BOLD TEXT PLSHOW many times have you seen a great idea that loses its impact because the written form cannot convey the visual concept? Remember meetings you have sat in where even the best news puts people to sleep after pages of dry and tedious figures? Can you visualise the Mona Lisa's smile from a page, or even 50 pages of carefully crafted prose or poetry? Welcome to the world of illustration software. The power of pictures to communicate complex thoughts and supplement description has grown in importance in this age of information overload. And if you are reading this and saying 'but I can't even draw a proper circle' . . . relax . . . the software you will use is loaded with shapes, samples, and 'clip art' to work with. Generally, the programs for illustration and design contain the same sort of tools because they perform similar functions. They either create a new 'canvas' or add to existing works, whether they are your originals or combine the contributions of others to your wishes. Basic tools include pens and brushes, shapes, text, patterns and fills, editing and layout controls, which can be adjusted to one degree or another. Advanced features may include more precise control, custom colours, a wider range of source materials, and special effects for text and images The tools you'll find on the marketplace today have become so simple to use that children are working with them, yet their effect in the hands of a trained artist is on par with the best studios and designers of decades past. If you want to do traditional Chinese brush strokes, several programs offer a brush selection titled 'Calligraphy', which allows users of a pressure-sensitive tablet to make more, or less, ink appear on their brush. When you need a factory, car, stop sign, or animal, most graphics software comes packaged with 'clip art' libraries which contain simple pictures of these items which are yours for the mouse click. Alternatively, you can scan in your logo and let the software trace its outlines automatically, then colour it and include it in tomorrow's report. The ellipse and circle you've drawn will turn into an eye after you select 'Radial Fill' from the paint options menu. You can choose the colours you want, then click inside the circle . . . the program will mix shades and tones. Next, place a solid black circle in the middle, sketch a single small curve and copy it across the top and bottom as eyelashes. Now if you want both eyes to be the same size, illustration software can copy it and 'flip' it over so you've got a matching pair of red eyes after about 25 mouse clicks. You can choose patterns as backgrounds or put a watermark on your letterhead by placing the logo on the page and selecting 'tint' to produce faint shading on the entire document. There are different type faces for headlines than for copy or for logo and address. Select from dozens or even hundreds of styles, depending on the software. Select size, spacing, alignment, hyphenation rules, bold, underline and more from an endless variety of options. The more advanced programs offer ways to surround pictures with text, bend sentences around shapes, fill shapes with words, and apply professional typesetters' tools to design and produce brochures and posters with total creative control of the blending of words and pictures. To keep the next meeting a little more lively, use the built-in chart and graph features. Enter the data to be represented and the type of graph (usually Pie, Bar, or Line), then use clip art to make the bars into gold coins or televisions with bigger antennas as they expand up the scale. For those who have always wanted to paint, but could not . . . now you can. Special 'brush texture' effects give you the chance to work with charcoal, chalk, watercolours, or oils without getting paint all over yourself. To create a 3-D look for text, copy the words and 'skew' them. By bending their tops over to lie them down behind the original words, fuzzing the edges, and adding highlights to the edges they will look as if a spotlight is beaming down on them from off the page. If you want to save money while ensuring quality control, generate colour separations yourself and send them out ready to print. The better programs offer on-screen previews of their work which allow for inspection of stationary and packaging materials before you pay for expensive printing. (Accurate colour previews on screen allow you to specify precise Pantone shades or Commercial SWOP press colours). With a hundred different variations to test ideas, work created for one document can be saved in its component elements as text, objects, layers and groups, etc, and copied to other versions of the same master file. Templates for many types of business letter, chart, forms, and graphics are provided for you to get started. Best of all the tools is the undo button. A few years ago the frustrations of minor errors meant floors covered in crumpled papers. Nowadays, if you make a change and decide you liked it better 10 minutes ago, you can step back through the alterations you made and retrieve the version you prefer. None of the features and techniques described above will guarantee to make you the next Picasso, but put to proper use in your business as promotional materials, graphics or as support for your presentation, they may keep your audience enthralled and boost your image from being dry and boring to vibrant and clearly understood.