As a developer, I like nice reviews of my apps. Apparently, I’m not the only one. After my review of Icon Maker, I received a complimentary promo code for Branch Designer — a vector-based tree illustration program. While researching Icon Maker, I learned about the other Mac app from Tricycle Design HB (Sweyla.com). I was surprised to see that Branch Designer was actually twice the price of Icon Maker, as I have more of a need to make icons than trees, but that didn’t matter now. I had a free copy of Branch Designer to test out.
Before picking up Icon Maker, I watched a promo video of Branch Designer. I was impressed. The software is pretty simple to use. First, you create the tree-trunk, which is basically some vector points. The drawing method is quite similar to Icon Maker. The shape of the trunk is determined by some options in the “Inspector” pane. From there, branches can be added to the tree. These branches are automatically created, but you have lots of option to control how these branches appear. You can make them long or short… straight or curly… thick or thin… perky or droopy… and you can limit the number of branches.
In the same manner as creating branches, leaves can be added. The shape of a leaf can be altered with two vector controls. That leaf is then duplicated into the specified locations. Leaves can be placed on the trunk or any of the four branch sets. Unfortunately, only one type of leaf shape can be used. However, the leaf can have a gradient. With creative use of the leaf settings, a tree can look green and lush (Spring) or colorful yet sparse (Autumn).
Not since Bob Ross has tree creation been so easy. There’s really not much to Branch Designer. That’s why it’s a superb application. It takes a complicated task and dramatically simplifies it. Well, it’s not terribly difficult to draw a tree. Yet, there’s a certain flair to the creations from Branch Designer. With just some minor adjustments, the mood of the tree can change. Some of the trees I made looked like they belonged in a Tim Burton movie. Other trees looked elegant and majestic. It’s artsy — in a good way! That’s because Branch Designer lets you express yourself.
What initially seemed like a superfluous application actually did something amazing. It opened my mind. I saw new possibilities for game design. These trees could easily be part of a level’s background or foreground. With parallax scrolling, it could look amazing. But after using Branch Designer, something else happened — I looked at real trees differently. They somehow appeared prettier to me.
So, is Branch Designer worth $19.99? That depends on your needs. If you have a need to create lots of two-dimensional trees, this application can eliminate a lot of tedious work. I’m not sure if the export options (PDF, PNG, TIFF, JPEG) will completely satisfy you though. The exported PDF did hold the vector data, but the other formats are rasterized… not at really high res either. Branch Designer could be improved with more export options and settings. Cut and Paste into Pixelmator worked for me, so I was happy.
I think the best use of this software is that it can help in smashing through the intimidation of a blank page. Sometimes, just getting started can be the hardest part of a project. Branch Designer was great inspiration for me. At $20, I’m doubtful that I would have bought this software — and I would have missed out. But now that I have a copy, I think that might use it in my next game project — or build an entirely new one.