Product Review: Page (1) of 4 - 01/28/03 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Creature House Expression 3

Vector painting and illustration suite By Dave Nagel
Creature House Expression first caught my attention about two years ago. It promised something fairly dramatic: a combination of vector illustration and raster paint features integrated seamlessly into one application. Sounds good. But how well does this concept hold up in practical terms? With the new version 3.0, surprisingly well.

I've reviewed two previous incarnations of Expression, and, while I liked some of what these versions had to offer, I could never have recommended them whole-heartedly as serious production tools, most notably because performance was seriously disappointing. Version 3, however, changes this. Not only is performance improved drastically in the latest release, but the program just feels "tighter"--cleaner, more functional, streamlined, better integrated. I think those looking for a tool that can combine the vector functionality of programs like Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand with the painterly feel of raster imaging applications will be quite pleased with Creature House Expression 3.

What it does
Expression is, at its core, a vector illustration tool, with all of the functionality you'd expect from such an application. It includes precision path creation and editing tools (Bezier, B-Spline and Polyline), full text manipulation (including text on a path) and freehand path creation and editing tools.

But then it also includes a decent variety of raster imaging tools, including the same kinds of paintbrushes and pencils that you'd find in any bitmap image editing program. Import a digital photo, for example, and you can paint directly on it, including the ability to erase and even apply freehand masks to the image. And it also includes a wealth of miscellaneous tools, such as mesh warps, Flash button creation, path operations (such as intersections) and even the ability to trace a bitmap image automatically and convert it into vectors. (Below you'll see an example of a vectorized photograph.)

And these are all terrific features. But for me, the real selling point is a feature called skeletal strokes. Skeletal strokes allow you, essentially, to use a bitmap or vector image or animation as a stroke. These strokes are laid on top of paths, so, when you alter a path, the stroke images are altered along with them. Now, this isn't unique in and of itself. A variety of vector illustration tools, such as Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Fireworks, allow you to overlay textures and custom shapes over a path. But what is unique is the way expression handles these image "overlays" (for lack of a better term). Rather than simply repeating a fixed bitmap image, the program twists and stretches it along the path is it would in a raster-based drawing program, but with the advantage of the editability of vectors.

Here, for example, is a path with the "White Rope" stroke applied, which I then modified using the Node tool to stretch it around into different shapes.

I can also take those same paths and apply a different stroke to each one simply by selected a stroke from the preset library.

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