Like many other graphically-inclined people, I often swear by Adobe Photoshop.
It's so feature-rich that you can use 10% of its abilities and still produce brilliant images.
On the other hand, like many other HTML-inclined people, I often swear at Adobe Photoshop. Creating graphics for the Web is an increasingly common task, yet Photoshop can be really annoying. Right off the bat, none of Photoshop's funky filters work when you're working in the indexed color mode--the very same mode that GIF, the Web's most common image format, uses.
Oh, sure, you can always switch to RGB mode, make whatever changes you want, and switch back to indexed color. Then you have to contend with unpredictable dithering, banding, or tinkering with swatches to get the colors to come out just right. The end results are usually great, if
you have the patience and don't throw your hands up in despair. This one annoyance could drive you to consume more Tylenol than is healthy.
While poking around Adobe's Web site a few months ago (something every owner of Adobe software should do), I discovered the downloadable beta release of ImageReady 1.0, which promised to do everything I ever wanted for Web graphics. Hoping against hope that Adobe had finally answered my silent plea, I downloaded the beta and resolved to use it exclusively for creating Web graphics for the next month or so.
I don't mind admitting that I was hooked almost immediately, more so when I got the release version for review. The program now has a permanent home on my hard drive. Part of my enthusiasm stems from my love of Photoshop; ImageReady's interface is so close to Adobe's flagship program, the transition is almost painless.
In essence, ImageReady is a scaled-down version of Photohop which is optimized for Web graphics. (I should point out that ImageReady seems to be a mini-Photoshop 5.0, not 4.0. Certain features, such as the editable type layer, are welcome additions for such repetitive tasks as creating buttons with text.) Most of the major functions are there, accompanied by new menu items and palettes specifically geared toward making your GIFs, JPEGs, and PNGs look just the way you want.
If you regularly use Photoshop for Web graphics, then ImageReady will be worth the price just for its simplification of some processes. First of all, all of the filters--ImageReady has many of Photoshop's filters and can use its plug-ins--work regardless of the image mode. This is accomplished by simply doing away with the whole idea of image modes: all of the work is done on a true-color image. With the click of a mouse button, you can check the optimized version of the image.
"Optimized", in this case, depends on what you plan to do with the image. You can specify if the output is going to be a GIF, JPEG, or an 8 or 24-bit PNG; the number of colors; the type of palette or compression; and the level of dithering. (The dithering levels are particularly welcome; Adobe's decision to go with an all-or-nothing approach in Photoshop has puzzled me for years.) Any time you click on the Optimized tab above the image, ImageReady shows you what the optimized version will look like, allowing you to easily toggle back and forth to compare. Best of all, the status bar below the image can show the projected file size and download time depending on the type of modem connection. This combination of flexible parameters and status information makes it a lot easier to strike a balance between image quality and file size.
The other major draw is the droplet feature. You can create a droplet by setting your preferences for image format, compression, dithering options, specific actions, and so on. This can then be saved as a droplet file for future use: should you ever want to quickly make an existing graphic Web-ready, you can just drag it onto the appropriate droplet icon and let ImageReady do the rest. Droplets handle batches of graphics just as easily.
ImageReady also has animated-GIF features, though I'm a little less ardent about those. At best, they're serviceable: you can pick a start point and an end point for individual layers within an image, set the number of frames desired, and have ImageReady figure out all the intervening points. (An animator would refer to this as inbetweening; ImageReady uses the abbreviated "tweening", a term I've never been fond of.) For fade effects, you can also determine the start and end opacities for individual layers.
While the tweening option performs as advertised, it feels incomplete. By working with individually controlled layers, ImageReady approximates conventional cel animation; however, without the ability to ease in or ease out--essentially, create accelerated motion instead of constant motion--anything you don't do by hand comes across as a bit flat. Also, there's no means of animation along the Z-axis; objects can zip up and down, but not toward you or away. Finally, you can't use the tween function on existing frames; tweening always generates new frames, which means you have to plan to animate all the layers in a given set of frames all at once. Memo to Adobe: find an Amiga and a copy of Electronic Arts' DeluxePaint III to see how to make a simple and effective animation interface that includes all of these functions. Also on my wish list for future versions: it would be nice to be able to animate filter effects over time. For instance, maybe I'd like to have my text become increasingly blurry over 30 frames.
Adobe generally has a good knack for designing their software so that it meets artists' needs, but in this case it feels as if they didn't bother to find out how animators work. I'm not looking for a full-fledged studio--there's other software for that--but I would like to see some nod toward the techniques that have been honed in the past century.
Notwithstanding the animation features, ImageReady fulfills a long-standing need; the ability to apply Photoshop's considerable abilities toward creating Web graphics without a lot of guesswork. The time I've saved since installing ImageReady is more than worth the price tag. I suppose the only other question to ask of Adobe is, what took them so long?