Microsoft Expression Design review

When Microsoft bought Creature House Expression, there was brave talk of taking on Adobe Illustrator in terms of vector handling, Photoshop in terms of bitmaps and Fireworks in terms of web graphics. Almost four years later, Expression Design has finally been released.

Microsoft Expression Design review

In terms of vector power, Expression Design builds on the core tools found in Expression Blend, although not greatly. Most notably, it adds a simple Polygon tool and a Paintbrush tool, which let you draw with the wide range of creative vector and bitmap-based brushes with which Creature House Expression made its name. Otherwise, the drawing capabilities are similar to Blend’s, although Expression Design does add support for blend modes, text-on-path, envelope distortions, layer handling and basic bitmap-to-vector conversion. It also adds Live Effects, largely based on Photoshop’s antiquated Aldus Gallery filters.

Sadly, it doesn’t get much better for web features – capabilities such as HTML rollover creation and advanced GIF/JPEG optimisation are notable only by their absence.

Why? The answer is XAML. Microsoft has decided that Expression Design’s primary function is as a partner to Expression Blend via its XAML export and by the support for direct copy-and-paste of XAML code. Unfortunately, XAML’s text-based nature and the fact it’s a first release means it’s really only well suited to dealing with relatively simple vector shapes and formatting. That explains why Microsoft has chosen to cut back on creative power, but even the capabilities it’s left in, such as vector and image-based strokes, bitmap effects and blend modes, either aren’t supported in XAML or are very inefficient.

It’s no wonder Expression Design is only available as part of Expression Studio – it’s a handy partner for Blend but forget Illustrator, Photoshop and Fireworks. As a standalone program, Expression Design wouldn’t cut it.

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