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IntelliDraw Review

by Richard Lim, Bristol University, UK

The world is full of symmetry, so all students of elementary mathematics are rightly told. It is also full of connections, as anyone can discover (if they didn't know already) by doing a few perspective drawings and changing the viewing point - connected objects clearly must remain so .

The folks at Silicon "SuperPaint" Beach Software took these two facts to heart in designing the centerpiece tools of Aldus's much-touted new drawing package, IntelliDraw ($200 discounted). It's an indication of Aldus's esteem for the Symmetrigon and Connectigon tools that they've gone to the trouble of trademarking them. The Symmetrigon allows fast creation of objects with specified mirror or radial symmetries - it easily draws seven-pointed stars or fancy pinwheels and lets you spin them around! The Connectigon, used in conjunction with a variety of line connector elements, enables you to draw one face of a three-dimensional object and attach the other faces to the edges of the first. You can stretch or slant the resulting drawing to your heart's content - what started out as a cube might become the Empire State Building, but all faces remain correctly connected.

IntelliDraw would be worth it for these ground-breaking tools alone; in fact I reckon it will soon be hard to imagine how older drawing packages felt complete without them. Not content with this achievement, Silicon Beach threw in not only the standard plethora of full-featured drawing tools but also a great deal of convenience and intuition as well. For instance, arcs created with the arc tool flip between detached curves and pie wedges at a double-click. A double-click on most other objects toggles between the so-called reshape and resize modes, so you can adjust the contours of an object one minute and rescale it the next. Keyboard modifiers also enable you to switch actions effortlessly. Holding Command down when clicking with one of the polygon tools produces a curve rather than a corner, while holding Shift down in the Object menu allows you to move objects by one layer rather than right to the front or back.

The program looks and feels like a typical Aldus product, much like PageMaker or FreeHand - it initially presents you with a scalable page view and a set of floating palettes. If you like 3-D buttons, look elsewhere, but IntelliDraw's tool palette has at least been colored, making the tools look more inviting than the weedy ones in Canvas 3. Silicon Beach, conscious of the fact that IntelliDraw's new tools and features require some explanation, thoughtfully provided an Info palette, a movable window that automatically displays the excellent and comprehensive balloon help messages provided. The Fills palette is impressively easy to edit - if you liked the rainbow gradients in MacDraw Pro, rest assured you can do all those things here. The Lines palette allows the creation of lines with varying thicknesses, continuities (unbroken, dotted, dotted and dashed, you name it) and endpoints (arrows and assorted lumpy terminations are child's play).

While these and other palettes make life considerably easier for the budding and experienced artist alike, one of IntelliDraw's most convenient features has to be its automatic alignment capabilities. With Auto Align on, guidelines magically pop into view when the centers or edges of objects are properly lined up, so you can plop everything neatly into place alongside or centered on one another. Having achieved the arrangement you want, you can keep everything that way using another feature called, unsurprisingly, Keep Aligned. It all works very well, and the manual provides well-thought-out exercises designed to help you master the basics of the program quickly.

IntelliDraw's talent for symmetry, connectivity, and alignment means it will be especially useful to technical or scientific illustrators. To underline this point, Silicon Beach included a feature with which you create libraries of frequently-used symbols and objects - electronic circuitry quickly springs to mind as a potential application.

If this gives the impression that IntelliDraw is the easiest and most powerful drawing package ever, well, it isn't quite that. While anyone with basic Macintosh competence will be up and running with IntelliDraw in no time, its sheer wealth of features (I haven't even touched on slide shows, charting, and simple animation) mean that you often have more than one way of doing things, and it's not always clear which is the most efficient. To put it another way, power and complexity often go hand-in-hand, and mastering as opposed to just coping with IntelliDraw requires effort. Neither are IntelliDraw's capabilities limitless. For example, I found it impossible to do a convincing solid cylinder using the Connectigon. It was the curved surface of the cylinder that caused me grief - if the cylinder is upright then this surface takes the form of two vertical lines for the sides and two half-oval curves at the top and bottom. Since the Connectigon is essentially a connected polygon tool (hence the name), and since ovals are effectively infinitely-many-sided polygons, you have no choice but to approximate the curved top and bottom edges of the cylinder using bezier curves. While you can make a reasonable stab at this, the result will not stretch accurately.

This isn't to gainsay IntelliDraw's power. It's sufficiently capable that although IntelliDraw does not attempt to supplant FreeHand's PostScript capabilities, it will prove to be more than just a smart sidekick.

IntelliDraw requires at least a 68020 processor and 2.3 MB of memory. It imports and exports PICT and EPS files and imports TIFF and text files. However the current version of IntelliDraw behaves in an unorthodox way when saving PICT files. If you import a PICT that contains a bitmapped image as opposed to objects, and save this as another PICT, you will most likely see a huge increase in file size. For example, a 100K screen dump turned into a 1 MB PICT file when saved from IntelliDraw, with no changes made! A source who has had contact with Aldus says this behavior arises because IntelliDraw also saves its own representation of the bitmap. This "feature" will become an option in a future upgrade. Polyglot artists (there must be some!) should also be warned that IntelliDraw does not appear to fully support the System 7.0 Script Manager; I have no idea how it would cope with WorldScript. While we're on the subject, IntelliDraw does not support QuickTime.

IntelliDraw does support 24-bit color in RGB, CMYK, and HSB color systems and offers complete file interchange with its Windows counterpart, for whatever that's worth. It ships with a whopping 5.7 MB worth of well-constructed sample art and templates. Initial copies also include an instructional video and a colorful but fragile reference card.

Others have expressed concern with IntelliDraw's speed, but it runs fine on my humble LC. Overall it seems somewhat faster than the more-expensive MacDraw Slow, sorry, Pro and offers much more functionality. Part of the concern may stem from the fact that IntelliDraw does things that no other graphics programs attempt, such as Auto Align, and indiscriminate use of certain features can significantly degrade performance, which is true in many powerful programs.

Whether you're trying to discover latent artistic talent, or you're a professional who needs to refine and streamline drawing tasks, IntelliDraw is for you. Perhaps the best endorsement that I can make is that if you can only have one draw package on your Mac, IntelliDraw is a serious contender.

[Richard Lim welcomes comments on this review, as well as on any Mac-related matters, at <>.]

Aldus Consumer Division
9770 Carroll Center Rd., Suite J
San Diego, CA 92126-4551
619/695-6956 ext. 5302
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