The Apple Macintosh has been the computer of choice for most graphic artists since its introduction in 1984, even though it is only partly compatible with the IBM-style personal computers used in businesses. But with the rise in popularity of Windows software, a growing number of graphic artists are discovering that they can do their jobs just as easily, and in some cases faster and more conveniently, on Intel-based PCs.
The best example of this is Adobe Photoshop, long the premier software for editing and processing photographic images on the Macintosh. Adobe Systems Inc. has now created Photoshop for Windows, and that version appears to be every bit as strong as its Macintosh counterpart.
Although the program is brand new, Adobe has designated it Photoshop for Windows version 2.5 to signify that it is equal to the Macintosh version. The two versions have identical feature sets, and files created in one version can be used on the other, which is a blessing for offices that have a mix of Macs and PCs, or that do processing on one kind of computer in-house and then send the files to a graphic arts service bureau that may use another kind.
Photoshop allows the artist to touch up photo blemishes with a wide variety of electronic "brushes," to alter the colors and hues of an image, to make color separations for publishing, to distort or modify a picture with special-effects filters, and even to create entirely new images by combining parts of two or more photographs. It can be thought of as an electronic darkroom, but with some magical tools.
"It's like, what did I do before this came along?" said Nino G. Cocchiarella, a free-lance artist in Evansville, Ill., who tested the new Windows version of Photoshop. As a free-lancer, he said, he does not have the luxury of owning a powerful Macintosh system when most of his clients in advertising agencies and service bureaus use Intel-based PCs. As a result, he said, "I've been doing color publishing in Windows since before you were supposed to be able to do it, but I used to have to do things the hard way."
"Photoshop for Windows does everything I need and it does it correctly, right out of the box," Mr. Cocchiarella said.
Photoshop is intended for professional artists, as its $895 suggested list price might suggest. Another factor that might dissuade casual users is the program's high cost of system resources, in the form of processing power, memory and hard disk space. Anyone accustomed to working with word processing or simple spreadsheet files may be surprised at the technical firepower needed to process a simple color photograph. In terms of data, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words.
Indeed, high-quality color photographic images are probably the most demanding test of a computer's processing and display powers. Every time a color graphic is redrawn on the screen, the computer has to perform millions of calculations.
Adobe Systems suggests a minimum of a fast Intel i486 microprocessor and 8 megabytes of random access memory, which is good advice.
Further, color photographs are voracious consumers of hard disk space. A small color image on an average computer, one that displays only 16 or 256 shades of color, can take up a few dozen kilobytes of space. Among professionals who demand the ability to choose among millions of colors on screen, it is not uncommon for even a small color image to chew up a megabyte or more of space. Some larger color photographs -- the high-quality kind seen on magazine pages -- can occupy 60MB to 300MB for a single file, graphic artists say.
For that reason, large Photoshop files are almost never transferred on floppy disks or modem. Many artists actually send an entire hard disk drive to clients by overnight courier, or, using a technology that makes more sense, a removable Syquest hard disk cartridge that plugs into a Syquest drive at the destination site.
Besides the hit on storage space, such large images will choke PC by causing frequent trips to and from the hard disk unless the computer has sufficient amounts of random access memory to hold the image in one chunk. Among professionals, a computer with 64 megabytes of RAM, or even 128MB or more, is not considered extraordinary. After all, art is sometimes fickle; having to wait a few minutes just to test a different shade of blue in the sky can frustrate the artistic process.
Because of those oppressive conditions, many graphic artists have abandoned the personal computer architecture in favor of powerful graphics workstation computers and image-management software, made by such companies as Scitex and Shima-Seiki. Artists being artists, few can afford to invest in such equipment outright and thus find that they must either rent time on systems owned by service bureaus or turn the final production over to others. The ability to do color image processing on a personal computer is a breakthrough.
"It was frustrating to me not to be able to do it myself," said Steven Pollack, a photographer in Philadelphia who combines conventional still-life photography with digital image processing, mainly working with DOS. "I've been jealous of Photoshop ever since it showed up on the Mac."
Mandi Riggi, a computer graphics artist at Duggal Color Projects in Manhattan, one of the country's largest photo production and computer imaging centers, said Photoshop for Windows is "pretty solid." That's hard-earned praise coming from someone who normally uses a graphics workstation. "I've been working on every single system you can think of, and Photoshop is definitely better" than other PC or Macintosh image management software, she said.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau:  328-8258.)