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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
Fractal Design's new category-defying program, Expression, blurs the thin line separating vector and bitmap graphics software. It doesn't sit squarely in either camp, offering illustration tools like those in a drawing program, along with natural media (and other) effects similar to those in paint programs like Fractal Design Painter. Though recent graphics market entries offer both vector and raster tools in a single application, Expression delivers a unique solution with vector-based drawing tools that simulate paint software effects.
Expression's Skeletal Stroke technology expands the limitations of vector drawing by incorporating flexible tools that allow precision and improvisation. It allows you to create three different kinds of strokes-Natural-Media, graphic element and multiview. Unlike traditional drawing packages that use different fills and line widths to define path attributes, Expression allows you to custom-design each stroke using vector-based images.
A graphic element brush stroke, for example, can be derived from any vector-based image, such as clip art, symbols, an original object or groups of objects. Natural-Media strokes resemble their inspiration: Watercolor brush strokes have diffused edges, and charcoal strokes show a slightly smudged, grainy quality. Multiview strokes can include multiple images or variations on an image so that, when applied to a path, the strokes simulate the random quality of an actual brush stroke. You can also export multiview strokes as simple QuickTime and AVI animations.
I especially like the way Expression works with a pressure-sensitive tablet. When using the Natural-Media brushes, such as airbrush or charcoal, I quickly forgot I was using a vector drawing package. Pressure sensitivity not only affects line width but actual density as well, resulting in tapering lines that get both thinner and lighter with less pressure. While expected in a paint package, it's a new experience to build an image using feathered strokes in a drawing package.
Expression poses a potential output problem. The program offers the infinitely scalable PostScript images for printing, but PostScript doesn't support transparency. Expression does have an internal printing mechanism, but a better option may be to rasterize the image. Rasterizing will ensure successful printing, but files are larger than their vector-based equivalents.
Expression is a revolutionary new program in the vector market, but it's unlikely to unseat CorelDRAW, FreeHand and Illustrator. It lets illustrators emulate the freedom of the drawing process by removing the common constraints of a digital drawing package. Expression has broken new ground, breathing life into the vector world's points and precision.