PrintDesign team releases a preview version
sK1 team released the first preview version of PrintDesign, a free vector graphics editor for desktop publishing.
Igor Novikov announced the reload of the project in October 2011, after 6 years of working on sK1. He honestly stated:
Our plans are rather ambitious, but please don't expect immediately useful software. Even big software companies cannot magic a whole new application from scratch in few months, it takes years to get there.
The team planned a lot of changes: a new file format, a new architecture, better performance and file formats support. However despite of initial estimations the team managed to post first news on the progress only in March 2013. Granted, they also started posting project updates on the website and the Facebook page far more frequently as well.
What's more surprising (or maybe not too surprising) is that they revisited their decision from 2011 to use pure GTK+ for the user interface and about a month ago moved to wxWidgets. The point of this preview release is, in fact, to demonstrate that PrintDesign really works on all major platforms and looks native enough.
So how much has changed since March, exactly? Here's a quick video that goes through existing feature set.
Not keen watching videos? Read on.
Tools in PrintDesign
The application got two more activated tools: Polyline and Bezier Curve. They sort of work, if you can live with the fact that you cannot edit what you created, as the Shaper tool (currently with the "Edit mode" tooltip) isn't complete yet.
The idea is that all drawing tools will only create objects, and all editing of existing objects will be done with this Shaper tool. This is different from what you probably know from Inkscape where all tools both create and edit objects, and can even edit gradients assigned to them.
Polyline works a bit like Free Selection tool in GIMP: you can combine straight lines with freehand "drawing" in one go. That's an interesting solution.
Unfortunately there are some annoying buglets and general lack of meat all around: no shortcuts for tools, lacking visual feedback for operations like closing a polyline (typically the starting point gets highlighted when you hover it) and so on.
The team is, however, listening to all the feedback. E.g. they already fixed drawing of proportional objects like squares and perfect circles which I complained about in the video above.
On top of that, the very basic Text tool that was available in March got deactivated, but for a great reason: it's being rewritten to become more usable.
The most visible change is the new status bar that displays mouse pointer coordinates, describes active selection (e.g. "Ellipse object in selection", "4 objects in selection" etc.), and provides simple access to page navigation.
Some newly added features, such as Page Border plug-in or the Preferences dialog, apparently haven't made it to the new wxWidgets-based version yet. Also, apparently PrintDesign follows the document model by Corel DRAW and has guides implemented as a special kind of a layer which can be seen on a older screenshot of the Layers dialog from the GTK+ based version.
Guides, grids, and origins
Another new user-visible feature is the ruler. Apart from the conventional assistance in creating and deleting guides it also provides a simple way to switch between 3 types of coordinates origin: top left corner (typical for printing), the middle of a page, and Cartesian (bottom left corner). That's a really useful and welcome addition.
There's also a very basic implementation of grids (that is, no major/minor grid lines) with grid lines available as snapping targets. Which brings us to the topic of...
Another major new feature is the basic snapping of objects. The team actually went a bit further and implemented the so called smart guides. Basically, PrintDesign creates dynamic guides that align to various features like bounding boxes of other objects around. This is something you probably know from Adobe Illustrator or Microsoft Visio (or even the unstable version of Scribus).
Unfortunately the existing implementation is not so useful whenever you are interested in snapping with/to more than just bounding boxes, grid, guides, or page borders. E.g. a node or a rectangle corner cannot be a snapping target. Nor is there a possibility to snap before drawing — something you will miss, if you are an advanced Inkscape user. Hopefully this will be taken care of in due time.
File formats support
This is a somewhat puzzling part. Around May the team ported the support for WMF files from UniConvertor 1.1 to 2.0. However WMF is not available in the preview release.
Moreover, there don't seem to be any other changes regarding support for various file formats. This is most likely because the team is busy working on other features.
Water to elephants!
Two more working tools, pages control, better status bar, guides, grids, basic snapping and configurable coordinates' origin — that's some good progress for about half a year of work, especially if you consider that some newly added features are unavailable due to the recently started UI rewrite.
It appears that users have grown to see sK1/PrintDesign more as a desktop publishing tool, and less as a design tool, althogh separating the two might seem like a horrible idea to many.
It might seem a sensible idea, therefore, to activate SVG importing, complete the editing of curves, re-add the exporting of CMYK PDF, and then to make an alpha release to give people something to produce reliable output with.
But the team sees things differently. In a comment to LGW regarding this Igor stated:
We could plug PDF exporting into PrintDesign now. But this is simply a low-priority task at this point. Until we get the editing and styling of objects to work, there's no point adding advanced importing/exporting, because then we cannot test it interactively. And blind testing is going to take too much time.
The team doesn't provide estimated time of v1.0 arrival yet, and LGW wisely follows the tactics :) We think, however, that you are free to make your own judgment, hence the obligatory download links:
- DMG image for MacOS X 10.8;
- a portable for Windows;
- DEB packages for Ubuntu 13.04;
- source code build instructions.
For more regular project updates you can subscribe to sK1's Facebook page.