Drawfile Clipart Collections

Reviewed by Bob Fox
University College Worcester

The following article should be of interest to every teacher who uses an Acorn Archimedes-series computer. The vector graphics program !Draw, which is supplied with the machine, is far more powerful than many users realise. This review concerns drawfile clip art, which can, desktop publishing or multimedia package, or which can be used within !Draw itself for a wide range of design purposes.

In MICRO-SCOPE 49 I described the basic idea of vector graphics, and set out seven principles by which I think drawfile clip art should be judged. Briefly, these were:

  1. Images should be recognisable.
  2. Images should be appropriate for their intended audience.
  3. When opened on screen, images should be sized so that they are immediately entirely visible.
  4. Images should be saved as grouped objects.
  5. When ungrouped, images should where possible divide into sensible sub-groups.
  6. Text in an image should be in a standard font, or else converted to a path.
  7. The image should not be over-complicated.

Clip art collections which were originally created as drawfiles are far more likely to comply with these principles than images which have been converted from a different platform.

A wide selection of discs on specific topics is available from SEMERC, under the general series heading Just Pictures (14 each; some discs are of bitmapped images or sprites, and some contain a mixture of sprites and drawfiles). The range of topics is highly suitable for primary school use, and the images are well produced and comply with most of the above principles. I sometimes find that they are over-fussy for my purposes - the Roman centurion or the Victorian lady have a whole range of undergarments, which is fine if I am doing a project on clothes, but rather tedious otherwise, as they do a sort of reverse-striptease every time I move the image, which can make them very slow on older machines.

The SEMERC Treasure Chest CD-ROM includes a considerable number of the Just Pictures images, along with numerous sprites and sound files (including sprites from the MAPE Into Europe pack). It is a dual-format (Acorn and PC) CD-ROM, and, like virtually all SEMERC products, it is angled towards Special Needs users, though it can be used effectively in any primary or middle school context. To my mind it is rather over-priced at 69, though many schools will have received it free under a DFEE scheme a couple of years ago, and if you own the CD-ROM you have a site licence, and can freely copy the images within your school. You could, therefore, make up floppies for individual topic areas, which would save you having to delve through the whole hypermedia structure of the disc every time you wanted an image. For myself, I would rather have all the Just Pictures packs on one CD-ROM, in a hierarchically structured directory system.

The Topic Art CD-ROM from Desktop Projects Ltd. is exactly that - a compilation of what started out as floppy discs of drawfiles on well-known primary school topics. Individual discs are still available at 8 each, and the CD-ROM is a mere 20; both prices include a site licence. Again, the CD-ROM is dual-format, and the images are present in their original drawfile format, and have also been converted into ArtWorks files and Corel EPS files. Because they started out as drawfiles, they comply quite well with the principles set out above. Images are appropriately grouped, and many take apart into logical sections. Acorn users can take advantage of the !Thumbnail viewer to preview pictures (though the version I have does not appear to be compatible with my StrongArm processor). There are over 2000 images, and their quality varies from some rather weedily thin outlines to a number of quite superbly detailed and accurate renditions of farm animals, dinosaurs, insects, etc.. Some topic areas are perhaps of marginal use (whole sets of road signs, or playing cards), and some headings promise much but deliver very few images. History is represented only through costume. I find the faces on the human figures slightly odd, some of the proportions look a bit strange and the poses very uncomfortable. There is a large Xmas section, including a whole lot of cards which look a bit like those 30-for-75p selection-box cards that children give their teachers - you have been warned! On balance, though you need to be slightly selective, I think this represents excellent value for money.

The Sherston Clip Art CD Collection began as a set of topic-based discs from DEC_dATA. Again it is dual-format; Acorn files are mostly drawfiles, and PC files are mostly in CGM format. The architecture section contains some high quality photographic images of buildings, in sprite or JPEG format. There are over 2300 Acorn files on the disc, which costs 49.95 for a site licence copy. Most images are stored as simple black-and-white outlines and also in colour, so you can choose whichever is appropriate for your present purpose. The Clearview browser is quick and efficient, and shows you a thumbnail sketch of each image, accompanied by some descriptive text (this is sometimes unintentionally funny - how do you describe very well-known things, e.g. 'bird'?). The overall standard of artistry is well-matched to most primary school uses - good, and not over-fussy. Topic areas are fairly obvious (animals, history, my life, technology, transport, maps, people, etc.); there are some superb renditions of bits of the Bayeux Tapestry; an excellent set of coins (ideal for making money worksheets or My World screens); a comprehensive and up-to-date set of maps; and one or two appallingly inaccurate images (e.g. the recorder in the MyLife/Music section, which definitely would not be playable). Images are sensibly grouped, though sub-groups are not always carefully organised. I think this is one of the most useful CD-Roms I have at present.

Logotron have taken over the distribution of the Bitfolio 7 CD-Rom (single format, either Acorn or PC or Mac, price 38.29). This is a huge collection of 10,000 images, complete with a printed 266-page manual displaying all of them, which is actually much quicker and easier to use than a thumbnail browser. Though the CD--Rom was not originally specifically aimed at the education market, its scope is awesome: there are innumerable borders and corners, many of which could well be useful, and a whole range of topic areas, many of which will probably be of virtually no use at all in a classroom context. The quality of images varies. In my view, it suffers from one major defect: all or most of the files did not originate in !Draw format, and porting them across from something else has lost some of the drawfile flexibility. Though images are grouped, sub-groups rarely work effectively. The software that made many of the conversions obviously cannot handle Bezier curves, so curves are in fact made up of a large series of short straight lines. This can have serious consequences for memory consumption, as files are often several times larger than they need to be. Having made those criticisms, however, I am still quite fond of this CD-Rom, and many times it has come to my rescue when other sources have failed.

One of the more charming aspects of the Bitfolio CD--Rom is the collection of cartoons by Robert Duncan, which have all the appeal of an expensive birthday card (and could potentially save you a fortune…)

Logotron also distribute a CD-Rom entirely of Duncan's work (The Robert Duncan Cartoon Kit, single format, Acorn, PC or Mac, 29.78). Each image is stored i