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Photoshop Alternative: Macromedia Fireworks

Regular readers of this column know that I am a big fan of Adobe Photoshop. There is a reason that it is the industry standard photo editing and manipulation tool, it has all the tools you need, has a great plug-in architecture to add new features and is a mature product. This maturity shows in not only the program’s interface, but in the amount of information available about Photoshop on the Internet, in books and in magazines. Adobe has included a lot of web-related features in the latest versions and throws in Adobe Image Ready for doing more sophisticated web graphics.

Second to Adobe, the graphics company that produces the best tools is Macromedia. Personally, I like their illustration program Freehand better than Adobe’s Illustrator. Macromedia now offers Fireworks, a great program for creating web-centric graphics. But while Fireworks is aimed at web graphics, it also has a full slate of tools for other graphics applications (fig 1).

The native file format in Fireworks
is PNG. You can save files in this format with layers and editable text. Fireworks can read Photoshop’s PSD format complete with layers, Freehand, Illustrator, Corel Draw WBMP, EPS, JPG, GIF and animated GIF file formats. You can write formats like PNG, GIF, JPG, BMP, WBMP for wireless phones, PSD, TIFF and PICT. To choose the file format you want to export your document as, you must select that format in the Optimize palette (fig 2); it is not available in the Export or Save As dialog boxes. Obviously, this is designed for creating images for the web.
Fig. 2
Fig. 1

Fireworks will allow you to make and edit both vector graphics and bitmap graphics. If you have used any of Macromedia’s other fine products, especially Flash or Dreamweaver, you will find the interface very familiar. The Tools palette (fig 1) has all of the illustration tools you expect. The Properties palette contains contextually sensitive information depending on what you have selected (figs 3 and 4). With it, you can adjust colors, size, position and various special effects. The Live Effects area of the Properties palette is where you can apply and edit color effects, blurs, bevels, shadows, embosses and plug-in effects. This is actually implemented better and is easier to use than in Photoshop.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Like the last several versions of Photoshop, Fireworks gives you editable vector type layers and layer masks. This allows for some pretty sophisticated effects to be possible.

Fireworks excels at creating web graphics. Rollovers, image maps, buttons and nav bars are created with ease. Slicing an image into small sections for faster downloads and adding interactivity is an easy process. Simply select an object and pick the Insert Slice menu command. You add the link information in the Properties palette (fig 5). You can preview the image with its interactive effects by clicking the Preview tab. Fireworks writes the HTML code for you when you export the final images, this code is very compatible with Macromedia’s web authoring tools like Dreamweaver.

Fig. 5

Macromedia Fireworks is available for Windows 98 through XP, Mac OS 9.1 or higher and Mac OS X. On the Windows platform you will need at least a 300 MHz Pentium II processor, Mac users will need a G3 processor or better. You will need 64MB RAM, although Macromedia recommends 128MB, and 80MB of free hard drive space. You can download a free 30-day trial of Fireworks MX at Fireworks MX retails for $299 and is also available as a part of Macromedia Studio MX.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at Paul has been using Freehand for more than a decade. Color examples and previous columns can be seen at


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