Blog: Secrets from the Chef

A Glance at Microsoft Expression

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
10 February 2006

Why did I pay attention to this product? According to Microsoft’s idea, the Expression family of products is intended to satisfy the needs of interface designers for Windows and for web. Thus, Expression Graphic Designer (MSEGD) is to be the first tool specifically intended for designing interface graphics (except Flash, but Flash has a much more limited scope of application).

Its “brother” is the Interactive Designer, which is promised to fulfil the eternal dream of interface designers, that is, to create interfaces without the programmers’ involvement (do not mix it with RAD Tools. It had quite different objectives).

Breathtaking prospects. Launching the program…

No import from AI? At all? Who do its authors think will want to start using it? Well, let’s try start with a blank page…

Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer: stroke

What do we see! The famous skeletal brushes, which brought glory to the original product! Well, we are not true artists, we are simple men. All we need is the 1-px… oh no, it’s 1-pt Basic Stroke, and that’s all.

Let’s draw a circle, for instance. Let’s see how MSEGD deals with rasterization. What about Pixel Preview? There it is! This is how MSEGD gets the second prize among vector-based editors suitable for creation of miniatures: the second and the last prize, if I am not mistaken. The Pixel Preview is even richer than that of AI, for you can see the result in any of the three types, jpeg, gif or png. The inconvenience is that you have to find it in the Web menu. That’s bad luck — graphic designers for desktop applications are not considered to be people. Anyhow. We’re used to that.

What should we do to make the outline of our freshly drawn circle (or square) exactly matched pixels and did not get blurred? After some inquiries, we find the Transformation pane and there, the Bounds tab:

Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer: bounds

You need to set the values in all four fields (Top, Bottom, Left, Right) to zero. Yes, it takes time to get used to the strange look of the numeric fields, bit the idea is good: you can easily change the quantity of digits after the decimal point, and certain digits are easier to edit than it is the case in a standard field. After we’ve checked the coordinates, we click Apply and enjoy the result:

Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer: circle

What now, do I have to do it all every time? I need to switch the Snap to Pixel option and that’s it… Oops. There is no such an option. You can Snap to Grid, to Node, to Guides, but not to Pixel. And not to Point. And if you set the grid pitch to 1 point, the Snap to Grid option stops working. That is so annoying. You can’t live with it. There is only hope that the final release will get rid of these drawbacks.

Now let’s see what good there is in MSEGD. What is this pane, Variable Width? Looks promising.

Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer: Variable Width

Can I really make an outline of a variable width? No, it doesn’t work… Bah, it’s only for skeletal brushes. Well, I am not a true artist…

So, what remains here is as follows. If the developers fix the obvious bugs, will this program replace AI for interface graphic designers? Personally I will miss transparency masks (transparency exists in MSEGD in a much more primitive state) and many other little things. Yet those little things are habitual. What is able to attract you to MSEFD? Skeletal brushes and some other funny things. It looks to be more attractive for illustrators of glossy magazines rather than for the target people of the product.

It is really a paradox, but AI, which bears the word “Illustrator” in the very name and which roots in times when vector-based GUI pictograms were hardly even a thought, was and still is the most convenient tool for careful creation of digital miniatures; whereas Microsoft releases the dream of a free artist under the title of a GUI designer’s instrument.

I myself am not a true artist. However, this dream didn’t leave me indifferent, especially after I had seen the supplies example, Popcan.xpr.

Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer: Popcan.xpr

This is a 3D, realistic tin, which was created rather easily and using a small number of elements (and the greater part of those are strokes applied with skeletal brushes). This example proves that MSEGD must not be directly compared to AI. The unique and powerful features of the former, which have been inherited from the original Creature House product, make it difficult to imagine, where they can be applied. One needs to rack one’s brain’s and then… we’ll see who wins!

Terms of Use

These materials can be used for any purposes with obligatory indication of the author.

Leave a comment

You can log in with your twitter or facebook accounts. After authorisation on one of this sites, you'll be able to leave comments here.

Connect with Facebook

If you have an OpenID (for example, use it to authorise.

Log in with your Turbomilk account or register a new one.