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Embellish v2.01- by Chris Wenham

Many of you may have never heard of Embellish for OS/2 and those of you who have might wonder how such a "new" application can already be at version 2.01. The answer to this mystery is, of course, that Embellish is not a new application at all. Embellish v2.01 for OS/2 and Windows 95 is the second generation of graphics software to come from Dadaware. This product is actually based on its predecessor, JView Pro, which was developed by Dadaware when the company was still called Crunch Products.


Having outgrown its shareware roots, Embellish is a full commercial application complete with attractive packaging and a full hard copy manual. The software itself comes on a CD-ROM which includes both the OS/2 and Windows 95 versions and a stock of royalty free photos (GIF, 4.8k) in JPEG format suitable for backgrounds, cutting and pasting and various other artistic endeavours.

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.


Embellish conforms to using the standard IBM installation utility we've all come to know and trust. (Earlier versions did not use IBM's installation utility. If the version on the CD-ROM you get is 2.0 you can obtain a free upgrade to 2.01 from Dadaware's download area on-line.)

User Interface

The user interface for Embellish (GIF, 3.9k) is not the greatest I've used. It feels awkward and slow. Also, persistent dialogs and palettes that you want to keep open will disappear and resurface frequently as you access different parts of the program. For example, if you have the color palette and text tool open when you attempt to save a file, the palette and text dialog will disappear while you choose a filename, then reappear once the save is complete. The same goes for using the eyedropper tool, it will cause the color palette to vanish (and, unfortunately due to a bug, it may not reappear without toggling it on and off from the main toolbar).

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.

Objects vs. Layers

Embellish has one advanced feature, the ability to treat everything drawn to the canvas as an independently movable object. A stroke of a brush is an object, move it anywhere you like after it has been painted and even after other strokes have been painted. Or move it up and down in the Z-order, whatever you want.

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.

Tools and Materials

Drawing Shapes with Embellish is usually a two-step process and involves drawing the boundaries of the shape on the canvas first (such as the corners of a rectangle or ellipse) and then selecting 'Apply Shape' from a pop-up menu accessed by clicking the right mouse button. Some tools, such as the freehand pencil, chalk and airbrush are instantaneous though.

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.


The anti-aliasing in Embellish, applicable to all of the drawing tools (at least those where it makes sense), is superb. It's clean and crisp even on very small fonts when using it with the text tool. Circles and diagonal lines look really good in Embellish, without the jaggy edges you see in other programs. This makes Embellish excellent for graphics destined to go on a web page.

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.)


Embellish comes with all your standard filters such as blurs, embosses and more (not to be confused with similar filters in the Materials set), plus it features a nice collection of special effects. Such special effects include (but are not limited to:) Acid, Blocks, Double-vision, Fisheye, Oil Painting, Swirl and Waves. These are the kind of effects that are usually supplied by plug-ins with any other software.

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.

Web Features

Embellish has just started to acquire a set of web-oriented features such as the ability to create clickable Image Maps, remap the colors of your image to Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer 216-color palettes, and save to transparent .GIF files. Embellish 2.02 features a .GIF animator tool, but this was still in beta at the time of writing.


The file open and save dialogs, while not standard OS/2 dialogs, have many useful features including a 'favorite directory' list with which you can rapidly get into deeply nested folders with a right-click of the mouse. Deeply nested as long as the total path doesn't take up more than 32 characters that is, making it somewhat useless if the folder is you want to reach is very deep. This 32-character limit is also found in the Image Map tool when entering URL's.

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.


Embellish could use a cleaner user interface. An object manager palette similar to the layers palette you'll find in PhotoShop would be really welcome for example. But Embellish is low in price and does a lot for your money. Plus, its object oriented way of assembling pictures makes it really easy to rearrange things on a canvas until you've got what you want. It's definitely worth looking into.

* * *

Embellish v2.01

by Dadaware
download the demo from Dadaware's FTP site (ZIP, 2M)
MSRP: US$69.99

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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