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Which Signmaking Software Should You Own? Part 1
By Mark Rugen
There are many factors to include in your decision such as, your budget, the type of signs you intend to make, the kind of hardware such as cutters and printers you want to run and of course the difficulty in learning the feature set of the software. Other factors include your personal skill set, and what the reseller will offer you in addition to the software purchase. Will you be using the software yourself or will you hire someone to do the design and production? Are you just starting out in the business or is this a shop growth decision?
What’s Out There?
Needless to say, I was exhausted by the variety of software that is available. In this series of articles, I am also placing each of these findings in a recommended category based on the needs of a sign shop:
I am certain that I missed a few programs and have placed some in categories with which the manufacturer may disagree. As such, I recommend that any choices you make be investigated further with the manufacturer or reseller of that software.
NCS SignofNCS 3.0 www.magisign.com (Macintosh Freeware):
In June 2000, NCS introduced NCS MagiSign, a completely new product based on the experience acquired through the development of SignofNCS. From April 2001, NCS has offered SignofNCS 3.0 as freeware, meaning anybody is now allowed to download and use it for free. Meanwhile, They will not provide any support by any way for this product. If ever you want to use this product and need some help, they invite you to register directly with NCS or one of their official distributors. For a fee of $150 USD, you will then receive a complete SignofNCS package, its manual in 6 languages (English, French, Dutch, Deutsch, Italian and Spanish) and some support by e-mail if any required. SignofNCS appears as a dialog activated through a menu item from the Filter menu of Adobe Illustrator or from the Xtras menu of Macromedia Freehand. SignofNCS is compatible with serial Macintosh (Quadra, II FX,) and serial Power Macintosh (6x00, 7x00, 8x00, 9x00, Performa, G3 beige). Only registered versions are compatible with USB Power Macintosh (iMac, G3 and G4).
Since I don’t own a MAC (shame on me) I could not try this software out, but it looks promising (and free) and since there are not many MAC solutions out there I’ve included it here. This could be considered ”bridge” software, which is software that allows desktop design software to output to vinyl cutters or large format printers, but since it was free I placed it in the freeware section.
DahediSign - www.dahedisign.com (Windows Freeware/Trialware):
The demo version is free, but limited to 1000 points in a drawing and three lines of text. The vectorizing tools will only function on the provided demo file. The program will work on Windows 95 thru XP. While there are mostly Roland plotters supported, there are also others such as Graphtec, Summa, Ioline, Aristo, Gerber and even a Generic HPGL that can be tried on those not listed. The program can be set up to function in four languages. Setup was easy and the overall functionality was good.
While there is no support for printers, I’d say this is a nice solution for cutting is you need just three lines of text. It will take a bit of practice to learn the program, there is one online example at their homepage, but most who already own cutting software should be able to figure it out. Since the program is made in the Netherlands, its not likely you’ll get much support here in the USA, so you’re pretty much on your own. You can upgrade to the junior version with all options for 400 EUROS or about $435 USD.
Our vectorizing test was limited to the demo file, so we can’t comment on how it handles poor artwork, however, the interface for vectorizing was easy to use and worked well on the example. The result was a tight fit. This feature is only available in the upgraded version.
Overall Rating: I would rate this program pretty valuable, but just be aware that there is no support here in the USA and it is limited as freeware.
Vistool 6 www.visualtoolbox.com (Windows Freeware/Trialware):
There is a version of Vistool 6 available for all your Rotary and Laser Engraving, Routing, Vinyl Cutting, Laser Cutting and Profile Milling needs. All Vistool 6 versions can be run on a Peer to Peer or Client Sever Network.
The freeware version has limited capabilities but can be useful for basic vinyl cutting. No limits in terms of the number of lines of text, but no vectorizing features or bitmap handling features. The interface is fairly easy to use after playing with it for about 30 minutes.
Output devices include Roland and many others but also include many engravers, routers and a few generic HPGL drivers for those cutters not supported. I found the menus to be a bit confusing, but this is probably conquered with use. Text handling is good, but I could not find any basic effects like outlining other than a drop shadow, although the dynamic text to an arc was very easy to use.
The upgraded version (60 day trial) has many more features including Block Shadows, outlining, bitmap tracing or vectorizing, and smart weed for easy weeding of the final product.
Import and export is limited but did include Adobe Illustrator, DXF and HPGL.
Training and other help is based in Europe, so not much help here in the USA, although there is also a user message board on the makers’ homepage that can be useful. The upgrade to the advanced version is $788 USD, rather expensive.
Overall Rating: An excellent set of basic sign making tools for those on a budget, such as smaller shops or those waiting to set aside money for more robust programs.
Which Sign Making Software Should You Choose?
Freeware Sign Making Evaluation Checklist
Does the software support my cutter?
Part Two Evaluating the Bridge and Intermediate Commercial Sign Making Software
Mark Rugen is the President of Visual Communications Tuscaloosa, Alabama www.givemehelp.com, a consulting company specializing in the sign trade.
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