Corel Corp. has a reputation for filling its product boxes with a grab bag of utilities, special features, and add-ons like fonts and clip art. Print House 1.1 nimbly toes the company line with a wealth of design tools and all the extras you could ever need to create nearly two-dozen types of projects.
The riches include more than 1,000 professionally designed templates you can modify, 5,000 pieces of clip art, 1,000 photographs, 100 fonts, numerous borders, a database of attention-getting phrases, and eye-catching backdrops. The package even provides a TWAIN-compliant scanner module for capturing images directly, and a version of Netscape Navigator. Moreover, Print House is the only product we looked at that was available for both the Windows and Macintosh platforms.
As desktop publishing programs go, though, the $59 Print House has more in common with Broderbund’s Print Shop than with the same vendor’s Print Shop PressWriter. Corel’s offering works best when you use one of the hundreds of ready-made templates for everything from business forms and calendars to certificates, labels, and envelopes. Creating a completely new design from scratch is more difficult, because Print House lacks many of the niceties you’d expect in a DTP program, such as an simple way to set up columns, flow text frames, or even insert pages.
While working with Print House’s wizards and templates is a breeze, finding the one you want is not. On launch, the program offers a daunting set of four startup modes (plus options to open an existing project or the last project you worked on). The first startup mode, QuickWay, is a wizard-based tool that lists choices like banners, brochures, business forms, cards, certificates, signs, and “miscellaneous” (for membership cards, tickets, and so on), each of which is further broken down into document types, with only a few choices for each. Print House shows the document types in hard-to-see previews that don’t reveal much about their design. The second and third startup modes, the Start From Scratch and Sample wizards, offer even more choices. And you’ll find five-dozen newsletter templates hidden away in the final start-up mode, the PaperDirect wizard, which has the most complete collection of designs, but even sketchier preview thumbnails.
The rawest beginner will have no trouble modifying and customizing a project–Corel strips away confusing computer jargon and many menu commands in favor of a tabbed “notebook” with choices like Change Things, Add Things, Change View, and Save Project. Each tab has buttons that narrow down tasks into simple steps. Access to more advanced features, such as changing the stacking order of objects in the document, creating name/address lists, or accessing the spell-checker, is relegated to drop-down menus.
Other than the simplified user interface, Print House’s most sophisticated feature is its CorelDraw-like drawing tools, which allow you to fashion rectangles, ellipses, polygons, Bzier curves, and editable tables. The program also includes vector graphics that can be ungrouped and customized, and an image browser that can be popped up at the left side of the screen. Grabbing a thumbnail image and dragging it onto the document area imports the graphic automatically.
Although Print House, unlike Microsoft Publisher 97 or Serif PagePlus, doesn’t have the underpinnings to switch back and forth between entry-level mode and high gear, it’s a good choice for fledgling desktop publishers with rudimentary design skills who plan to work almost exclusively with predesigned documents and want a lot of options to choose from.
From its unmatched mail-merge features to clever Web-site-creation facilities, Microsoft Publisher 97 looks more like a high-end application than the $79.95 bargain it really is. A deceptively simple interface, including brilliant PageWizards that lead you magically through the process of building professional-looking documents, cloaks an impressive array of advanced features.
Want a painless way to design a business or personal document? Publisher 97 includes 18 wizards, including entries for all the standard project types–newsletters, letterheads, and banners–plus clever ones covering categories you might not expect, such as paper airplanes, origami figures, and Web pages. Each wizard offers you a choice of several dozen formats and lets you fill in the blanks with pertinent information, and then creates the basic publication for you.
From that point, you can click on help topics arrayed at the right side of the screen to learn how to add text, pictures, or graphics; change the layout; and view tips on improving your document or performing basic tasks like saving and printing. Pop-up yellow “tip pages” offer context-sensitive advice as you move the cursor around the document window, dialog boxes, and toolbars. When you’re finished, there’s even a feature called Layout Checker to critique your work, and a color-matching tool to alert you to hues in a publication that are beyond the capabilities of your output device.
All this handholding is optional, however. Once you’ve mastered Publisher 97, the program’s rich set of menus and tools–which bear a strong resemblance to their counterparts in Microsoft Office 97–provides access to even more advanced features. These include layout grids with snap-to options, tables, Microsoft Word-like text-editing facilities, and sophisticated typographic features that have been given friendlier, easier-to-understand names (e.g., “spacing between characters” rather than “kerning,” or “fancy first letter” instead of “drop caps”).
Take the best and most comprehensive wizards available in a sub-$100 DTP program. Add in 5,000 clip-art graphics and photographs, direct access to other images by means of Microsoft’s Clip Art Gallery Live on the World Wide Web, 150 font styles, 150 borders, and hundreds of templates, backgrounds, and other elements. Then polish off the package with a 328-page manual, and you’ve got Publisher 97, a low-end publisher that’s easily the best of the lot.
The Print Shop PressWriter 1.0
Modeled after Broderbund’s best-selling Print Shop Ensemble series, the new $39.95 PressWriter guides the rawest neophyte through every step on the path to attractive documents.
PressWriter’s opening screen offers a choice of newsletters, brochures, letters, rsums, reports, flyers, and booklets. Any of these can be built from a QuickStart layout, or designed from scratch. If you choose to work from one of the provided templates, PressWriter unveils miniature previews of each layout. For example, in a scrolling display, you’ll find 24 sample newsletters, 20 trifold brochures, and a full complement of more than 100 layouts overall.
With PressWriter, you’ll also have little or no difficulty in designing documents from the ground up. From a setup dialog box, you select margins, orientation, headers/footers, columns, number of pages, and space for a masthead. Changing column widths, adding text, and linking frames so that text flows between them are simple point-and-click operations using tools available from a bar at the left side of the screen. Because PressWriter’s basic tasks are so readily accessible, finding and implementing them is a refreshingly uncomplicated process. For example, you can activate the 11 most common tasks from the left-hand toolbar, modify text attributes with a word-processor-like formatting toolbar at the top of the viewing window, or access other features from eight drop-down menus.
The program’s word processing capabilities are impressive, and include all the find/replace, word-count, and formatting tools you’ll need. PressWriter can automatically zoom in for a closer look when you start typing text, or zoom out for a two-page preview of what your finished document will look like. Text can be rotated, wrapped around graphics, spell-checked, given drop caps at the beginnings of paragraphs, or formatted via reusable paragraph styles. If you run out of things to say, PressWriter includes a keyword-browsable database of more than 1,000 clever quotations to copy and paste into your publication.
If you prefer, you can import text from your favorite word processing program. You can also import common graphics formats, including BMP, JPEG, and TIFF, and you can resize, flip, or color them. You probably won’t need to, however: PressWriter is furnished with more than 5,000 graphics and photos, and includes a separate graphics reference book with full-color thumbnails for finding the image you want.
PressWriter’s 15 built-in Style Sets present recommended complementary type styles and looks from Art Deco to Wild West, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time deciding which fonts from the 100 bundled with the program look best together. Custom sets allow you to create your own collections to reuse in a monthly newsletter, or to ensure that a set of related brochures all sport the same styles.
Anyone already using Broderbund’s Print Shop to create cards, posters, or other publications will scarcely need to open PressWriter’s slim, 136-page manual. But even newcomers will find the guidebook or built-in tutorials are all they need to leap into desktop publishing in minutes.
PrintMaster Gold Deluxe 3.0
The first surprise in store when you begin using Mindscape’s PrintMaster Gold Deluxe is a friendly audio track that leads you through all the installation steps. A pleasant female voice explains what’s going on, suggests appropriate installation options, and even advises which buttons to click. This outstanding feature is continued throughout the program: As you select various functions, the same voice explains what to do and details available options. If the audio help doesn’t tell you what you need to know, a thick, phone-book-sized manual will, with 180 pages on PrintMaster basics and a complete set of black-and-white thumbnails of bundled images.
Mindscape packs a lot of value into this $40 bundle. In addition to the page-layout program itself, the trio of CD-ROMs includes more than 21,000 images, an image editing program, an album for storing and browsing graphics, and a collection of 69 fonts. (The fonts are included on the CD-ROM, and become available when you fill out the registration form.)
Built-in TWAIN support means you can grab images with your scanner and import them directly into PrintMaster. Should you need to manipulate the graphics, Photo Enhancer Plus is included. The program even comes with a PIM-like Event Reminder and Address Book, to prompt you when it’s time to create a newsletter or greeting card, and to personalize your mass mailings with custom-designed cards or labels.
None of these fancy extras would amount to much if PrintMaster Gold weren’t so easy to use. Your starting point is a project album, which has tabs for 13 types of documents, ranging from cards, banners, and posters to newsletters, brochures, calendars, business cards, and fax cover sheets. Clicking on one of the tabs invokes a set of subtabs with additional choices. The newsletter section, for example, includes options for corporate, church, neighborhood, informational, personal, and designed-from-scratch newsletters.
Buttons labeled with text rather than cryptic icons help you add text boxes or titles, import pictures, add shapes, or change the basic layout of your publication. PrintMaster Gold has its own spell-checker and tools for text wrapping and changing the stacking order of elements on a page, along with other features you might not expect from a DTP program in this price range.
Mindscape’s publishing suite has already undergone a complete upgrade to version 3.0 since last October, and by the time you read this, a brand-new edition, version 4.0, should be on the market. According to the company, version 4.0 will come with an improved interface; matching sets of design-coordinated letterheads, business cards, envelopes, mailing labels, and other documents; and the ability to send e-mail directly from within the application. Also new is the Cartoon-O-Matic feature that will make it easy to create your own graphics figures with lifelike facial expressions.
If the company keeps ladling out features, this best-seller will continue to gain favor with desktop publishers who want sharp-looking results and a minimum of fuss.
hasn’t seen a major upgrade since we last looked at it, but it still represents a good value in the desktop publishing arena. While not as slick as PrintMaster Gold despite being close in price at $49.95 list, Publisher 2 is often available for less than $30 and has charms all its own.
For example, you might be willing to pay a good deal more for a program with Publisher 2′s rich graphics capabilities. The program has tools for creating circles, rectangles, polygons, arcs, and other shapes, which can be filled with colors or patterns, aligned either to each other or to the page, and assigned hues from a 96-color palette that hugs the bottom of the screen. You can also drag and drop images from other applications directly into a publication, or import a variety of graphics formats, including common ones like PCX, TIFF, and BMP but also less common ones (for programs in this price range) like EPS and Photo CD. For those with no suitable pictures of their own, the package comes with around 1,000 images and 100 fonts, although users will need to employ one of the included separate stand-alone browsers to preview the clip art.
Unlike most of the other offerings in this under-$100 price range, Publisher 2 stumbles when it comes to automating publication creation. It’s more of a scaled-down full-fledged DTP application than one that will hold users’ hands and guide them through the basics. For example, instead of wizards or previews, Publisher 2 offers a sparse collection of 32 templates that, though attractive enough, leaves you to your own devices when it comes to deciding how to rework the forms to suit a particular need. A handy template manager allows you to store modified or new templates on a hard drive.
Although easy entry into the world of desktop publishing isn’t Publisher 2′s strong suit, the program itself is not difficult to use, and is remarkably full-featured once you have mastered its menus and toolbars. For example, this is one low-cost DTP application that does let you adjust the spacing between characters (kerning) or lines (leading), and it has powerful text and paragraph justification and alignment capabilities. If you import text in either the RTF or Microsoft Word format, you can place markup codes in your word processor that will be translated when the text is loaded into Publisher 2.
Like most other programs in this class, Publisher 2 can wrap text around graphics, perform spell-checks and search/replace operations, and offer synonyms using its Thesaurus function. The floating palettes for features such as style selection are particularly handy. In other words, to adjust all the paragraphs in a document using a particular style, you need only change the style itself.
The terse but thorough manual accompanying Publisher 2 includes some nice touches such as a useful section on page design that offers tips any desktop publisher should review before charging ahead.
Despite its lack of help features and the pressing need for an upgrade, Publisher 2 is a relatively uncomplicated, basic DTP program at a low price.