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Plug-ins & Extensions: Beefing Up Your Toolbox
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by Kass Johns (for Digital Creativity Magazine June/July 1996--unedited version)
While we all love our electronic design tools, many are becoming complacent or even frustrated with them. Yes, I appreciate the new features of a version as much as the next guy, but what about something to make my life easier or maybe even make me jump out of my seat?
Enter, extensions, add-ons, plug-ins and the like. Each vendor has their own name for it, but they are all the same thing. Hook-on mini features or filters that add to the existing behemoth applications we all use as part of our daily work ritual. Claris calls it XTND technology, Quark offers XTensions, Adobe refers to theirs as Plug-ins (before the Adobe acquisition, Aldus called them Add-ons) and Macromedia names them Xtras. Some of us may even run many without knowing it. Most of the applications like Adobe's Photoshop and QuarkXPress already ship with a given set. This enables the user to customize their program to their specific needs. The nice part comes in when third party visionaries create more advanced tools to hook on to what we already have.
While this technology has been around for awhile and many of us know about it, we wanted to know what is new and what is hot for Summer 1996!
We contacted Cyndie Klopfenstein of The World Wide Power Company (303-940-0600, 303-940-0601 fax, 800-940-8737) to find out about the hot sellers and talk a little about what is coming up. The World Wide Power Company is a reseller of extensions for most of the major applications: QuarkXPress; Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker, Premier, and Acrobat; Macromedia FreeHand, Fractal Painter and even Live Picture.
The hot properties for Photoshop this summer are A Lowly Apprentice Production's PlateMaker and the new Wild River SSK from DataStream Imaging, Inc. PlateMaker ($295) enables the user to color separate Photoshop files for spot color, custom color, HIFI or other separation. It supports DCS 2.0, so the final EPS image may be placed into QuarkXPress layouts as a touch plate, varnish or spot color mask. Wild River SSK ($99) is a series of seven new Plug-Ins that allow the user to easily create 3D effects, filter and adjust hues, create textures and posterize images and backgrounds. (Available Summer 1996.)
For PageMaker users, we have GalleyOops ($99) from Sundae Software. This slick tool can identify many of the errors that spell and grammar checkers miss. It does it via placement of Coach Marks on text showing the location of the potential problem. These can be moved, deleted or left intact as correcting of text takes place. It checks for quote pairs, non-typographic quotes, consecutive letters, Em, En and hyphens, alpha/numeral mixing, single characters, margin errors, unstyled errors, pasteboard items, non-printing items and invisible changes.
Illustrator users who need help with maps can look to MAPublisher ($299) by Avenza Software, Inc. Using Digital Line Graph (DLG) map files directly from the Internet (complete with real-world coordinates and all attributes intact) has never been easier. This Plug-In allows you to customize, scale, reorganize the data, design color legends and color-fill areas automatically. If you are a Geographic Information System (GIS) professional, this tool can take you to hi-res output with no need to trace or redo.
Illustrator and FreeHand
DrawTools ($99) by Extensis allows users of Illustrator and Macromedia's FreeHand a suite of 17 filters, including the ability to: edit curves; mix & replace colors; replace colors in a random pattern; create multitones, convert color to greyscale including (or excluding) object & text fills, strokes, gradients and/or custom colors; create 3D effects; exchange one object's level with another-either within or between layers.
For FreeHand users, PS EditLink ($250) from TechPool, Inc. is winning the popularity contest. Jay Nelson of Design Tools Monthly also recommended this tool. It allows users to import and fully edit EPS and PostScript files from other applications. Edit paths, gradients, vignettes, and text (as editable text). Files from QuarkXPress, PageMaker, PowerPoint, CorelDRAW and FreeHand EPS are all editable with this Xtra!
Our last category is the largest, QuarkXPress XTensions. With the advent of the World Wide Web and the popularity of designing your own web pages, is it any wonder that BeyondPress ($595) from Astrobyte is a hot seller? BeyondPress is a conversion tool that helps you turn existing QuarkXPress files into HTML files for the Web.
Another Web contender is HexWeb XT ($349) from HexMac. This is designed for newspapers and magazines who publish on the Net. Features necessary for daily production like: external footers and header files, variables for relational paths, auto table of contents, horizontal page linking are all a part of this package.
PDF Design XTension ($275) from Techno Design will allow the XPress designer to create control codes within the file to be transformed into auto bookmarks once the file is converted to PDF (Portable Document Format) with Adobe's Acrobat Distiller. All the PDF actions, such as "jump to bookmark" can be performed within QuarkXPress to test the file while in the development stages. This software also allows for the generation of user-definable links to be imbedded in the layout.
And on the flip side of this, GymnastXT ($259) from DataStream Imaging, Inc. is an import engine that allows PDF files to be interpreted as native QuarkXPress documents.
And, if you are gainfully employed in page layout you will appreciate the PM Import Filter ($79) from Markzware. Yes, this simple little gadget opens Adobe PageMaker files within QuarkXPress! For those who have converted over to the competition for page layout or for those who have to work with files generated by someone else, this XTension can help you get it done.
Design Tools Monthly's Jay Nelson is a firm believer in the new tool we will see directly from Quark (303-894-8888) mid-summer. QuarkImmedia ($995) is their stand-alone multimedia application that really works tightly in conjunction with QuarkXPress via XTension technology. This tool will give users of XPress a powerful means of multimedia authoring with the same interface of their familiar layout program. The excitement generated by this tool is that the user will no longer have to worry about being intimidated by Macromedia's Director, Lingo and some of the other authoring tool interfaces that can easily overwhelm traditional page designers. "If you know XPress, you'll quickly pick up on Immedia." said Nelson. He also told us of remarks from veteran Director users at a recent Immedia demo/class. Comments of "You're Kidding!" And "Wow!" were being echoed throughout the room. It seems that Immedia's functionality will be a welcome addition to the multimedia author's toolbox!
While these applications we have come to know and love (and sometimes hate!) have enabled us with great tools, it's nice to know that someone out there is looking for ways to make our work move just a little easier, just a little faster and/or just a little better. Now if they could just make an extension that makes us lunch, we'd have it all!
Commercial resources for Add-ons, Plug-ins, Xtras and XTensions:The World Wide Power Company
303-940-0600, 303-940-0601 fax, 800-940-8737
XChange (Quark XTensions only)
Adobe Plug-In Connection (Adobe Plug-Ins only)
© Copyright 1996-2001 by Kass Johns, all rights reserved world wide.
The opinions and recommendations stated here are solely those of the author and are not the responsibility of anyone else. This is an independent publication not affiliated or otherwise associated with, sponsored by, or sanctioned by any vendor. We state here that we have used trademark names in this publication for editorial purposes only, with no intent to infringe on those trademarks. Permission is granted to copy this document for personal use only for *non-commercial* purposes, in electronic or printed form, provided that this copyright notice is not removed. This work may not be used on another Web site or online service, sold for profit, included within commercial works, or altered or changed in any way without the express written permission of the author.