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Software That Goes Beyond Coloring Books' Boundaries : Art Programs Let Kids Get Creative, Have Fun


As software for arts and crafts advances, children can do much more than just replicate what they'd do with crayons and coloring books. One of the nice things about these types of software is their adaptability. A younger child can be given a very structured program while older or creative children can use their own imaginations and skills with no boundaries. And a nice byproduct of the newest software is that kids have something fun and useful to show for their work.

We asked young people of varying ages to try a variety of art packs. The younger children in particular found the most fun in being artist for a day. ( A caveat: A color printer is required for creating all the projects. )

At nearly 11, Andrew considers himself a burgeoning computer expert with time spent on systems at school and at home, so he was eager to play with four new programs from Print Paks.

The company tested the art software waters in December with two holiday-themed programs. Based on their success, Print Paks just released Pop-Up Greetings Kit, Pinwheels Kit, Window Art Kit and Magnet Kit.

The programs are all easy to use, with Max the dog as a guide. All four programs include a selection of images, but children also can create their own. One nice option , is that you can mail a picture or photo to Print Paks for transfer to a disk (for $12.95, plus shipping), so that your child is able to make a customized project.

The CD-ROMs come with only basic supplies, so there can be costly additions. For example, the Magnet "Kit includes materials to make and decorate 12 magnets. But the magnets have to be made four at a time, providing only three play sessions. Refills cost $9.95 plus shipping and handling, and there are similar costs for the other Print Paks kits.

Andrew's attention quickly waned, making it clear that the description of "all ages" on the boxes is generous. After working for a while on the Pop-Up Greetings Kit, Andrew said he preferred to focus his after-school energies on Doom II.

"I'm a little too old for this, he said. "Little kids who are 6 or 7 could use it."

Indeed, Joshua, 5, thought the programs were fun. Although computer literate, he had never tried an art program. He especially liked making the magnets and the pinwheels, begging to play again.

Print Paks has stepped into the art software arena to join Broderbund's Kid Pix series, which pioneered the genre. The latest, Kid Pix Studio, includes its predecessor's coloring and stamp features but with new twists.

Children can take their creations and ad music or animation. Preexisting photos can be input and turned into on-screen slide shows. Included is a Stampanimator program, which allows the user take a computerized stamp, put it on a page and watch it come to life through animation.

There are the obligatory video sequences, called Video Postcards, which include generic wildlife footage, clips of historic events and 3-D effects. Juliana, a 6-year-old with a fair amount of computer experience, started cautiously, choosing to color a basic scene with a cat, bird and bunny. As she carefully poured colors in the outlined frames, her activities were supplemented by a satisfying sloshy sound as colors filled in the outlines.

A pink bunny emerged, followed by a green-and-red spotted flowerpot. She changed colors, reorganizing the images in front of her, shrinking and enlarging them, distorting the images into different patterns. Juliana found the endless possibilities more fun than just working in a coloring book.

Other features weren't so successful. The Wacky TV element wasn't interactive enough, and she found the Stampanimator feature boring.

Much more fun was the Moopies element, in which 28 icons--images ranging from skulls to fish to stars--can be superimposed onto a scene and then clicked into life. Juliana overlaid her Moopies onto a wallpaper scene, and soon a photo portrait of a goose was covered in a chaotic overlay of chattering figures all set to frantic musical accompaniment. This riotous display generated a big grin, and the Kid Pix Studio was deemed a success.

Less successful were Saban Interactive's Power Rangers Coloring Book and Power Rangers Print Kit, which were released four months ago. Only the most Power Rangers-mad kid will find much satisfaction in the static figurines that are frozen on the screen. The coloring program is simple enough, but there are-no guides, and novice computer users may need help.

The program can be set so that all paintbrushes and crayons stay within the lines.

Presumably that option is for the youngest of children. But when the option was turned off, staying within the lines was a struggle for children and parents.

Print Kit lets you stamp more than 200 Power Ranger images on posters, signs, cards, banners and invitations.

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