When it comes to selecting a Web graphics program, there are so many choices it can often be difficult to determine which program is right for you. While the tendency is to want to go with the most popular program available, that's not always the most appropriate option for every person's needs. I hope to help you make the best choice for your needs by summarizing the most likely candidates. Those indicated as companion tools would not be appropriate as your only Web graphics tool.
Photoshop is one of the most advanced and versatile programs available, and most professional Web developers will want to have Photoshop in their arsenal of tools. Although Photoshop no longer comes bundled with ImageReady, over the years, many Web graphics features have been included in Photoshop. Photoshop now provides tools and features for creating GIF animations, image slicing and optimization, batch processing and automation. It integrates tightly with Adobe's other products such as Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, and InDesign.
Fireworks was developed from the ground up specifically to meet the needs of professional Web designers. Fireworks features tight integration with Macromedia's other products (now owned by Adobe) such as the vector-based animation tool, Flash and Dreamweaver, a popular Web page editor among professionals. Fireworks is only capable of working within the RGB color environment, so it's not an appropriate choice for working with images intended for commercial printing. Fireworks integrates tightly with Adobe's other products such as Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Flash.
Xara Xtreme is a top-notch graphics tool, no matter what your level of graphics experience. With its amazing speed, small size, reasonable system requirements, moderate price, and powerful feature set, it's hard to go wrong with Xara Xtreme. For Web designers, Xara combines the power and ease of vector drawing tools with export capabilities for all major Web formats. Xtreme also includes specialized tools to help you create animations, navbars, rollovers, image maps, and other optimized Web graphics.
For users who want a great deal of flexibility and features that rival some of the much pricier photo editors, PaintShop is an excellent choice. Priced around $109 for a boxed version, it's within reach of the average user and maintains ease of use without being overly simplistic or too limiting. If you're looking for ready to use templates and one-click effects, however, you won't get that with PaintShop.
PhotoImpact is ideal for those looking for professional results without a steep learning curve. It comes with hundreds of one-click presets, so it's easy for the complete novice to quickly achieve polished-looking results, yet it still has enough advanced features that users won't feel limited as they gain experience. PhotoImpact has painting and editing tools for those that need to perform other editing tasks and you also get GIF Animator and integrated tools for creating Web components.
Xara Webstyle is a quick and easy way to create Web page items such as buttons, navigation bars, headings, bullets, dividers, logos, banner ads, and backgrounds. It even includes "themed" sets of matching graphics for those who need an all inclusive "look" to their Web page. It is limited by the use of a proprietary format, which can't import standard JPEG or GIF files for modifications. Within its limitations, however, it can be used for quick Web design and/or Web prototyping. Companion tool.
SWiSH started as a standalone application for creating animated Shockwave Flash text and graphic effects quickly and easily. Today, SWiSH is an entire suite of products for publishing Flash-based content on the Web. The SWiSH products consist of a number of tools for publishing and converting photos, video, PowerPoint presentations, MP3s, and other media for the Web. Companion tools.
Xara3D lets you create 3D still headings and animations from text or imported vector objects. The interface is simple and easy to understand. You start by entering your text and then you can experiment with the various effects which include extrusion, bevel, shadow, texture, animation, and lighting. When you're happy with the results, simply adjust the display window to the desired size, and export the finished image as a JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, animated GIF, or AVI movie. Companion tool.
Ignite is a free Web graphics optimization program with many additional features. Allows you to produce highly optimized GIF and JPEG files. Includes an integrated GIF animator for assembling, previewing, and optimizing frame by frame animations. The splitting feature allows you to divide your images into columns and rows and generates the HTML table code for your images. Ignite offers many features for importing and working with Photoshop files. Companion tool.
PhotoWebber allows you to easily convert your Photoshop designs into fully-functioning Web pages in seconds. PhotoWebber won't replace your HTML editor or graphics software, but for Web designers who work in Photoshop it can be a productivity enhancing companion tool.