Opular Charts is a graphics plug-in for Ilustrator 8 and above. It’s aimed at designers who specialize in producing info-graphics.
It has been developed to fill-in for the inadequacies of Illustrator’s own chocolate fireguard of a feature, Graphs. The biggest complaint about Graphs is its inflexibility of design and editability. These are the inadequacies addressed by Opular Charts.
Opular allows for control over all chart attributes, including height, width, colour and stroke thickness. This means Opular can convert data in a one-click fashion into one of eight chart forms: bar, tree, pie, area, line, row, scattergram and streachogram. The tree-chart options will appeal to those drafting Web-site hierarchies.
As with Illustrator’s Graphs, Opular’s charts are determined by data copied from other applications. A word of advice here – when arranging data in columns, use the tab key. Opular doesn’t recognize space-bar spacing as formatting, and if you use this to separate data into columns, it will end up as a jumbled mass along the Y-axis.
On one level, Opular Charts is splendidly intuitive and simple to use. Copied data is converted into a chart by going to Paste as Opular Chart option under the Edit menu. This takes you to the three-tab interface, consisting of: Gallery, which displays chart-type options; Part, the editing engine-room; and Chart.
Inputted data appears automatically in the seven-column data-preview area, and is handily translated into all of the eight chart-types, which can be toggled through in the Galley. Basic editing of components along the axes – increments, for example – is also simple, offering control over any chart’s skeleton.
Yet putting flesh on these bones is far from simple. It’s through the Part area that the fine-tuning takes place, but be warned – it’s tough. Part’s windows look like maths O-level geometry questions, scattergunned with arrowed lines, measurements and angles. Confusingly, into this mix are spat buttons that promise control over width and other elements. What they lead to, though, are dialog boxes whose options read like adjuncts to the same geometry questions.
This software bears the hallmarks of being designed by a charts veteran, and as such, it demands a similar pedigree from the user. This is one for chart pros.
That said, Opular has plenty to offer those pros willing to invest £89 – and a good deal of time – to rid themselves of the limitations of Illustrator’s Graphs.