eBay Purchase Price: $19 AUD
Country of Origin: Australia
When it comes to illustration and vector graphics, Adobe Illustrator and perhaps to a lesser extent CorelDRAW spring to mind as the main contenders in this segment. Much like other software from the 1980s and 90s, there were other commercial offerings out there though over time were succumbed to corporate acquisitions. Micrografx was one such vendor.
Micrografx was founded in 1982 with a focus on graphics applications. Initially known as In-a-Vision upon its release in 1986, subsequent versions became known as Designer. The final version was 9.0 in 2001, when Micrografx was acquired by its competitor Corel. Corel continued the Designer product, though was influnced by CorelDRAW. Later this became known as CorelDRAW Technical Suite which leans toward being a CAD software package.
Here the focus is on Version 4.0 – more specifically 4.0a with date stamps of 15 November 1993 on the install files. I have seen another copy floating around online dated 14 August of the same year which is the original release. The copy purchased was in fantastic condition for its age and had been with the original owner since new. In fact, the old pink receipt from Harvey Norman’s Dandenong store was still in the box dated 15 August 1995 with an original purchase price of $99 AUD. The store’s computing department must have been flooded with Windows 95 advertising that was only to be released the following week.
System requirements were typical for its era, though favoured having additional RAM installed. At a minimum a 386-based PC with 8 MB RAM and 10 MB of hard disk space was needed. A 486-based PC with 16 MB RAM and 25 MB of hard disk space was desirable. Either way, DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.1 using a VGA monitor were also required as a minimum. A digitising pad, better known now as a graphics tablet were also supported.
Installation spanned across 12 3½” floppy disks, though early on if a CD-ROM drive is detected provides the option to switch over to CD. It doesn’t however allow to run the Installer program direct from the CD, so you still need to kick it off from the first floppy disk. Between the two copies, the floppy disk copy contains 120 PostScript (Type 1) fonts, 1,200 ClipArt items, and 25 photo images. As expected the CD contained more with 280 PostScript and matching TrueType fonts, over 13,000 ClipArt items, and 200 photo images on top of what was provided on the floppy disks. The Installer program itself is a little less conventional in presentation and process, though is easy to follow. Running in the background the Installer’s Help file came up, irrespective of whether you need it or not. At the end, a restart of Windows occurs to activate Adobe Type Manager.
Upon starting Designer, users of previous versions would notice a major refresh to the user interface which had largely been the same since the In-a-Vision days. It was now an MDI (Multiple Document Interface) application, allowing up to nine windows to be viewed and worked on at once. The menu bar had also been consolidated and given a tidy up, with a number of options now found on the toolbox shown to the left of the screen below. Selecting an option on the toolbox modifies the ribbon along the top as appropriate. Many of the dialog boxes had a button to add or remove it as an option to appear on the toolbox, allowing customisation to suit the user for frequently used commands. Context menus were also added.
A new file type (saved with a DS4 file extension) was implemented replacing the previous DRW format. Documentation claims that it’s “more advanced” without mentioning any specifics, so I assume it’s to support Designer’s new features.
Other new features incorporated 3-D special effects and warping, improved text manipulation such as flowing text and text within a shape, and even spell check. Restrictions on the number of layers has been lifted, though having 60 layers on a 486 PC would get a bit slow I’d imagine. PANTONE, TRUMATCH, and Focoltone colour palettes were included accessible via the Palette Manager. For multi-page documents, you have the option to create a slideshow that can be distributed as an EXE file, so others can view without requiring Designer themselves.
A couple of additional programs were also included, PhotoMagic and SmartSep. PhotoMagic was aimed for retouching and enhancing photos, such as removing the dreaded red-eye effect. SmartSep on the other hand is more technical and focuses on colour separation.
Previously Micrografx had developed and maintained a PostScript printer driver (file named as MGXPS.DRV). For Designer 4.0, Micrografx recommended changing over to Microsoft’s driver (PSCRIPT.DRV) included with Windows 3.1, or to one included by the printer manufacturer to avoid potential printing problems.
With a little practise Designer 4.0 was relatively easy to navigate around. I would have preferred better zooming controls, and there’s no option to save in the older Designer format (with the DRW file extension) for users of older versions. The older file format can also be directly imported as an image into Microsoft Office 4.x applications, though you’re out of luck with illustrations created here.