Microsoft Betas ‘Acrylic’

Microsoft previewed what is likely to be the next version of a professional graphics tool, with a free downloadable beta release.

“Acrylic” is a professional, vector-based illustration tool for designers. “It’s a specialty product that’s more a complement to Adobe Illustrator,” said Forest Key, Microsoft developer product manager.

The Acrylic beta is based on Creature House Expression, a product Microsoft acquired in 2003. Expression has been available as a free download since May 2004.

Noting that designers typically use multiple software tools, he explained that Acrylic’s forte is creating paint-like effects, such as might be achieved using acrylic paints, chalk or watercolors.

“Expression was renowned for its vector-based organic media capabilities,” Key said. Vector-based graphics using splines allowed designers to make changes while maintaining the look of the artwork. While that’s Acrylic’s core capability, he said, Microsoft has added the ability to lay down pixels. Key said Microsoft hadn’t decided whether it would continue to maintain Expression.

“The pixel capability can also let you do natural looking effects that users requested,” Key said, “such as such as drop shadows or color correction. These fit together in a unified work space, where you can mix and match pixel objects and vector objects.”

The Acrylic moniker is a code name for a future product, for which Microsoft hasn’t set a release data; the beta expires on October 15 2005. Neither is the company talking about whether the product will remain free. Key said his team plans to gather feedback on the beta for several months.

Technical recommendations are a Pentium 4 processor, 512 MB of RAM and a 1024×768 monitor resolution with 24-bit color.

Unsurprisingly, Acrylic is Windows XP-only, although Expression is available in both PC and Macintosh versions.

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