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Getting an image into a computer is now relatively easy, but what can you do with it, once it’s there? Here’s two software packages to get those creative juices flowing...



A lot of people have trouble with the concept of image editing on a PC. It sounds complicated, the sort of thing that relies on fast mega-buck machines and degrees in art and computer science. It used to be a bit like that but now there’s a new generation of software on the market, intended for home use and designed to run on today’s multimedia PCs.


We’ve been looking at two packages, Picture It! from Microsoft and Livepix, which is distributed in the UK by Broderbund. Their appearance is coincident with several important developments, that have made it a whole lot easier to import photographic images into a PC. They include low-cost scanners, digital still cameras, Photo CD and video digitisers. In fact powerful image editing programs like Paint Shop Pro have been around in various guises for years. They’re cheap too, free even with fully-working evaluation copies appearing on magazine cover-mount CDs, which begs the question, what have these two to offer, over and above what is already available?


The simple answer is ease of use. The latest version of Paint Shop Pro (PSP 4.2) looks, feels and functions like the serious piece of software it is. Functionally Picture It and Live Pix have a lot in common with PSP, but they’re designed not to be intimidating, they’re meant to be fun to use, and you don’t have to wade through inch-thick manuals before you can start putting your ideas into practice!


Live Pix is the cheaper of the two at £50 or thereabouts, Picture It! has a list price of £80 but always shop around, prices vary a lot. System requirements are broadly similar; both packages claim they will run on a fast 486 PC with Windows 95, a minimum of 8Mb RAM, 40 to 75 Mb of free hard disc space and a CD ROM drive, but you can take it as read that they’ll be a lot happier on a Pentium-class machine, and the faster the better. Incidentally, neither manufacturer says you need a printer, but you do, if you want to actually handle your creations, and it should be a colour model, preferably one with good photo-printing capabilities.


Both packages loaded from their respective CD ROMs on to our P133 test-bed PC without any hitches, correctly identifying the connected flatbed scanner and its Twain driver. Presentation in both cases is quite different to the slightly sober-suited PSP.  Microsoft have gone for a lively multimedia approach with lots of clicky buttons. It opens with background music, funky sound effects accompany almost every action and there’s jokey graphics, like the hand holding what looks like a sink-plunger, to pick up and move objects around the screen. Livepix has a less ornate desktop and mostly follows the normal Windows conventions with lots of easily recognisable icons on the tool bar, and a large uncluttered working window or ‘canvas’.


Livepix has a good range of image and object manipulation features, these include all the basics, such as move, scale, rotate, flip, skew and perspective. Image opacity (transparency) and edge softness are both independently variable and shadows can be added, to create three-dimensional effects. The ‘distort’ facility is great fun, parts of an image can be stretched or compressed, creating some really weird effects, it’s almost worth buying it for that feature alone...


The list goes on. One of the key features is the impressive range of cut-out tools, that allow part or parts of a picture to be seamlessly cut and pasted. The possibilities are almost limitless. Livepix makes it easy to produce professional-looking finished results with a range of over 300 ready-made templates. They include things like greetings cards, calendars, picture frames, posters, T-shirts and so on. If the imported image needs touching up there a useful set of tools, that include a red-eye filter, colour, brightness and contrast adjustments.  


Print Shop II deluxe is bundled with Livepix, it’s an advanced printing utility with eleven ready-made ‘projects’ (signs and posters, banners, certificates, calendars, labels and business stationery). It includes a library of 4500 graphics, 73 Truetype fonts and hundreds of prepared templates.


Whereas Livepix allows you to get on and do more or less what you like, Picture It! takes users by the hand and guides them through the various options using a sequence of multiple-choice dialogue boxes. The main facilities are grouped together into five basic sections, or tasks, starting with ‘Get It’ which imports images into the main screen. The ‘Prepare It’ button takes the user to the numerous colour, brightness and contrast adjustments, and the editing tools, for making cut-outs, softening edges, controlling opacity, focus and adding text. Objects can be moved, sized, stretched, rotated or flipped with ease, using a set of simple tools and commands. The ‘Design It’ task button guides the user towards prepared templates for creating collage, picture cards and calendars. ‘Frame It’ includes dozens of patterns, textures, borders and frame styles and ‘Share It’ covers printing and converting picture files to transmissible formats that can be sent via e-mail, or used to create web pages.


Picture It! is a highly polished product but it is a lot less flexible than Livepix, at least until you get to know it. However, it does mean a complete novice will be able to get started and create a finished product a lot quicker. The range of basic image manipulation options offered by these packages are quite similar, the differences are in the details and the interface, which in the case of Picture It! is designed to appeal more to beginners and younger users. Livepix has a more mature feel to it, the ‘distort’ facility definitely earns it a few extra points but when you add on the Print Shop package, the huge amount of clip-art that accompanies it, and the lower price, Livepix easily comes out on top and represents good value for money.  




Two highly versatile image editors, designed to help newcomers produce professional-looking results, quickly and easily




How Much?            £50

Features            Image move, size, flip, rotate, distort, cut-out. Colour, brightness and contrast adjustment, templates and clip art included, bundled with Print Shop Deluxe

Contact            Broderbund, telephone  XXX



Features and facilities            *****

Ease of use                               ***

Value for money             ****


Overall rating            85%




How Much?            £80

Features             Image move, size, flip, rotate, cut-out. Colour, brightness and contrast adjustment, templates and clip art included,

Contact            Microsoft, telephone (0345) 02002000



Features and facilities            ***

Ease of use                               *****     

Value for money             ***


Overall rating            75%



Ó R. Maybury 1997 0805




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