Serif CraftArtist Compact Makes Digital Scrapbooking Addictive

To call CraftArtist a digital scrapbook tool is like calling Martha Stewart a scrapbooker: Both the queen of crafts and this free program are so much more. Yes, you can create digital art akin to scrapbook pages, but also cards, certificates, posters, even place setting cards--all with drag-and-drop simplicity.

CraftArtist Compact is free, but doesn't include templates and is lean on tools. Templates and content reside in downloadable "digikits," vendor Serif's assortments of themed backgrounds, embellishments (think photo-realistic clipart), and spray-on clipart "brushes," You can download various digikits from one of Serif's websites, . Although they range in price from free to $20, most are under $10, and they include everything from kitschy to cute to vintage designs.

With a digikit theme in hand, you can upload common image files (JPEG, PNG, or TIFF), choose a template, and easily put together professional-looking designs with drag-and-drop ease. CraftArtist automatically adds a layer for each digikit item you add, and you can easily resize or move each item.

CraftArtist Compact uses tools familiar to both Serif PhotoPlus X5 and DrawPlus X5, and it's just as detailed a program. If you are a practiced digital artist, even with the Compact version of CraftArtist, you can achieve some pretty stunning results in minutes, with a few exceptions.

There's no photo editor in CraftArtist Compact (for access to the Photolab you'll need to upgrade to the not free version), so if you need to fix color or exposure, you'll need to use a photo editor. A good Photoshop-like option (without the Photoshop pricetag) is ($90), which uses the same organizing system as CraftArtist, making your images easy to sort and find. If you're looking for an easy way to instill a vintage feel to your pix, CameraBag 2 ($29) is a great way to create a nostalgic look (the CraftArtist screenshot was created using contemporary images made to look old using ). For a more artistic feel, but less control, FotoSketcher (free) creates very elegant and realistic fine art from your photographs. For folks with more time than money to invest, photo editors or hold appeal: Although they require a lot of time and dedication to use effectively, they're free,

If you use CraftArtist a lot, you may end up with literally Gigabytes of digikits. If you expect to arrive at this point, you may want to consider buying CraftArtist Platinum. It comes bundled with more than 4GB of digikit content for baby photos, wedding days, and more, and costs $70 directly from Serif. However, you can sometimes find the boxed version at big-box and office supply stores for less (I recently saw it at Target for $30).