PhotoPlus X2: Not ready for CMYK
I can’t advocate using PhotoPlus X2 in a professional environment because of the lack of features for CMYK images. You can create colors according to the CMYK color model (just change the Color Mode drop-down menu in the Color panel) and you can output CMYK separations if you print from PhotoPlus, but images cannot be saved as CMYK. Moreover, if you bring a CMYK image into PhotoPlus (and it’s easy to do, even with Photoshop files) when you save or export the image you will end up with a RGB file. PhotoPlus has no support for spot channels either. There is a Channels panel, but the only channels you can have there are Red, Green and Blue. This lack of support for CMYK and spot colors means that PhotoPlus cannot create images for use on a commercial press. Since the application only handles RGB images, its color management is also spotty: all you can really do is turn color management on or off, and specify a RGB profile to use for internal RGB and the monitor profile. For a professional user this does not cut it.
Despite the failure to handle professional work, PhotoPlus does have some merit if you work with RGB images such as digital photos and you only need to print to your inkjet printer or at the local big-box store. Many important tools are available to you, such as those that fix red-eye, remove blemishes and spot lighten or darken. There is a strong engine to handle layers and it also has the full complement of adjustment layers you’ll find in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Some aspects of the application aren’t as good as they can be (Curves is particularly weak) but other adjustment options like Levels or Hue/Saturation have the full set of features. You will also find a variety of tools to warp and distort images, as well as an Effects menu that has most of the filters you’ll find in Photoshop, plus a few new ones such as the Instant Artist effect that does a great job of converting images to artwork with a few settings.
In the end PhotoPlus X2 is more comparable to Photoshop Elements than it is to Photoshopâ€”Photoshop Elements can’t handle CMYK images either, and it is designed for amateur users too. They are comparable in more ways than one: both sport an image browser of some kind. But PhotoPlus’s Image Browser is rather weakâ€”all you get is a file tree for browsing images, and a grid area to see accessible images and their pixel sizes. Other digital asset management options offer far more information and ease of useâ€”even the Organizer found in Photoshop Elements, which in my recent review I complimented for its ease of use and power.
The main advantage of using PhotoPlus X2 over similar applications would have been its price, but since it’s really an entry-level application and competing with the likes of Photoshop Elements (which is only $60 more than PhotoPlus and being upgraded to version 7) its advantage is pretty well eliminated. I would recommend it only for users who use Serif’s other products and are familiar with their look and feel.
PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional: A nice choice for layouts
PagePlus is one version up compared to the other three apps, and it shows. Out of all the applications, PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional is the most robust and has an interesting combination of InDesign, Word and Publisher. For Word and Publisher users, I recommend trying PagePlus out to see how it can enliven your layouts and make your work easier.
PagePlus has most of the tools you’ll find in PageMaker or InDesign, plus a few new ones that are quite interesting for novice users. If you want to make some text into a logo on the fly, just type it and take it into LogoStudio, a standalone module that can will walk you through placing it on a path, applying effects, fills, clip art from the included gallery, and/or arranging it as you wish. I don’t think it’s something a design firm or ad agency would useâ€”brands are created with much more sophisticated applications and with a whole lot more research and testingâ€”but a student or a non-professional may get a lot of use out of this.
As with DrawPlus and PhotoPlus, PagePlus has tools for applying effects, 3D twists and turns, and warping elements. This is the kind of thing I try to do in Photoshop or Illustrator, but it works here and users will enjoy the fun things they can do with type. The same Transparency tool in DrawPlus can also be found here, which is actually a nice way to apply transparency effects to elements. Other layout applications should have a tool like this.
One of the most important things for working designers to do is to control text formatting with stylesâ€”character, paragraph and object styles. Object styles can be found in the Styles panel but controlling text styles is a more complicated and disappointing matter. You’ll find the Text Style Palette under the Format menu, and from there you can create character and paragraph styles as usual. You can apply styles only from a small drop-down menu up in the top-left corner of the interfaceâ€”there’s no way to apply a keyboard shortcut. I’ve never understood why InDesign character and paragraph style keyboard shortcuts require the numeric keypad, but at least you can make some kind of shortcut.
The Character panel and the typography engine in general are also not quite up to standards. I don’t understand why tracking is called spacing, and I don’t understand why it and leading both are measured in percentages rather than points, which is standard typographic practice. You can work with points from the Format â€“> Character dialog box, but not from the Character panel. There’s also a strange “slope” setting in the Character panel that will skew your selected text a specified amount. I think it’s designed make a typeface italic, but it’s actually oblique and not italic (true italics are designed differently and you can’t achieve them just by slanting text). PagePlus doesn’t offer control of OpenType and its many typographic options either.
If you are used to designing layouts in Word or some cheap (or free) layout application that came with your PC, then PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional will open a new world of desktop publishing to you. The price is affordable and the features are quite robust for the price. It can import and export all the right file formats including PDF, but many other products on the market have better typographical tools and generally handle text better so I would steer professional designers to Quark or InDesign. But if these two programs have always seemed too complex and expensive, PagePlus is a good alternative.