Impression: This is definitely a thorough overhaul of the
original program this is based on. It offers an interface that's
easy to understand and use, and it has some good features for
creating organic-looking effects, such as paint strokes.
Benefits: Pressure sensitivity is a big plus, but this program
has a number of great features. Paint strokes are excellent,
especially the ability to use bitmap images in paths. I like
this program's numerous transform capabilities, and all the
tools are extremely easy to use. Transparency controls and colorization
are two more great features, as are vector warping and support
for Photoshop filters.
This program's Flash output leaves something to be desired.
It would have been nice as well if Expression 2 had included
a larger library of bitmaps for painting. Finally, when you
use a lot of strokes on a single page, Expression 2 slows down
28 , 2001 Creature House Expression 2 Vector
illustration and painting software
Over the course
of just the last couple years, vector-based illustration programs have
begun making their first serious strides into the territory of bitmap
painting tools. That is, programs have introduced vector tools that
behave in many ways like bitmap tools but retain the editability of
vectors. These include Macromedia Fireworks and Freehand, which retain
most of the functionality of traditional vector (formerly known as EPS)
applications, and Synthetik Studio Artist, which you would never identify
as a vector tool unless you were to engage in some research to discover
this fact. Right in the middle is Expression 2 from Creature House,
an almost brand-spanking new application resurrected from the ashes
of Fractal Design Expression from the company formerly known as MetaCreations.
(Creature House is actually the company that developed Fractal Design
Expression, selling it to MetaCreations. and then regaining the rights
to market it late last year.)
Expression 2 is a dramatic overhaul of Fractal Design Expression, adding
a whole host of new features I'll catalog for you shortly. For those
of you entirely unfamiliar with any version of Expression, this is a
program allows you to paint strokes with vectorsincluding support
for pressure tabletswith a broad variety of stroke styles, from
simple objects to strokes that look like wet paint strokes. It has full
support for transparency, including gradations in strokes and fills.
It has a broad variety of transforms. It allows for simple Flash animations.
And it does all of this in a way that will not be a difficult transition
to make for anyone with just a modicum of experience in Illustrator
or Freehand or any other vector program.
2 Macintosh interface. Click image for a larger view.
In addition to all
of these, you can import bitmap images created in other programs or
in Expressions and use them either as objects within the composition
or as stroke elements. In other words, you can paint bitmap images along
text and functions
The two primary drawing tools in Expression 2 are the freehand pen and
the Bezier pen. The options for these tools are almost too numerous
to list here. Aside from width and an incredibly broad range of stroke
and fill options, you can colorize grayscale bitmap strokes, apply slant,
set maximum pressure (separate from the Preferences setting) adjust
stroke and fill transparency, saturate/desaturate, darken/lighten, distort,
change joints (round, bevel, miter, continuous or broken) and even adjust
variable width. This last one is great for those who don't have a pressure
tablet and want to vary the width of the stroke along the length of
the path. For those with pressure tablets, this lets you edit the pressure
you input over the course of your stroke. You can add points, move them
and expand them for wider or more slender areas. (See Variable Width
Tools and width
You have an equal
amount of control over text, even before converting it to paths. You
can stroke it with bitmaps and even adjust joints, widths, slant and
any other stroke or fill aspect.
Text strokes with a 30 point bitmap stroke. Strokes
over text can be adjusted as
easily as those on a path, including width, color, opacity, slant, joint
This text has not yet been converted to paths and is still fully editable.
Here the text is filled, and the fill has a solid transparency. The
stroke has a
gradient transparency based on the alpha channel imported with
the bitmap. Again, the text remains fully editable.
are organized in their own palette, which can display all existing strokes
or just list strokes by category (folder). Strokes can be defined and
added to the palette with a simple menu selection.
tools and features include:
which using a grid to warp bitmap and vector data. You can import
bitmaps into the program, place a grid over them and then stretch
coordinates for warps within and without the objects' bounding boxes.
skin, for showing previous and next documents for cell animation.
Support for Photoshop
filters (on bitmap objects).
for strokes and fills, whose resolution can be controlled independently.
Soft edges and
Masks with strokes
Expression 2 supports a number of file formats for importing and exporting,
including the ability to export to Adobe Illustrator 8 format and EPS.
It can also output Flash (SWF) files. The Flash export is probably unique
in graphic design. I've certainly never seen anything like it. You don't
actually animate an object in a timeline as you would in Macromedia
Flash or Adobe LiveMotion (or any number of the other programs that
export SWF). Rather, animation is handled on an object by object basis.
The program allows you to pick an object and then set that object's
normal, over and click states from a series of pulldown menus.
settings dialog. All Flash animation settings
are made here, and no timeline is involved.
You can choose between
motion and color settings, cycle type, cycle time and duration of the
effect. There are no interactive features other than hyperlinks. Motion
effects include pulsate, horizontal pulsate, vertical pulsate, rock,
X vibrate, Y vibrate, rotate, enlarge and shrink. Color effects include
fade, blink, brighten and darken.
The Flash output
itself is quite small. A large animation can be as little as 4 KB, which
is actually smaller than most JPEG images. The price of this is quality.
You lose all detail in bitmap strokes, and there's no way to change
the settings to allow for larger file sizes for better images. Vectors,
of course, come out just fine.
On the import side,
you can insert any bitmap object, and you can also import Photoshop
files with layer and alpha information intact. You can also import any
vector object and copy and paste between applications that support Illustrator
AICB (Adobe Illustrator on the Clipboard) format, although other illustration
programs to not accept bitmap data included in Expression's strokes.
I found working in Expression 2 to be quite easy, Icons are usually
familiar and at least understandable, and there's popup text to tell
you what each tool does. I only had to refer to the manual once, which
was when I wanted to figure out how to add animation to the composition.
That was easy enough to find in the online help (under the Help menu
on the Mac), which is a duplicate of the printed documentation.
All of the tools
in Expression 2 are likewise accessible and logically organized. Fully
expanded, tools can take up quite a chunk of screen acreage, and you
can't dock palettes within one another. (You can close up the ones you're
In terms of performance,
this program cleverly draws a black and white representation of your
stroke while it's being drawn, rendering it out only when you let go
of the mouse. Nevertheless, performance does get bogged down (screen
redraw lags) about the time you hit 20 paths with bitmap strokes under
the default memory allocation of 48 MB. Increasing the memory partition
improves performance proportionally. One nice performance feature, though,
is that you can continue to work even as other potions of the screen
continue to redraw.
The bottom line
Expression 2 is an excellent complement to an illustration system. If
you currently use Illustrator or Freehand and want to add more creative
possibilities to your work, Expression 2 is definitely worth a look.
While this program has Flash capabilities, it is not a full-featured
Flash animation tool by any means. But it does offer some very nice
vector capabilities that no other program can match. We give Expression
2 a buy recommendation.
Expression 2 is
available for Macintosh and Windows for $149 for the boxed version,
$139 for the download version. (During the introductory period, you
can buy the download version and have the CD shipped to you at no additional
cost.) Upgrades for owners of previous version of Expression run $99
for the boxed version, $89 for the download. For more information, visit