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The Print Shop

The Print Shop 2 – New, After 20-something Years?

By Jim Bray
May 21, 2010

Companies, schools, community groups and individuals who want a quick and easy publishing software solution can't go too far wrong with the Print Shop, a program that has been doing it right since the 1980's.

The Print Shop has been through twenty-something versions over the years; I first started using it to create my own greeting cards, flyers and the like back when it was still in Version 1, if I remember correctly, which at the time was when I was using an Apple II (remember them?).

Even then, it did most of what every version since has done and it did it very well. It's no Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, but it doesn't claim to be; those apps are real powerhouses and require learning curves and some creative ability, whereas with Print Shop even a comparative oaf like me can create beautifully designed projects.

It's a testament to the great basic design of the application that over the years it has been tweaked and had extra content and capabilities added (including the very welcome Windows interface that lets you drag and drop, etc.) but nearly anyone who used an early version will be comfortable with the subsequent ones very quickly.

Despite the program not really having changed substantially over the years, the folks at Broderbund must have felt that it was about time it did and have now released The Print Shop Version 2, which shaves about 22 versions off the name (Broderbund's website also has PS V. 23 listed) but which also indicates that this is supposedly a whole new ball of wax. Or an entirely new application, even.

What could they do to improve this excellent little app enough to make it supposedly all new? Well, they list a bunch of features, but to be honest with you, using The Print Shop now isn't a lot different to use than the last version I tried, which was number 20. It's easier and more flexible, to be sure, but still very straightforward.

Broderbund sent me the Deluxe version of V.2 (there's also a basic one), and both are now Windows 7 (and Vista) compliant.  They list its price as $49.95 and if you need software like this it's worth every penny.

Possibly the biggest new feature is the Wizard Design tool, which of course walks you through the creation of a project. As is traditional, you can also choose from a gallery of ready-made templates – this is what I do, usually, adapting the template to my own needs – for projects such as greeting cards, invitations, labels, signs and plenty more.

You can also start from scratch, of course, but if you're that creative you might look down upon such a "mainstream" app that lets even the unwashed masses create attractive projects.

Anyway, Broderbund says its Wizard Design Tools let you create and send to your printer over 150 custom projects, in under 5 minutes. That's assuming you know what you want to say, of course or just want to use the built in text. I find myself poring over the template when I'm creating a greeting card, but that's because I always dump their text and create my own, usually in the form of a poem.

That reminds me; I have a warning to people who want to start making their own greeting cards: Beware!

The Print Shop

It isn't that The Print Shop won't let you do that – in fact, it's the best software I've used for that task, and I've been doing it for more than 20 years. And that's the rub: once you start, it becomes expected of you and it becomes a curse. I've managed to scale back my greeting card output now so that I only do three per year, and all for my wife – Valentine's day, her birthday and our wedding anniversary – but before I decided to become a card carrying card curmudgeon it had become extremely tiresome, not to mention difficult, coming up with a new and fresh poem for every Tom, Dick and Harriet in my circle.

Anyway, Print Shop 2's streamlined workspace makes it easy to find the various creation tools (stuff such as inserting headlines, text boxes, graphics and the like) and switch between them. There's also better photo editing capability now, using slider tools to select the degree of, for example, red eye correction, contrast, brightness, etc. It's no Photoshop, but it's included in the price and it works well.

Slider tools also let you tweak gradients, transparencies, drop shadows and the like,  and there are even page layout tools that let you do stuff like make your text flow around objects and into succeeding columns. You can also use mail merge to make people think you're creating the project just for them.  

The latest version also lets you share your masterpiece easily, via email or by publishing it to the web.

I got a bit lost when I made my first greeting card with the new version. I usually create my cards as "quarter page" units that, while small, let you print them easily to one side of one page, which is a lot simpler than messing with duplex printing. Print Shop has pretty good duplex printing, and it walks you through it if you want, but I still find it a pain.

Anyway, when laying out my first card I couldn't find that particular size any more, which caused me to lay out the card for two sided printing and go from there. But later, I discovered I'd been looking in the wrong place and, once I'd figured that out, all was well and I can be cheap and lazy again.

The Print ShopThe Print Shop 2 also features better management of photos than before. The app has traditionally let you import your own pics (I like bringing in pictures of our kids, our wedding and the like for the birthday and anniversary cards I'm forced to do), and you could create galleries, but now it's easier than before.  You can mark your favorite shots, add tags to them for easy searching, and add them to the "image tray", from where you can access them easily even if you're working on multiple projects simultaneously.

You can even edit clip art – Broderbund says The Print Shop is the only consumer desktop publishing tool that lets you edit XML clip art images – which means you can tweak the clip art to match your project better.

And of course they've added more templates and clipart to this version than before, adding more value to the package.  

Even if you're talented enough to use powerhouse apps like Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Photoshop and the like, The Print Shop is a handy tool because it lets you create a project quickly and easily. Sure, it isn't as powerful or flexible as those bigger apps, but there are many times when you don't need all that power. For times like that, The Print Shop can be a really handy tool. 

I'm not sure this version is different enough to be considered "all new," as its numbering implies (I sense there's a lot new under the surface, but to the user, it's still Print Shop), but it's a welcome update anyway, one that brings an already good product into the era of Windows 7. I can see this new version being popular with schools, institutions, companies and home users looking for a fast and easy way to be creative.

Copyright 2010 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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