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Issue 6.5



Issue: 6.5 (July/August 2008)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 4,873
Starting Page Number: 8
Article Number: 6502
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Say you're working on your latest Killer App and realize that what it needs is a nice toolbar. Great, now you've got to create dozens of icons, and of course they need to have masks and be in a cross-platform format, and you need each icon in different sizes so the user can choose between "large" and "small" toolbars. Suddenly you realize the work ahead of you: each icon requires dozens of versions and file formats. That's going to take you forever to deal with, and each time you make a minor change to a graphic, you'll have to update all those copies. What a nightmare!

Graphics for software and web development present unique challenges and most graphics programs are just not suited for such work. But along comes Like Thought's Opacity, a new Mac OS X Leopard graphics editor that's specifically designed for icons.

Opacity's killer feature is its ability to save multiple versions of your graphic with one click. You simple define a "build factory" for each version of the graphic: you can specify the frames to be saved, the file format (TIFF, PNG, JPEG, etc.), the size, and the save destination. You can even define variables to create versions of the graphic with different text, or powerful things like a small version of the graphic that automatically turns off a shadow or detail layer when the resolution of the image is below a certain threshold.

Once you've got all your build factories set up, you can just click the "Build All" button and each graphic is re-generated. This makes updating a bunch of icons a snap. For instance, imagine being able to easily reuse your toolbar icons from one of your applications in another but with a different highlight color.

Opacity isn't just a glorified batch processor, however. It's a full-fledged image editor as well. It takes advantage of Leopard's Core Graphics to give you gorgeous resolution-independent vector and bitmap graphics with layers and special effects. These effects are non-destructive, so you can easily tweak the effect's settings without harming the rest of your artwork. This makes it easy to add soft shadows and shiny refpowerful: each file can include multiple frames (grouping related images such as an icon set) and each frame can have multiple layers. It supports templates to simplify creating new graphics. It's preview feature shows you exactly how your icon will look on different backgrounds and at different sizes.

However, Opacity is not perfect. I had trouble getting vectors from Adobe Illustrator into Opacity; overly complex objects would crash the program or just not transfer anything. Much more serious, once imported into Opacity, Illustrator vectors become a single object, no longer separable into different elements. For existing icons created in Illustrator I found I had to copy and paste them one element at a time so I could independently manipulate the items in Opacity (i.e. adding shadows or coloring the elements). In the end, I often found it easier to recreate the icons from scratch in Opacity, though that only works well for simple icons: the drawing tools in Opacity, while impressive for a brand-new application, simply cannot compare to Illustrator.

In short, Opacity is terrific for its main focus: generating multiple versions of an image, adding highlights and special effects to simple graphics to make them special, and keeping all the icons of a set in one file. It's not so good for actual drawing, and you may find some difficulties importing artwork from other programs.

I recommend you download the trial version and play with Opacity to see if it will meet your needs. I was so impressed I paid the fee within a couple days, but your needs may differ.

End of article.