MultiAd's Creator Express is a page layout app that positions itself between Apple's Pages and Adobe's Creative Suite. It's a fast and flexible desktop publisher, but it suffers from a lack of forward thinking.

Creator Express shares its basic structure with other page layout apps. After choosing a document size, you're presented with a blank page. Clicking on the rulers at the edge of the document lets you set guides (or you can double-click to set an exact position). Objects then snap to these guides in an extremely satisfying way. And that's one of the things you first notice about the app: it's speedy, showing no sluggishness as you move around text and objects (even high-resolution images).

The app offers a full complement of text controls, including leading, tracking (or kerning), and the ability to vary the height and width of the typeface. Character controls even let you specify the degree of boldness, the slant of the italic, and the weight of the underline. (This depth of control easily surpasses Pages and sometimes even outclasses Adobe Illustrator.) Creator Express fully supports ligatures and swashes, too.

The app's vector drawing tools are good, if not overly advanced. You can quickly create circles, rectangles, polygons and starbursts, or use the pen and pencil tools to create your own shapes. You can then tweak the position and curve of control points using the Reshape Tool. Going beyond Apple's Pages, Creator Express also allows you to combine and intersect objects, as well as convert text to paths (helpful if you want to create a logo, for example). The Container Tool also makes it extremely easy to mask objects and photos--just choose the tool and you can drag any object inside of another object. Illustrator CS5 still forces you to create clipping masks to achieve the same effect.

The app's approach to lines and fills is quite different from Pages or Illustrator, however. As you might expect, you can choose a line or fill color from the Color palette. Unfortunately, the default color palette is limited to 10 basic colors, making it rather useless. You can configure all aspects of an object through menu selections, but a quicker workaround is to just double-click any object. This calls up a window that lets you tweak the exact size and location of the object, set the line (frame) and fill color, and add a drop shadow. The app's gradient controls are quite robust. You can choose from six types of gradients (compared to two in Illustrator CS5), control the angle of the gradient (where possible), and set as many gradient stops as you wish. Other controls are contextual and vary with the type object; for example, double-clicking a rectangle gives you an additional option to customize each corner (rounded, indented, or beveled).

(Image Caption: Creator Express lets you put together print documents quickly, assuming you can find your away around the interface.) This is all great, but unfortunately Creator Express has its fair share of shortcomings. The most egregious of these is that it simply doesn't feel like a modern app (Mac or otherwise).

The interface is clunky and feels dated, with many elements cast in bright, primary colors with unnecessarily heavy drop shadows. Too many controls are hidden away in menus and secondary windows rather than readily accessible in a palette. It's also clear that the app's help system was simply ported from Windows.

However, the app's most bizarre shortcoming is its inconsistent anti-aliasing. Text, polygons, and objects drawn with the pen tool seem to fare well enough, but circles and starbursts are oddly jaggy, and items like decorative borders are never anti-aliased. (Anti-aliasing is actually off by default, which is perhaps a tacit acknowledgement of the issue.)

Macworld's buying advice

MultiAd Creator Express 8.5.2 is a swift, inexpensive, and capable page layout tool that offers a number of professional-level features. It's a shame that it's held back by an awkward, antiquated interface and poor antialiasing.

Chris McVeigh is an author, illustrator and toy photographer who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.