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BOOKS CAN HELP SOLVE MYSTERIES OF DRESSING UP YOUR CREATIONS

The fact is that the better something looks, the faster it catches your eye and the more it's likely to hold your interest and attention. That's true of everything from the opposite sex to the printed page.

That's why so many computer software and hardware makers now offer the ability to dress up your computer creations with pretty type, pretty pictures, pretty diagrams and up to 256 shades of color.Getting the tools is now easy. Figuring out how to use them, from the manual's brief paragraphs, is harder. What you probably need is a good book.

For preparing attractive reports using 1-2-3, we recommend "Look Your Best with 1-2-3," a hefty $25 book published by Que. Authors David Paul Ewing and Robert J. Perry divide the desktop publishing world into three parts.

Part 1 explains what Lotus' Wysiwig addin can do for you. It shows how to format worksheet tables and apply shades, shadows and fonts. You find out how to add, format and justify large blocks of text.

You learn how to embed graphics and clip art and edit it using Wysiwig's editor. Lastly, you get to create style sheets so you can save and reuse a report's appearance - and how to print the whole thing out.

Part II shows, with copious illustrations, how to turn out snazzy memos, reports and other business letters and forms. Part III gets even more ambitious by suggesting ways to create computer, slide and overhead presentation in 1-2-3.

The final chapter suggests how to create announcements, promotions and newsletters all in your spreadsheet software. The authors almost convinced us that anything's possible with unlimited time and patience. Take Part III's sanguine assurances with a grain of salt! And check the book's index before you buy. Our review copy was missing the last few pages. Make sure yours has it all.

Now that color printers are becoming affordable, they open a whole new world of ways to make clients and customers sit up and notice. But watch out! Color used badly is worse than no color at all.

Into the breach, at least for adventurous Macintosh owners, come two good books. We prefer $40 "The Color Mac: Design Production Techniques" (published by Hayden) since most of its profuse illustrations are in full color. It's also in plain, yet enthusiastic English.

Authors Marc D. Miller and Randy Zaucha explain resolution, scanning and how to apply color theory to digital images. They show how to separate colors and suggest the best way to paint onscreen. There are useful charts and a glossary.

There's not much advice on what hardware and software to buy. But there are good checklists for working with it and good warnings such as the one that computers still aren't as good as professionals at image retouching.

"Color Publishing On the Macintosh" is subtitled "From Desktop to Print Shop." For $45, it binds in just 16 pages of full-color illustrations. The writing is careful although dry. But authors Kim and Sunny Baker also throw in a disk of freeware and shareware utility programs.

The book is a complete overview of everything you need to know to start publishing with colored illustrations. It begins by describing all the hardware and software you may need or want. It covers limitations in working with the Macintosh. And it tells how to scan in, separate and print color photos and drawings.

We like best the chapters on how to work with commercial print shops in converting your computerized output into professionally printed publications. There are many good tips, such as the one that explains why you should always let the commercial printer supply the paper for a print job. (Reason: If you don't like the product they can blame it on your paper!)

The most useful program on the bound-in disk compresses the huge files needed for color desktop publishing. Other utilities add onscreen color (but don't print it), blend colors and help with font, pixel and color management.

Before buying the book to get the disk, read the chapter that describes its contents. Most of the programs are available from other freeware and shareware sources.

If you intend to use Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop software for color desktop printing, get Adobe Press's $40 "Design Essentials." A quartet of writers compiled everything they and other Adobe users learned about creating professional looking full-color effects using Adobe software.

The book doesn't bother at all with basics. You won't learn how to use the program. What you will learn is a lot of neat tricks. There are step-by-step instructions for getting each effect, along with lots of inspiring pictures.

The book shows how to make 3-D, shaded, colored bars and spheres. It describes how to fancy up colored type with multiple, offset outlines. You can try stippling and shadowing. You can turn photos into poster art and impressionist paintings and create duotones, quadtones, stereo images and translucent forms.