Written by Carsten Whimster
This graphics program has had a very quiet life so far, with the previous release not gathering much attention. This is all about to change. A low, low price, a beautiful interface, and a great set of features put it smack in the middle of the fray for pixel-editing programs.
Before we start, for those who are not familiar with the various graphics program types, here is a brief introduction. There are two basic types of graphics programs out there these days in the mainstream: vector drawing programs and pixel editing programs. This is a bit black & white, but pretty accurate. On OS/2, the only vector drawing program I have seen so far is an antique version of Corel Draw, but there is at least one interesting sounding program out there up-and-coming. In the category of pixel editing programs we have more competition: ColorWorks is the first and the most expensive and professional, but unfortunately it sounds like we have seen the last version for OS/2, at least for a while. Then there is Photo>Graphics and now Embellish. In other words, OS/2 needs a vector drawing program next, for any of you budding programmers out there.
Vector drawing programs store whatever you draw as a series of lines, curves, points and so on, and all this can be scaled to whatever size you need, including all the text you draw. Pixel editing programs on the other hand, store the drawing as a series of dots on a canvas. This means that whatever you create cannot be easily scaled or changed. The advantage is that you can fiddle around with photographs, and what you see is what you get, more or less. Finally, all images seen on web pages are pixel-based, so one of these programs is what you need for creating web graphics. Embellish is a pixel editing program with a twist: it saves in an internal format which retains some of the vector-type stuff, thus allowing you to perform some modest changes after loading a file previously created, which is more than most pixel editing programs can claim. Then when you are completely done, you can save in a normal format, such as GIF or JPG.
My first impression of Embellish is that of a fun, easy to learn graphics program. It has a great interface and some neat features, some of which are not normally seen in such affordable programs. Here is a quick look at the program:
Just to give you an idea of how easy this is to learn, I sat down late one evening with my father, an intelligent non-computer person, and together we had lots of fun discovering the various features. At the end of the evening my father declared that he now knew enough to figure the rest out himself.
If you hold the mouse over any tool or icon, a bubble with help text appears in short order, and if you hesitate even longer, a much larger bubble comes up with a longish description of the use of that tool or icon. Great for learning, because when you are unsure of something, just slow down and help will be along shortly. This is not to say that everything is perfectly easy, but between the bubble help and the normal dose of experimentation, it doesn't take long to discover how to use most of the features.
The very first bit of learning will probably come with the help of the manual, however. Many of the tools have a slightly unusual approach to graphics editing. For example, to draw text, you first choose the text tool, then choose the font, then type the text, then push the "Create Text" button, then move the text around until it is where you want it, and finally you choose "Apply shape" from the popup menu of the canvas. Different than most programs, to say the least.
Here is a quick run-down of the more important features:
- object-oriented drawings (not quite vector, but halfway there).
- many tools, including airbrush, chalk, and other more conventional tools.
- paintable effects, including smudge, emboss and more.
- special effects, including blur, fisheye, swirl, and ripple.
- many filters to apply to images.
- batch conversion capabilites.
- screen capture.
- web features, such as interlaced GIFs and JPGs, auto-generated maps and more.
- dithering to various palettes.
The tools are fun and numerous, as seen here:
The best way to learn about things is just to jump in. Although programs like Colorworks are ultimately more powerful, it takes a much more concerted effort to get started with them, and although the power is there, you always feel the seriousness of the application. Embellish is not like that. Light and fun describes it better.
Although the initial versions I tried were quite unstable, I have yet to crash the final version I was sent. Rock-solid.
One thing I do miss is more control in the placement of objects on images. Moving things in very fine increments is not all that easy, and frequent undoing is the order of the day if you are fussy. Multi-level undo and redo ability is also missing, unfortunately.
One thing that Embellish does much better than ColorWorks and Photo>Graphics is anti-aliasing of text. Anti-aliasing removes the jaggy look that text often gets on diagonal lines by filling in with various half-tone pixels around the offending edges. Embellish really shines here; in fact it is so good at this that I create all my text in Embellish, and then import to ColorWorks to finish off serious graphics.
Each tool has its own settings, making it easy to customize the look that you achieve by applying the tool in question. For example, the airbrush tool has settings for strength, rotate, squish, solid size and fade size, making for a wide variety of possible effect with just that one tool.
The image below was created in about 2 minutes of playing around:
Dadaware is hard at work on Embellish, adding more features all the time. Recent additions are an interface for scanners, and more. Check the website for the latest news.
Although the graphics professional will probably be frustrated with certain limitations of Embellish such as limited accuracy and limited undo/redo, it certainly earns applause for delivering so many neat features in such an affordable package. If Dadaware had tried to sell this program as a serious professional package at a high price, it would have been easy to criticize it to pieces, but given the fantastic price-level and beginner aim, it is hard to beat. This program really deserves to sell well, because it is fun, easy to learn, and is much more capable than it has a right to be at this price. If you are looking for evenings of interactive fun, get it!
Overall Rating: 5 of 5.
Embellish can be purchased at the J3, Indelible Blue, and other places.
- Embellish 2.0
- Price: $69.99 US
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Home Page: http://www.dadaware.com/