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Macromedia Fireworks 2
Mar 12, 1999

Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Pros: Slicing tool, automated updating functions, Export previews and object drawing tools

Cons: Animation functions need work, some functions are hidden in odd places.

by Michael D. Murie

Macromedia is working hard to be the media toolmaker for the web. They just announced that an independent research firm determined 77% of Web users can see Flash, the Director/Shockwave combination was recently upgraded, and now they've upgraded Fireworks, their graphics preparation tool.

Fireworks combines bitmap editing tools, vector based drawing tools, simple animation capabilities, compression previews and a slicing tool in one feature rich package.


Working with graphics
For bitmapped editing Fireworks includes most of the standard editing tools; selection marquee and magic wand, brushes and paint bucket, eraser and rubber stamp. Plugs-ins are supported through the Xtras menu, and include a basic set of blur and sharpen effects. Fireworks doesn't offer the sophisticated color editing tools found in Adobe Photoshop, but it includes a set of plug-ins from PhotoOptics which include color and levels Xtras.

Fireworks also offers object based graphics tools. The brush tool, for example, paints as a normal bitmap tool if you paint on an imported bitmap graphic, but works as a path based drawing tool when not used on a bitmap. Effects available for the paint brush include different shapes such as calligraphic pen, charcoal, and crayon. When strokes are drawn as objects they can be easily changed at a later date. Text is also stored as an object, and effects available include drop shadows, embossing and bevels. Text can also be attached to a path. You can apply multiple effects to the same object and even save your choices to apply to other objects, though it can be a little difficult to figure this out. With so many windows and features, several times while working through the tutorials I had a lot of difficulty just finding where a particular function was hidden.

Fireworks includes simple animation capabilities and exports animated GIFs. A frames palette lists the frames that make up the document. Content can be copied or duplicated from frame to frame. You can also create clones of an object from frame to frame. Clones are based on a master copy (called the symbol) and if the symbol is changed, all of the clones are automatically changed as well. Tweening is also supported. Unfortunately there's no timeline display, and figuring out the symbol/instance mechanism seems more complicated than it should be. While you can define a per frame delay, this is done in the Export preview window, not in the Frames window.

Frames have one other interesting characteristic; they can be used with the Slicing tool to define rollover behaviors.

Assigning parameters to slices in Fireworks 2

Advanced Features
The Slicing tool is perhaps the most exciting feature of the program. Using the Slicing tool you draw rectangular regions on the image that will then be sliced into separate graphics files using the Export function. Export Settings lets you choose different compression parameters for each region. The Export function will not only slice up the image into different files, it will also create an HTML file for the graphics. This feature could pay for the program with just a couple of web pages!

Fireworks also includes simple behaviors which can be applied to a slice region. The Simple Rollover behavior creates a JavaScript button using the first and second frames in the file as the default and rollover states respectively. You can optionally add a third and fourth frame for the Down and Over Down state of the button. The Swap Image behavior swaps any chosen slice with either the same slice in another chosen frame, or with another graphic file.

The Export preview provides options for choosing different output formats and previewing different compression parameters. For GIF files there are tools for manipulating the color palette.

Fireworks also includes a find and replace function that can replace colors, text, font or URL throughout multiple files. You can save these options as a script that can be applied automatically to other files at a later date. Fireworks uses the PNG file format as it's native file format, but exports to a number of file formats including GIF, animated GIF, and JPEG. It imports these files, as well as other standard graphics files. It also imports Photoshop files and maintains the layer information within it's own layering.

Preview window

Firworks 2 offers an impressive set of graphics tools. Whenever reviewing new tools it's always difficult to tell whether they'll replace tools you're already using, or whether you'll revert to the one you know. When I looked at Adobe ImageReady I was excited by the export preview function, but time proved that it wasn't enough to force a switch from Photoshop. Fireworks offers features that make it a useful auxiliary to Photoshop even if I still use Photoshop for image editing. The most compelling tools in Fireworks arsenal are the slicing tool and the automated rollover functions. These alone are enough to justify buying this tool. While the bit-mapped editing tools are adequate, the object editing tools are also a strong selling point for some graphic work. Now if they could just improve the animation functions. If you haven't upgraded your machine recently you might have to; I found it a little slow running on a Power Macintosh 7200.

Fireworks 2 costs US$199. Registered owners of Fireworks 1 and any other Macromedia product, (including Director Studio) can upgrade for $39 using Electronic Software Download through June 15, 1999. A 30-day trial version is available for both Macintosh and Windows.






You can find out more about FireWorks at Macromedia's website
Macromedia Fireworks page>



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