Meeting: Vector Graphics for Free

July 2011

Club member Steve Fryatt took a look at some of the software available for working with vector graphics on RISC OS without parting with any money. Starting with Draw, we saw some of the of the things that it can do by itself before moving on to look at the free version of iSV’s DrawWorks. Steve then moved on to the more advanced facilities offered by DrawPlus and OpenVector – originally by Jonathan Marten and now being developed by Chris Martin – before finishing wit a quick look at Jonathan’s OpenGridPro.

Report by Peter Richmond

At July’s meeting, Steve Fryatt took a look at vectoring for free on RISC OS. We’re all familiar with Draw, but Steve was going to give us a walk-through of what is now available at no cost in the PD arena. Most of the programs have previously been commercially available, but have now been made available under freeware or open source licenses – where applicable they have since been ‘32 bitted’ and, in some cases, upgraded.

The DrawWorks series

The DrawWorks family started life commercially as a set of ‘bolt-on’ tool-bars produced by iSV for Draw, but over the years it has spawned a number of upgrades, some of which are free. DrawWorks XL is the current commercial version, while DrawWorks XE is freely available to download from APDL’s website.

The commercial version has a number of other tools bundled with it (such as the MrClippy clip-art manager, DrFonty for designing and editing fonts, and the Typography 2500 font collection), and is available via APDL for £49. It features a multi-layered toolbar with options for import and export, zoom ratios, colour selection and text manipulation options.

DrawWorks XE is the current free version, which is ‘32 bitted’ and should work on pretty much all RISC OS machines. While XE is missing numerous features of its commercial sibling, the older DrawWorks Millennium is also free to download and will work on all versions of RISC OS except Six and the ‘Select’ versions of RISC OS 4.

DrawPlus – formerly Draw 1½

DrawPlus started life as a freeware alternative to Draw, with more facilities but a ‘quirky’ user interface. Written by Jonathan Marten, it is now maintained by Chris Martin of Murnong fame.

Along with all of the features of Draw, DrawPlus offers a number of improved drawing tools (including a polygon tool like that found in ArtWorks). Steve took us through a number of key differences to Draw, including locking objects, different ways of alignment and object distribution, and the concept of layers – all of which help to make it aim towards ArtWorks.

Another major concept added to DrawPlus was the idea of libraries, allowing pre-drawn objects to be saved and dropped into drawings quickly and easily. Steve showed us a number of examples, including Health and Safety hazard signs, road signs, and electronic components.

DrawPlus makes use of the extensible nature of Acorn’s drawfile format to enable it to save files in this standard way: those features not supported by Draw will usually be ignored by other software. There is an option to strip the extended features out if required.

Vector – now OpenVector

I think Steve left this program until last, as it seemed to be quite comprehensive – although it moves away from Draw in a number of key areas and would thus have to be re-learnt to make best use of its features. Also written by Jonathan Marten, it was a commercial evolution of DrawPlus and was sold by 4Mation; Jonathan released it as open source several years ago, and Spellings Software did the 32-bit conversion. It is now maintained by Chris Martin, alongside DrawPlus.

Open Vector completely replaces both Draw’s tool box and menu system, as well as how objects are re-sized and rotated – as a result, the interface is much more logical than that of DrawPlus. Along with all of the additions of its freeware sibling it has yet more drawing tools, including four-point curves, multi-line text and bounding boxes.

For manipulating objects, Vector has new tools such as replication and masks which will be familiar to ArtWorks users, along with radiation and skeletons which will not.

Steve bemoaned the fact that there were limited help files available with OpenVector, and even finding copies of the old printed manual was difficult. While Jonathan was able to release the source code to Vector, the manual was written by and copyright 4Mation: if someone were to contact them to ask if the manual could be released under a similar license, I think everyone would appreciate that.