PICTURE IT AND LIVE PIX
IMAGE EDITING SOFTWARE
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
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
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.
BOX COPY 1
Two highly versatile image editors, designed
to help newcomers produce professional-looking results, quickly and easily
How Much? £50
move, size, flip, rotate, distort, cut-out. Colour, brightness and contrast
adjustment, templates and clip art included, bundled with Print Shop Deluxe
Features and facilities *****
Ease of use ***
Value for money ****
Overall rating 85%
How Much? £80
move, size, flip, rotate, cut-out. Colour, brightness and contrast adjustment,
templates and clip art included,
telephone (0345) 02002000
Features and facilities ***
Ease of use *****
Value for money ***
Overall rating 75%
Ó R. Maybury 1997 0805