The August 2005 Microsoft Acrylic Community Technology Preview (CTP)

When it was announced in 2003 Microsoft had purchased Expression along with its innovative skeletal strokes technology from Creature House, long-time Expression users, as well as those looking forward to the release of the professional animation program Living Cels, which was in beta at the time, were understandably concerned about the future of the programs. There is still no news on Living Cels, but Expression is alive and well in the form of Microsoft Acrylic.

Microsoft has announced the release of the August 2005 Microsoft Acrylic Community Technology Preview (CTP). This preview version is being released as a free download that expires December 2005. Download the Acrylic CTP from Microsoft here. At 80.9 mb, this download is a hefty one for those on dialup accounts, but after trying the new features, dialup users will probably be glad they waited through the long download time.

Acrylic, a professional illustration, painting, and design software, is the latest incarnation of Microsoft Expression, formerly Creature House Expression. The last version released under the Creature House name was Expression 3, and Microsoft released the updated Expression 3.3 for owners of previous versions free for both Mac and Windows users in June 2004. This new CTP is back and packed with new features, although the Mac version is missing this time. Sadly for many creative professionals, Acrylic has been released on the Windows platform only.

Known previously as a vector program able to produce images looking like watercolors, acrylics, and other traditional paint media, Microsoft has added bitmap capabilities far beyond those formerly found in the program. The program is now a hybrid, offering the best of both worlds: pixel-based and vector-based tools with seamless integration between the two. According to Microsoft’s Acrylic web site, Acrylic will allow you to:
“Incorporate graphics from other applications, and export design elements to a variety of software tools and formats including support for the Windows® Presentation Foundation (formerly code named “Avalon”) coming in Windows Vistam [sic].”

What this means for the designer and artist is freedom to move between bitmap and vector and to create unique compositions formerly accomplished by using several programs together. Fully editable non-destructive Live Effects mean changes are easier. If you have a client who constantly wants revisions, Acrylic will make changes faster than ever before.

What’s New in Acrylic

Some new features include Alpha Transparency in Clipboard. When copying and pasting either vector or bitmap images from Acrylic to the clipboard, Acrylic now includes an Alpha Channel that can be correctly pasted into Microsoft® Office Products. You can now chose vertical or horizontal orientation for the toolbox. The Style List lets you save and load custom styles.

vase of flowers painted with Expression 3.3
One of the biggest changes comes on the bitmap front, with a full set of bitmap painting and manipulation tools. With bitmap brush strokes as well as skeletal strokes, you can “paint” on the canvas. With the addition of a paint bucket. clone tool, and more, you can create images as you would in any paint program. There’s even a red eye tool for photos!

When will Acrylic be released?

As of this writing, the release date and final name have not yet been announced, so stay tuned for more information. For now, download the CTP and try out the new features, and see for yourself what makes this software unique. There is no customer support for the August 2005 CTP, but Microsoft has set up a discussion forum here to get your questions answered and to leave feedback.

More information is available at Microsoft’s Acrylic web site.

Acrylic System Requirements

Although the minimum system requirement is Windows XP with SP2, I personally have it running fine on Windows XP SP1, and there have been reports of Win2000 users also running the software successfully, so try it and see it it works for you.

Minimum System Requirements
Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2
733 Mhz processor
256 MB of RAM
800×600 monitor resolution with 24-bit color

Recommended System Requirements
Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 or greater
Pentium 4 processor
512 MB of RAM
1024×768 monitor resolution with 24-bit color

Previous Version Availability

If you are looking for the previous version, Expression 3.3, you can find it here for Macintosh and Windows.

Expression Discussion Lists

Microsoft Acrylic/Expression Discussion Newsgroup
Expression 3 Yahoo Group
Expression List at Topica