The manual is an unexciting but functional 105-page booklet that doubles as a reference and tutorial. The featured screenshots in the manual are all taken from the Windows 95 version, but should offer little worry since screen and dialog layouts are identical in the versions for both platforms. I did miss the lack of an on-line .inf manual, however, the help files are more than adequate as a replacement.
This vanishing act causes excessive repainting of the screen which, to me, was highly annoying. I also wished for more compact and space-conservative dialogs than the ones used in this version of the program.
Tool palettes are more elegantly done though, since you can not only change the size of the buttons on each palette to suit your style and monitor resolution, but you can dock them to any side of the Embellish window or set them to be free floating (GIF, 18.2k). By selecting Save Window Positions from the Misc menu you can ensure that they will pop up in the same places automatically the next time you launch the application.
A really nice feature of the interface is the use of "Colorwells" or digital inkwells that allow you to drag-n-drop colors to and from other colorwells. Double click on any colorwell and you can set the color more precisely by using the color wheel and up to four different color models. A palette of 15 colorwells, free-floating or dockable to any side of the main window, can be used to keep frequently used colors handy.
This feature is not as advanced as the similar style of managing objects in Photo>Graphics, though. For example; you can't re-size objects without exaggerating any pixels, and you can't create an object that applies a certain effect (such as blur or emboss) as it is moved around.
The Embellish scheme also differs from the Layers metaphor you'll find in Adobe PhotoShop, where each layer is like a film of clear plastic to be painted on. With Embellish you can't merge the color channels of separate objects together.
You do have the advantage of easy positioning though, something that isn't available with PhotoShop's layer metaphor. Place text on an image and you can fine-tune the positioning later if you're not happy with it.
What I found handy about the two-step drawing process for shapes such as text, polygons, rectangles, etc. was that you could first fine-tune the placement and size of the object and then apply it to the canvas. Also, you can re-create the shape after applying once and paint it again elsewhere, perhaps with a different color or 'Material' (discussed below).
The first use I had for this was creating drop-shadows for text -- set the color to gray, pick "Apply Shape, Recreate" from the popup menu, change the color, shift the text up and to the left a few pixels, then pick "Apply Shape" again.
"Materials" are the colors, textures and effects Embellish can draw with. The concept is not unlike the one in ColorWorks, but doesn't extend as far and is not as flexible. Materials available are: Adjust Color, Black and White conversion, Blur/Sharpen, Solid Color, Emboss, Erase, Gradient, Grayscale conversion, Replace Color, User Pattern, Shadow and Smudge. So, for example, you could select "Airbrush" as the tool and "Blur" as the Material, then instead of spraying color to the canvas you're spraying an invisible effect that blurs.
A really sticky problem with the tools though, was the lack of any mouse-position statistics when drawing or placing shapes. This makes it very hard to do precise object placement. Secondly, Embellish does not let you 'nudge' an object a pixel at a time using the keyboard -- a feature I missed from Impos/2. Finally, I noticed there wasn't a bezier curve tool which is also an oversight.
It would be nice if the anti-aliasing data was stored in a separate alpha-channel for each object though, which would allow for moving objects across different colored backgrounds without gaining a 'fringe' of pixels around the edges (alpha channels are used to store transparency information). (Try drawing black text on an orange background, then move the text object over a blue background. You'll see an orange 'fringe' around the letters.)
With Embellish, special effects can be applied to either the base image, selected objects in the image, or combinations of the two. You can also choose to create a new object that opaquely covers the underlying base image and objects with the result of the effect. The difference is shown in these two images, where the Swirl effect has been applied: 1) To existing objects (GIF, 8.9k). 2) Creating a new object (GIF, 17.9k).
You can see that when applied to existing objects without creating a new layer, the swirl effect has tried to swirl the pixels within the confines of each object's shape, as if each object were a separate picture that had to be 'swirled' independently from the rest. This could be important to note if you're not getting the effects you expected.
Under Embellish, effects and other processes can be dynamically assigned a priority to run at while they are still calculating. Very rarely would you ever have need for such a feature, but if an effect is going too slowly and you have the CPU cycles to spare, you can boost it a little to get the job done sooner. Be careful not to boost it all the way up to the ambiguous setting of "high" though, since this can often leave your system about as responsive as a deaf cow mired in a few feet of syrup.
And, as mentioned above, the lack of a bezier curve tool is an unfortunate omission, as is the lack of position information or fine movement abilities for moving objects by small increments.
Chris Wenham is a freelance web designer, writer and Englishman who now lives in Endicott, NY. In the past he has written comedy, sci-fi, Pascal, Rexx, HTML and Gibberish. He has been using OS/2 exclusively for the past 2 years.
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Copyright © 1997 - Falcon Networking