be downloaded from www.sover.net/~whoi/pricelessdesktop.html. WinGrab 1.40 is available from the author's Web site. The next version is in beta release and will include the ability to produce HTML contact sheets.
Also Worth Looking At:
GIMP, which is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a high quality graphics-editing program on a par with Satori or Photoshop. It has a great set of tools and a high degree of configurability. Originally developed for UNIX platforms, it's now available for Windows, OS/2, and MacOS X. The Windows version, at least, shouldn't be considered a finished product, and it might behave unpredictably. GIMP is available for free from www.gimp.org.
If you're looking for an editor that's easy to use, you might want to give Bright a try. Although it doesn't offer all the sophisticated options of other higher end programs, this paint program does have enough functionality to make it useful for many purposes. It only supports three graphics formats, GIF, JPG, and BMP, but these will be enough for anyone doing Web pages. The maker of the software, BNDsoft, no longer appears to be in business, but Bright is free and can be downloaded from Pricelessware's graphics page, www.sover.net/ ~whoi/pricelessgraphics.html. If you are not familiar with Priceless ware, it's an excellent Web site for good, free software. Its home page is www. sover.net/~whoi/Priceless.html.