Use this "mini Photoshop" to upgrade your graphics without downgrading your bank account.

AVLAN Design describes its AVD Graphic Studio as a "mini Photoshop," acknowledging that Adobe's software is the big dog in the CG yard and that the main goal of competitors is to offer Photoshop-like capabilities in less expensive packages that are easier for ordinary folks to use. At this, AVD Graphic Studio succeeds quite well. It's easy to use, it has most of the basic functionality of the pro-level applications, and it's much less expensive than the big packages like Photoshop.

This program will be familiar if you've used Photoshop or similar applications. Its interface is a bit more sparse, though some might say a bit less cluttered. The interface opens with a nag screen but is otherwise pretty intuitive to get around in, though its fully indexed and searchable Help file is certainly welcome. AVD's features parallel Photoshop's, too, with multiple undos and a wide range of tools. We'd have liked some more brush options, though the Barney Rubble icon for animation is a fun touch. We were disappointed that the program doesn't ask you if you want to save your work when you close a file, which makes it too easy to lose work. Every control we tried with our Wacom pad worked just fine, though.

AVD Graphics Studio is free to try for 20 days. It's specced for Windows 98 to XP, but we tested it in Vista and Windows 7, and it performed perfectly in each. It does most of what most users need in a graphics app, and we recommend it.

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