Nova Development leverages a long-established presence in home and SOHO greeting card production along with newsletter publishing (back in the days of dabbling with Print Artist when dot-matrix printers were still the norm) to penetrate the mid-market niche for desktop publishing software. In less than three years, the company launched Art Explosion Publisher Pro, released incremental upgrades, and finally made version 2.0 available.
Personal publishing software, which costs between $50 and $200, has come a long way. Art Explosion Publisher Pro is the perfect example of this type of software, used for creating newsletters, snazzy documents, pamphlets, e-books, and even undemanding corporate reports. Art Explosion Publisher Pro bridges the gap with the sophisticated functionality of industry mainstays PageMaker, Adobe Creative Suite, and QuarkXpress.
Nova Development lowers the bar in Art Explosion Publisher Pro by combining text, pictures, and other graphic touches on the page with value pricing and ease of use. Art Explosion Publisher Pro also has thousands of templates and even a “full-featured’ image editor" a la PhotoShop. Is this realistic? Let’s put Art Explosion Publisher Pro version 2.0 through its paces, bearing mind what comparably positioned rivals like Serif PagePlus X2 or Microsoft Publisher have to offer.
Price to Value (4 out of 5)
Art Explosion Publisher Pro lists at $99.95 but can be had for $69.95 after a $30 trade-in rebate for licensed users of Microsoft Publisher (the unbundled version), Print Shop, PrintMaster, PageMaker, and other selected titles. This is superb value for money, considering you get a desktop publishing program (DTP) with awesome graphics that generate professional-looking output and tutorials that almost make learning DTP child’s play. However, taking into account the level of professionalism Art Explosion Publisher Pro has, it may seem a bit basic.
At this price point, Art Explosion Publisher Pro goes head to head with Serif’s Page Plus X2 that lists for $129.99 (rebate available, $89 at Amazon) and actually succeeds in matching the graphics capabilities of Corel Draw, currently sharply discounted from a list price of $299.99 to just $119.99.
The better-known DTP products cost at least three times more. Microsoft Publisher can be had for around $209 and gives newbie users the benefit of navigation, functionality and toolsets familiar from their experience with Word. King of the hill QuarkXPress comes in at just $189.00 ($95.00 for an upgrade) but boasts the most complete set of capabilities for moderately experienced home and SOHO publishers.
On the other hand, Print Shop Deluxe by Broderbund is more affordable at $ 49.95.
Installation & Setup (5 out of 5)
Reflecting its home and SOHO origins, Art Explosion Publisher Pro is very undemanding. The program will actually install on a 1990’s-era setup: Windows 98 (although it’s compatible with Win 2000, Me, or XP), a Pentium II-or compatible processor, just 64 MB RAM, an 800 x 600 display, and of course a CD-ROM drive.
On a backup Sempron system with just 128 Mb of system RAM, installation, default set-up and initial tutorials clocked in at a moderate 7 minutes and 4 seconds. This is more than double the three minutes or less that other programs take but Art Explosion Publisher makes up for it with zippier loading time (more details under “Performance").
The lack of a Custom Install option facilitates program setup but you pay the price later on tweaking the settings to your preferences anyway. In contrast, installing Adobe PageMaker 7.0 can take at least seven to ten minutes owing to the myriad of options a fairly experienced desktop publisher can customize during a Custom Setup.
User Interface (4 out of 5)
Once setup is done, Art Explosion Publisher Pro makes welcome all those new to more sophisticated publisher software. The interface combines barebones simplicity and an intimation of full artistic options lying just under the surface. These are the different color palettes, transparency options, tools, schemes, page shifts and ongoing tutorials.
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I have yet to find a publishing program that is truly intuitive to novice users. Therefore it came as no surprise that one must also take the time to study the different options of Art Explosion Publisher Pro when needed. It becomes a little tedious when one needs to study the tutorial in order to be able to use the different tools, because not all the tools are in the screen itself. One has to toggle through the different menus and right click options. But then again, such challenges crop up only if you want to do more than pick a template, slap together a headline, some text and a picture.
Product Features (5 out of 5)
The full power and ease of use of Art Explorer Publisher Pro is best exemplified by over 3,000 templates for a combination of work and fun: brochures, gift certificates, web pages, announcements, sell sheets, resumes, signs, display ads, CD labels, postcards, greeting cards, menus, calendars, business forms, posters, newsletters and much more. For the novice or non-professional publisher, these alone are worth the “price of admission."
As well, Art Explorer Publisher Pro offers an abundance of tutorials for creating a project or accessing a new tool. These are really helpful and don’t get in the way. When embarking on a newsletter or business card for the first time, Art Explorer Publisher Pro offers up not only templates but a pop-up option one can click to take a related tutorial. Partly because the tutorial includes screenshots, it is very easy to follow the instructions. This is more seamless than having to load PDF tutorial files each time. In any case, a little patience in learning Art Explorer Publisher Pro, as always, pays off in the long run.
Basically, Art Explorer Publisher Pro teaches you the simplest way to make your publication not only presentable but positively dazzling without breaking into a sweat. Being neither a Fine Arts/Design graduate nor a techie, I loved being able to output professional-looking publications. Also, the tutorial showed me how to how to do certain effects that take a long time to do by hand in Windows Paint.
So one can breeze from these:
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And just as quickly from this:
One pleasant discovery I made was the ability of Art Explorer Publisher Pro to output projects in slimmer PDF’s and Acrobat loaded the saved files flawlessly.
Art Explorer Publisher Pro loads quickly and grants quick access to all other functions. The user-friendly heritage of Nova Development’s Print Artist line is evident. Like another novice-oriented product, Print Shop, Art Explosion is easy and fast to use.
If you have ever needed to produce catalogues quickly by merging picture files from databases and price information from spreadsheets, you will not find such functionality in Art Explorer Publisher Pro. In the DTP field, that kind of functionality used to be exclusive to Adobe’s PageMaker (and lately, MS Publisher) but at a price.
In a world where Microsoft Word has become the de facto standard for word processing, MS Publisher makes transitioning to publishing software the easiest of all. The 2003 update adopts many Word conventions in menus and dialogue boxes, e.g., Format, Paragraph, Bullets and Numbering commands. At the same time, Publisher affords users more control over line and paragraph breaks, such as the crucial widow and orphan control. Publisher 2003’s new task-pane based Find and Replace command has also been revamped to work across multiple stories. By setting up baseline guides, it is now possible to ensure that text aligns across columns. You can also add empty picture frames and select objects behind text boxes, two minor changes that make a big practical difference. The most welcome advances are the support for multiple master page backgrounds (a la Word) and the ability to drag and drop the page icons on the status bar to re-sequence your publication.
Publisher 2003 also moves into two entirely new areas of design that Art Explorer Publisher Pro has yet to match. The first is data-driven publications. This uses the new Catalog Merge command to combine pictures and text from a data source to produce anything from an address book and directory all the way through to a product catalogue. The second Publisher innovation is in preparing rich email publications for Internet marketing. Publisher 2003 offers six different HTML-based e-mail publication types matching each of the 45 master styles. Used sensibly and in moderation, this helps bring email to life and no doubt encourages response.
Performance (5 out of 5)
One thing great about Art Explorer Publisher Pro is that after you complete installation, there is absolutely no more waiting time. Pulling up templates and or saved projects proceeds briskly, a great convenience for users who have many other non-publishing tasks to attend to.
Help & Support (4 out of 5)
Nova Development provides online FAQ’s and a “Browse" list, typically for cryptic error codes and when one is stumped about the more useful features. If these prove inadequate, as will likely be the case, registered users can duck into a discussion forum, leave a question for an emailed reply or pick up the phone.
Art Explosion Publisher Pro could use more text editing functionality. As it is, the program starts up assuming that you want to do mostly art manipulation and layout design.
Art Explosion Publisher Pro will appeal to novices who have already had a taste of the text+layout+artwork+photo manipulation possible with family-type programs like Print Shop or Print Master and who remain intimidated by the power and range of PageMaker or Adobe Creative Suite. Art Explosion Publisher Pro is an affordable upgrade and an easy way to learn how to get more professional results.
Art Explosion Publisher Pro looks to have more-than-adequate handholding built-in so that someone with a modicum of graphics and publishing experience can learn how to do things right almost from the start. The name and the version 2.0 upgrade highlighting the Image Editor may be doing the product a disservice, however, if one grants that many SOHO businesses could use Art Explosion Publisher Pro for text-heavy catalogues, corporate reports, and e-books.
As with much of the non-professional end of the desktop publishing market, however, the great appeal of Art Explosion Publisher Pro is to give anyone with no artistic talent an easy way to produce superb, truly professional-looking output.
Print Shop Deluxe by Broderbund, Serif PagePlus X2, MS Publisher