“Forget your button maker,” says Steffen Gerlach, creator of ZPaint, a sexy little program for making 3D-looking graphics. You can also forget your wallet when you download this 286K installation package. It’s free. Of course, ZPaint is not a real 3D program. It paints shapes with shadows that simulate 3D objects like buttons, rings, and boxes.
ZPaint is a minimalist’s dream that mimics the work of powerful graphics programs but with fewer clicks and a lower learning curve. The program is most useful in web design but can also make really nice software interfaces, especially for games. ZPaint’s intuitive interface displays the shape’s effect (raised or lowered, beveled or arced, etc.) on an icon on the toolbar. Just click the shape you want and start painting. You can play around the depth and corner radius settings to define the exact shape you want. The program will also allow you to change the opacity to say, 50%, and paint one element over another for a cool transparent effect.
You can do some interesting tricks like open an existing background image via the “Choose Texture” option and paint it as a 3D-looking image, making it into an console element for a web page. I used this technique to make this site for the First Christian Church of Wrightsville, Georgia. I also used ZPaint in conjunction with Paint Shop Pro to make the The original Clickfire site, which is graphics heavy and quite dated stylistically, but it demonstrates the power of ZPaint to create nice looking buttons, console, icons, and even main graphic images and logos. I found myself making 3D rectangles and circles, then cutting and pasting them to make an human looking image. I was amazed at where a little imagination could take me.
It’s not unusual for a good freeware program to be under-rated, but finding ZPaint was like discovering a pearl among swine. It has turned out to be one of my very favorite graphics programs. Thanks, Steffen!