Adobe Illustrator

  Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics editor developed and marketed by Adobe Systems.The latest version, Illustrator CS4, is the fourteenth generation in the product line. Numerous new features include multiple artboards in a single document, a "blob brush" that is similar to the brush in Adobe Flash, and support for transparency in gradients among other features.


Claim to Fame

Illustrator CS was the first version to include 3-dimensional capabilities allowing users to extrude or revolve shapes to create simple 3D objects. To reflect its integration with the Adobe Creative Suite, Illustrator CS2 (version 12) was available for both the Mac OS X and Microsoft Windowsoperating systems. It was the last version for the Mac which did not run natively on both Intel and PowerPC processors.

Among the new features included in Illustrator CS2 were Live Trace, Live Paint, a control palette and custom workspaces. Live Trace allows for the conversion of bitmap imagery into vector art and improved upon the previous tracing abilities. Live Paint allows users more flexibility in applying color to objects, specifically those that overlap.

CS3 included interface updates to the Control Bar, the ability to align individual points, multiple Crop Areas, the Color Guide panel and the Live Color feature among others.

CS4 was released in October 2008. It features a variety of improvements to old tools along with the introduction of a few brand new tools. The ability to create Multiple Artboards is one of CS4’s main additions, although still not equal to the true multiple page capability of Freehand. The Artboards allow you to create multiple versions of a piece of work within a single document. Other tools include the Blob Brush, which allows multiple overlapping vector brush strokes to easily merge or join, and a new gradient tool that allows for more in depth manipulation of colors.


Art boards,art boards,art boards....

Sound the trumpets! Release the balloons! The most requested Illustrator feature of all time -- multiple artboards -- has finally arrived. A single document can now contain up to 100 artboards, and each artboard can be of its own size and orientation (they can even overlap each other). Each Illustrator document contains a single large overall “canvas” where you can easily manage all of your artboards, using Illustrator’s new Artboard tool.

When the Artboard tool is selected, Illustrator switches to Artboard Edit Mode, allowing you to move, copy, add, or delete artboards. A toggle lets you specify whether the artwork on an artboard moves along with the artboard, or whether artboards move independently. The improved Smart Guides feature (covered later in this review) also works on artboards, making it easy to arrange them.

Because you need to be in Artboard Edit Mode in order to manage artboards, I find that artboards never get in the way of my work -- they are there when I need it, and don’t bother me when I don’t.

Figure 1. In Artboard Edit Mode, you have complete control over all of your artboards.


Transparency in gradients..and more!

Ever since gradients were added back in version 5, Illustrator users have longed for the ability to specify transparency to colors in a gradient. In CS4, you can assign an opacity level to any color stop in a gradient, similar to the way Flash designers can specify an Alpha value for colors in a gradient. (The new transparent gradients in Illustrator are compatible with Flash.) But Adobe didn’t stop there. There's also a new gradient widget that lets you edit gradients directly on the artboard. It’s a lot easier to adjust a gradient in context than in an unfriendly gray panel.

Figure 2. The new in-context gradient widget also enables you to adjust the proportion of radial gradients to create oval-shaped gradients.


A little something for everyone

While the many enhancements in Illustrator appeal to all types of designers, certain improvements alone will be worth the price of admission to users in certain fields:

  • Cartographers will especially appreciate an overhauled Type on Path engine, which does a much better job when setting type that following along a vector path.

  • Prepress operators will find value in the new Separations Preview panel. While it doesn’t feature the powerful Ink Manager found in InDesign or Acrobat Pro, it performs ably as advertised, previewing process and spot colors on screen.

  • Environmental and industrial designers will welcome Illustrator’s ability to simulate artwork on screen as a person with colorblindness might see it, enabling designers to ensure the right amount of contrast in their designs. Approximately 7 percent of Americans are color blind (that’s 10.5 million people), some governments (especially so in Japan) have been particularly vigilant in taking steps to ensure that public signage is clearly visible to all.

Figure 3. The Separations Preview panel lets you check your output before it’s too late.


The verdict

Is Illustrator CS4 now the perfect application? Has the software reached its true potential? Far from it. Because Illustrator appeals to such a large audience, additional functionality is always on my wish list. Where is a sophisticated pattern generator for fashion designers? What about powerful controls for better anti-aliasing that web and interface designers crave? How about the ability to create interactive PDF documents and flowcharts? Why not an updated graphing feature or a core set of smart drawing tools? There are still plenty of features that can be added.

But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Illustrator CS4 is the perfect upgrade. I’ve been using Illustrator in a professional capacity for more than 3 years now, and I think this is the most appealing upgrade to Illustrator ever. Why? Because it’s relevant. Some versions contain features that might be cool -- and even incredibly useful -- but that are used only once in a while (e.g., 3D, Live Trace, Live Color).

In a truly refreshing contrast, just about every enhancement in Illustrator CS4 is core functionality -- all of which I’m already relying on each day.

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