APRIL 17, 2002
Creature House Expression 2.4.1
Vector-based illustration suite
by David Nagel

Expression 2 is a program that tries to merge two very different approaches to digital art: raster painting and vector illustration. We've seen vector-based programs of late try to tack on some "artistic" features, and we've certainly seen paint and image editing programs integrate vectors into their toolsets. But Expression 2 is really the only cross-platform program on the market that truly combines the two.

I've reviewed Expression 2 in the past. But now Creature House has released several incremental updates, including one that brought Mac OS X native support to the program, so I thought I'd take a look at it again. [an error occurred while processing this directive] Expression 2 from Creature House is the direct descendent 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 in 2000.) For those of you familiar with the original Expression, Expression 2 is a complete overhaul, with just a wealth of new features that Expression 1 users could only dream about.

For those unfamiliar, Expression is a program allows you to paint strokes with vectors--including support for pressure tablets--with 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 Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand or any other vector program.

What it does
Expression 2 is primarily a painting program that also has some of the functionality you would find in programs like Illustrator, CorelDRAW and Freehand. But where the strengths of these three vector illustration programs lie in workflow and depth of features, Expression 2 is far more geared toward the front end--drawing and image manipulation.

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.

You can also create your own strokes based on bitmap or vector images with just a few clicks of the mouse or download a mass of new strokes from Creature House's Web site.

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