Home > Design > Expression Design for Developers part 2 – A Quick Tour

Expression Design for Developers part 2 – A Quick Tour

May 1, 2009

In the first article of this series I laid out my initial impression of Expression Design.  In the intervening weeks I have spent a lot more time with Adobe InDesign which is a very impressive tool.  InDesign seems to be the easiest of all the tools to produce something real (and real fast).  InDesign is a magazine and publication layout tool, not a graphic design tool, but I thought I’d mention it because I still view all these pieces as being in the same category. To sum up my limited experience, InDesign just seems to work.  It does share a lot of the functional approach of Illustrator and PhotoShop, and so I also feel it has some of the same faults.  The most interesting thing about InDesign is that it uses file links for displaying images rather than embedding the actual link in the InDesign file itself.  This makes it easy to change art content without replacing them on the artboard.  And since it can use both Adobe files and regular image types, you can develop your images in Expression Design if you prefer.

A Quick Tour

We’ll take a quick tour of Design for starters and then begin working on a real project.  The Design experience is very similar to Blend, so if you already work in Blend then you can skim through this section.

Design has many features, and like Blend they are not always easy to find, but there are four main sections we are going to talk about today.  Here is a screenshot of Design with the main parts labeled.  And just for the record, I edited all the images for this article using Design.


The Toolbar

On the left is the Toolbar.  This is where you will find the tools used to draw on and manipulate graphics.  Unlike the Toolbox in Visual Studio, you will not see all the tools listed here at one time, and as far as I know you cannot control the layout and configuration of the Toolbar.  Some of the tools are hidden: take a look at the Pen button (4th one down) and you will see a small white triangle in the lower right hand corner.  This indicates that are more tools available in this grouping.  To see and select them, either click and hold or right click on the button.  A small pop out will appear with all the options for that tool group.  Selecting one will make it the active tool in that group and update the button on the toolbar.  You can return to the previous tool by reselecting it from the list, or if the tool has a hot key (like ‘P’ for Pen) you can select the tool using the hot key and it will automatically become the active tool in that group again.

The Artboard

The large area in the middle with nothing on it is the Artboard.  This is where you can see and manipulate the graphics.  More on this later, but suffice it to say for now that you will become intimately familiar with it.

The Properties Panel

On the right, much like Visual Studio, is a panel that holds multiple panels.  The first and most prominent of these is the Properties panel.  Like Winforms in Visual Studio, this is where you set the properties of the selected item.  The first thing you will notice is the Color Manager: this is a first rate tool that is intuitive and easy to use.  Beneath that, options and panels will appear based on the type of the selected item.  For instance, if you select a Text element a panel will appear with options like Font, Size, Alignment, etc.

The Layers Panel

I find layers to be an invaluable tool when developing graphics.  Some tools rely on them more heavily than others: for instance, in Illustrator they are largely unnecessary, but in PhotoShop they are essential (and mostly unavoidable.)  Design makes them completely optional, meaning that you can create your entire graphic on the single default layer.  You will find, however, that not only are layers great for organization, but they make experimentation a lot easier.  Also, they are essential when exporting to XAML in certain scenarios.  We’ll cover Layers in more detail in a future post, but for now you can just start chanting my Layers Mantra: “Layers are right. Layers are good. I love Layers.”  Three times an hour should suffice for now. 🙂

Doing Something Real

OK, so enough of the boring stuff, let’s use Design to actually design something.  We are going to create a logo for a new company called “Gracepoint Woodworks.”  The requirements are that it use the free video poker how to play backgammon no deposit bonus online casino 888 no download casino play roulette craps game black jack download american roulette play video poker baccarat free casino game no download online casino free money on line casino wagering roulette online online casino betting free online casino slots free craps best casino roulette gambling internet casino gambling uk best casino online full pay video poker no deposit casino code best craps game black jack tournament best online casino site craps online game newest online casino free slots no download play blackjack online free dueces wild video poker black jack gambling online video poker game free casino cash no deposit video poker tutorial play free video poker how to win at black jack casino roulette casino guide how to win at roulette rules of craps casino game online real money backgammon baccarat casino online free video poker game play free video poker video poker odds video poker tournaments Vivaldi font, two specific colors (RGB 71-135-103 for the background and 229-229-22 for the Foreground), stack the two names on top of one another, and use a cross to represent the “t” in “Gracepoint”. Let’s get started!

Create a new document in Design (File -> New) and name the file appropriately. The size isn’t all that important: since these are Vector Graphics we can scale it as needed later.  Our logo will be used in both Print and Web media, so we want the Resolution to be 300, which is the max available in Design.  Press OK to create the file and begin designing.


The black outline you see are the outer bounds of the document size.  You can always adjust your document size and resolution by going to File -> Document Size.  Just remember that the art you want to save or export should be defined within these borders.


Adding Shapes to the Artboard

We are going to give our logo an oval shape and fill it with the required Background color mentioned above.  To do this, right-click the Rectangle icon on the Toolbar and change the selection to Ellipse.  Now drag an ellipse onto the screen.  You’ll be able to see the ellipse being drawn as you drag, so you can easily control the shape and size.  Size and location don’t matter that much, but make it big enough you can place a couple of lines of text inside.  In the color manager, click on the Fill tab on the top left of the color palette. Enter the correct RGB values from above and the ellipse will now be filled with that color.


Adding Text to the Artboard

To place the Text inside, select the Text tool from the Toolbar.  Unlike Adobe, we do not draw TextBoxes: simply click where you want to type and start typing.  Since we have two lines of text, I would recommend putting each one in its own text element. Go ahead and type them anywhere on the screen.  You can then use the Selection tool to drag and drop them to the desired location.  You even get a preview outline of the text which helps with locating the object.  You can also use the arrow keys to fine tune the location one pixel at a time.

The default color for the text should be black, so let’s change that by highlighting the text and setting the Fill color of the text to the RGB value listed above.  While we have the text highlighted, go ahead and select the correct Font from the list in the Text pane of the Properties panel.  Adjust the font size in the same pane until it fits pleasingly within the ellipse.  Now we should have something like this):


For the final requirement, we need to replace the “t” with a cross.  Double click the “Gracepoint” text object: this will put you in text edit mode.  Delete the “t” and click somewhere outside the graphic.  Ha ha!  I tricked you!  You should now have a new text object where you clicked.  This happens to me a lot, so I wanted you to see it.  Since the Text tool is still highlighted it created a new Text object.  Ctrl-Z for undo will remove it.  You could select the Selection tool first to avoid this, but a quicker way many times is to temporarily override the existing tool.  You can do so by pressing Ctrl: you will see the mouse cursor change to the black arrow, so you can click outside the graphic without creating a new text instance.  This is another handy feature inspired by Illustrator.

Drawing on the Artboard

Since this is a vector graphic drawing tool, let’s do some drawing!  Click on the Pen tool to activate it, then use it to draw a cross shape near where the “t” was.  Before you do so, let me explain the Pen tool. No wait, there is too much… let me sum up. (My apologies to fellow TPB fans)

The Pen Tool

The pen tool and its related group are enourmously functional, but it would take an entire post of it’s own to give it fair treatment.  For now, I will say that there are two basic ways to use the Pen tool.  The first way is to click and release a point, then move the mouse and do it again.  This will create a straight line between the two points.  Click somewhere else and a new line gets created between the last two points.  It will also start to try and fill the as of yet nonexistent polygon: don’t let this freak you out, it will correct itself when you finish the polygon.  Keep adding points to finish your shape: when you are ready to close the polygon, place the cursor over the first point and click, which will close the polygon and correct the fill.  This is by far the simplest and will work for what we are doing in this project because our cross has all straight edges.

The second way, and the one most graphic designers will use, is the Bezier way.  Bezier Curves are curved lines between points that you manipulate with graphical handles.  They take some getting used to, but once you get a little comfortable with them you can use them to quickly and easily create virtually any 2-D shape.  To try them out, click, drag and release each point.  Your results should be … interesting … the first few times you try this.  I’ll cover more complex drawing in a future post.  For now, use whichever method you are comfortable with to create the shape.

The Eyedropper(s)

If you have created the cross it will probably have a black fill.  We could enter the same RGB values we did previously in the same manner to get the same color, but instead we’ll use this as an introduction to the eyedropper tool.  Actually, there are two eyedroppers we can use.  There is an Eyedropper Tool on the Toolbar.  Activate it and hover the mouse cursor over any color on the artboard.  When you are over the color you want, drag the color to the object you want to apply it to and drop it on the object.  This is pretty cool and easy, but undo that and let’s look at something even cooler.

With your object selected, find the small eyedropper icon in the lower right hand corner of the Color Pallette.  Click on it and drag your mouse around the screen.  Watch in amazement as your object fill immediately takes on the color of whatever object you hover over.  In fact, one huge difference between the two is that with this tool you can hover over anything on the entire screen, including the desktop and other applications!  To apply a color, click where ever the mouse happens to be at the time.  This will also revert your tool back to the previous selection.

Where We Are

If you’ve been following along, you should have something similar to this (I’ve zoomed in on mine – notice there is no pixelation or loss of clarity:


Not bad for only a few minutes work.  Of course, it isn’t ready for delivery just yet: there are lots of improvements left to make to our logo.  Next time we will clean our logo up some and see if we can’t add a little graphical goodness.  In the meantime, dive in a little and see what you can do, but I warn you: it can be seriously fun and addictive.

Categories: Design
  1. Sandra
    December 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for the quick tutorial… have to get up to speed quickly and this is helping.

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