I’ve had a chance to play around with Expression Studio 2 Beta for about a week now and I can tell you there are some huge improvements in the new releases. Today I’m going to limit my scope to Expression Design 2 Beta. It’s only fair considering how harshly I criticized the first release of this program.
I have yet to experiment with the XAML part of this program so these observations are purely based on my experiences with Design 2 as a design program.
If you read my other posts on Design you’ll know that the first iteration of the program operated on a pixel-free basis meaning that it allowed you to export bizarre image sizes like 19.325 px and so on. Although this wasn’t a problem if you were designing vector graphics for vector applications, it was a huge pain if you were desiging for export to bitmaps. Well, those days are gone my friend. Design 2 not only works in pixels if you want it to, but it snaps to pixels as well so you avoid exporting white space.
Another big issue I had with Design 1 was the horrendous quality of the bitmap exports from the program. When I first blogged about it, the Expression Design dev team actually contacted me directly because they couldn’t believe their own eyes. But sure enough, the program was mangling bitmaps to such a degree that they were pretty much useless. Well, once again the dev team listened and the new bitmap exports are crystal clear. I’ll post a new set of exports when I find the time but I can tell you right now that they are on par if not better than PhotoShop.
Effects outside the artboard
One weird thing about Design v1 was that the applied effects didn’t function outside the artboard. I guess it makes sense in some ways but for an Illustrator guy like myself it was just damn weird. And it did occasionally lead to problems. In Design 2, the effects are no longer artboard-bound which means you can create elements with effects, store them off the artboard and still see what you’ve done to them without having to drag them back in. You can also make crop areas outside of the artboard and export these elements to bitmap, XAML or whatever you want.
Whereas before you had to tur off the layers you didn’t want to export, you now have several export options in the export window. First off you can export everything visual on the artboard like you could before. The second option is Export Selected which lets you only export the currently selected element on the artboard on a transparent background. The third option is Export Slices which lets you export a series of slices in one click. Simple improvements that save a lot of time.
Coming from PhotoShop and Illustrator I found it incredibly annoying that you had no visibility and locking control on the sub-layers in Design. This has been fixed and you can now toggle visibility and lock on all sub layers independently. Again a sublte improvement that makes a world of difference.
So far the Design 2 experience has been a joyous one for me. I have yet to encounter any bugs and the program is more functional than the original. There are still things it can’t do but the inclusion of proper layered PSD importing makes these shortcomings less of an annoyance. I am currently desigining a new website using only Design 2 Beta and once it’s up and running I’ll give everyone a full run through of the experience.
For now I highly recommend getting the upgrade.