A Guide to Web Image Compression Software: Ignite

Software type:  graphics compression and image management program

As a result of my asking software providers to let me know if they had new products on the market, I received an email a few months ago from a small UK company with the engaging name of Fluffy Clouds Ltd, about the beta of their new graphics compression and management program, Ignite.

The full release version is now out, available for download as a 30 day trial, upgradeable to the full version.

It's what might be termed a 'mid-price' program, selling for 50 (about US$80). It produces JPEGs, GIFs and does useful things like image slicing (and all very capably). Quick verdict? A very good program. Try it.

Company: Fluffy Clouds Ltd.
URL: http://www.ignite-it.co.uk/
Program: Ignite 1.0
Program URL: http://www.ignite-it.co.uk/
Platform: w95
Type: Image compressor, palette optimiser, image manipulator and slicer and GIF animator
Price: 50 (~US$80) or free 30 day trial

What is it?

Ignite is another one of those K-Tel products: it slices, it compresses, it animates, it ... (but, wait, there's more!). It's designed to prepare graphics for the Web, pure and simple. Compact, clean graphics, JPEG, GIF and animated GIF. It also does image slicing and creates the HTML tables to go with the images.

The interface?

Ignite's interface is in the same mold as Macromedia's Fireworks: comprehensive toolbars across the top (which can be displayed or hidden) key controls on the left, and other controls and information wherever you prefer. It has a few aspects that aren't immediately obvious, but not many, and an hour or so will have you completely familiar with it. It's nicely intuitive. What's more, it comes with a set of online cue cards linked to a comprehensive help file that should answer most questions you're likely to ask. The web site also provides a very thorough introduction.

When you open a file (it handles several file types, including Photoshop PSDs, though not TIFFs) it shows the original file, with a button above it labeled 'new output'. Click that and it asks you whether you want a GIF or a JPEG. If you choose JPEG, it asks you for a file name and then provides a second tab behind the original image. Click that and it switches to the output image, allowing near-instant eyeball comparison of original and compressed images, using the tabs, like Adobe ImageReady.

On the left are a set of context-selected controls that allow you to set the key parameters: image quality, colour quality (selectable separately from the luminance information), smoothing, and an automated variable compression control.

The sliders are initially hidden - you click on the current setting value of the control and, lo and behold, a slider appears! (I found this quite quickly by clicking around the area, as I only read manuals or help files as a last resort!) All the user-settable controls behave the same way and work well together. I didn't find the variable compression very helpful, but it's quite possible I haven't yet learned how to use it properly.

Among the toolbar buttons (or on the drop down menu, or on the right-click menu) are options to simulate 256 colour views and Mac gamma. You can edit the gamma level, too. Very handy.

As far as image slicing goes, Ignite is excellent: completely intuitive. It couldn't be easier. The help file tells you all you need to know in a couple of sentences. You can then cut-and-paste the HTML into your favourite editor.

GIFs: One of the problems with learning new software is that you have to un-learn other software that you're familiar with. Ignite has its own way of doing things, but it's a lot easier to learn than I had expected. This is also the case with the GIF controls. You have all the usual controls over palettes, background colours, dithering, transparency etc. If you want a transparent GIF with aliasing to suit a particular background colour, you just set the background to that colour, then turn transparency on. Simpler than ImageReady, for example, and it works just as well..

Animated GIFs are also very easy to create: I started without reading the help file and created exactly what I wanted immediately: it's fully intuitive. (By that I mean that it's clear what you need to do at any step, and what you try turns out to be what you needed to do). The animated GIFs created by Ignite are good and compact, too. I compared the Ignite aniGIF to the same one optimised in Ulead's GIF Animator. The Ignite file was a little smaller - by some dozens of bytes (and the Ulead program is a good one).

How well does it work?

Very well. The compressed JPEG images I've generated with it are as good as any I've managed using other programs, except perhaps ImageReady with really fiddly pre-sharpening and pre-blurring (which you can always do in Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro anyway). It's one of the good ones: small file size and minimal artifacts. Separate control of colour level allows you to beef up the colour if needed. Very handy.

The JPEG compression engine appears to be very similar to the one used by Ulead SmartSaver to judge by the micro-detail in compressed images, with the notable difference that in Ignite you can also vary the colour level separately from the luminance and set variable compression across the image.

It's impressive, especially considering this is the first full release of the program. I have no doubt it will get even better.

Bugs

I couldn't find any, suggesting the program's author, Ben Summers, has done a very thorough beta test.

Is it worth getting?

Yes. It's a very useful program. It doesn't (yet) have all the Photoshop controls and filters of ImageReady, nor all the drawing tools of Fireworks, but then it's a whole lot cheaper. And it does most of what they do. Certainly worth the time to test the full-function 30 day trial.

DN
21 March 1999


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