Productive personal print programs

By Sally Wiener Grotta Contributing Editor, PC MagazineWant to make your small business look like a member of the Fortune 500? Maybe you want to make your daughter's birthday party something she'll remember for years to come?

By Sally Wiener Grotta
Contributing Editor, PC Magazine

Want to make your small business look like a member of the Fortune 500? Maybe you want to make your daughter's birthday party something she'll remember for years to come? Does your community center need a monthly newsletter? No problem. Anyone with a decent desktop computer and an inexpensive color inkjet printer can do almost anything that a professional print shop can, if you have the right software.

Stores pack their shelves with print programs, all promising fabulously easy templates, gorgeous clip art, and simple Web and paper publishing. When we tested five of the top programs, we discovered distinct and important differences among them, however.

If you just want to print a quick card or poster, all these programs will give you nice templates that you can easily customize. But if you want creativity and efficiency, not to mention Internet publishing capability, then you'll need to choose more carefully.

We took a look at the following print programs.

  • Broderbund PrintMaster Platinum 8
  • Broderbund The Print Shop Deluxe 10
  • Corel PrintHouse Magic 4 Premium
  • Microsoft Home Publishing Suite 2000
  • Sierra Print Artist Grande Suite

Print Programs on Parade

Broderbund Print Shop Deluxe 10 (US$49.99) proved the most comprehensive, powerful, and sophisticated among the five programs. We could easily search through its extensive library of attractive clip art and templates. Print Shop has diverse text controls allowing a high degree of creativity, especially in headlines.

You can extensively edit any picture you put in a Print Shop project using nicely integrated image editing and draw programs. The full-featured address book combines with mail merge to easily email your project to individuals or groups. You can also convert to HTML and post it on a free private website provided by Broderbund.

Broderbund PrintMaster Platinum 8 (US$59.95) focused more on the family, with greater ease of use and really neat crafts projects. It shares the same excellent search engine, large library, great text controls, and easy Web posting as its sister program, Print Shop. PrintMaster is more limited though, with a sparser address book, very basic photo editing, and other limitations.

Microsoft Home Publishing Suite (US$54.95) is weaker in print, but stronger in electronic publishing than Print Shop. While it has a smaller library, its art is quite attractive and easily searched. The interface is very comfortable for novices, but can frustrate experienced users.

Text and draw tools are limited, but Microsoft has integrated a full version of Picture It!, which offers excellent photo editing. Only Home Publishing emails a non-proprietary file format, which means anyone can read it. It also features customizable multimedia postcards, with sound, editable paths, and even triggers to events.

Corel Print House Magic ( US$79.95) is fun and deep. But it just doesn't stack up to Home Publishing Suite or PrintMaster in the same family market. Its easy to navigate interface requires too many mouse clicks for key commands.

It has excellent text tools but a limited newsletter layout. On the other hand, Corel based good draw and photo capabilities on the powerful CorelDraw and PhotoPaint code. The address book and HTML export feature are quite good, but email sharing is limited.

Finally, to look at Sierra Print Artist's box (US$69.95), you might mistake it for Print Shop. It has an enormous library, Web publishing, image editing, animated e-cards, and so on. Unfortunately, the whole does not add up to a single integrated suite.

In fact, each component is so independent, that you can't publish any project you create in Print Artist, using its own included Web program. Steer clear of Print Artist.

Sally Wiener Grotta (reviewer, author and photographer) is an award-winning and internationally recognized expert in digital imaging and electronic photography. Among her books are PhotoMagic with Adobe PhotoDeluxe (IDG) and The Illustrated Digital Imaging Dictionary (McGraw-Hill). She is a contributing editor to PC Magazine and is its resident expert in digital cameras, imaging software, scanning, and other graphics subjects.