Adobe Illustrator 10
Adobe® Illustrator® is a powerful vector illustration tool that has competed with Macromedia's Freehand for years. While I believe Illustrator easily tops Freehand in most areas, it has had growing pains along the way, sometimes giving designers a product that was either buggy or so demanding that it slowed workflow considerably. Though there are a few glitches to be aware of in version 10, Adobe has added several new tools and features that make it a very worthwhile upgrade.
What would an upgrade for an illustration application be without new drawing tools? Thankfully, these come in the form of four new tools that greatly simplify common tasks. The Line Segment tool allows the user to add straight line segments with a simple click or a drag—much more cleanly than having to do it point-by-point. The Arc tool follows the same model, creating arcs by dragging or clicking, with an options palette for more precise control. The Rectangular and Polar Grid tools offer interesting new design possibilities; but even better, you can convert them to guides for use in your work. A nice addition, but I wish that Adobe would consider adding 3D perspective grids like those in Freehand. The Magic Wand selection tool makes selecting multiple objects a breeze. When files start getting large and confusing with a myriad of objects and layers, this is the tool to use to quickly select multiple objects with similar attributes. You can narrow your selection by any combination of fill color, stroke color, stroke weight, opacity range and blending mode in the tool's option palette. This is dramatically better than having to use the direct selection tool or even the Magic Wand.
One area where Illustrator deferred to Freehand in previous versions was distortion envelopes. Illustrator 10 adds them, and they are much easier to use and much more powerful. You can use any path or object to distort another object simply by selecting "Make with Top Object" on the envelope distort menu. You can also make an envelope with a warp, which mirrors the warp text options in Photoshop 6. These warp settings are a great way to quickly distort objects, but don't offer as much detailed control as I'd like (such as offered in the vector distort module in the Vector Effects plug-in). Hopefully Adobe will build on this feature in future versions. If you like playing with the gradient mesh tool, you'll love the "Make with Mesh" option in the envelope menu. This supplies an editable grid that gives a quite organic feel to object manipulation. Adobe has also enhanced general shape manipulation with the Reshape tool. This distorts the object or path in a more intelligent and natural way, and takes away the headache of having to figure out which points to select to make a simple shape change. While this is a great tool, I'd like for Adobe to reform their Free Transform tool and Free Distort filter into a single tool that allows users to distort objects within a rhomboid (as in Photoshop's Free Transform option). It'd go great next to the shear tool on the toolbox.
For more in-depth distortion to your objects and paths, the toolbar sports seven new warp tools. The default warp tool is quite useful, allowing the user to nudge a path around in a natural manner. The other six tools: Twirl, Pucker, Bloat, Scallop, Crystallize, and Wrinkle liquify your images and are fairly self-explanatory. They all work quickly and make for some interesting results. Warp effects can be quite useful for making vector art appear more natural, but users should be careful not to go overboard. New and touted but ultimately cheesy, the new Lens Flare tool brings another overused effect into Illustrator. I'm not sure why they thought this was important enough to place on the toolbar. Perhaps we'll see pagecurls in an upcoming release. That said, the effect is rather realistic, and should prove useful when someone forces you to include this effect in your design. Pathfinder operations have been enhanced for increased editability and better compatibility with Photoshop 6's shapes layers handling. Operations like Combine and Subtract now work more like in Photoshop, combining selected elements but still preserving each element's editability. Clicking on the Pathfinder palette's Expand button converts these grouped elements into a single shape. This is a smart new addition that will save a lot of backtracking.
The most revolutionary aspect of Illustrator 10 is the introduction of its Graphic Symbols tools. These tools reduce file size and benefit manageability in much the same way that symbols are used in Flash. Beyond that, the tools make image repetition much easier and cut down the number of steps that are needed to do the same thing manually. Any object or group can be quickly turned into a symbol, and accessing it for reuse is as simple as selecting your symbol in the Symbols palette. Updating a symbol automatically updates every instance of that symbol in your document. Eight new symbol tools on the toolbar help you manage and create quickly and easily. The Symbol Sprayer tool works very similarly to the Graphic Hose in Painter, quickly applying several instances on your artboard. Attributes such as size and angle can even be controlled by a pressure-sensitive tablet. My only gripe is that this tool is a bit slow, but perhaps it's just my meager 400 mhz processor.
Once applied to the artboard, the other symbol tools can be used to modify the instances. Quickly change the rotation, distribution, size and position of each of a group of instances—the tools are impressively intuitive. The Symbol Stainer tool applies a raster-like colorizing effect to your symbols, and the Screener tool applies eraser-like transparency effects that would make you swear you were working in Photoshop. Plus, you can use the Symbol Styler tool to apply preset or user-created styles in varying amounts to your symbols! Of course you have the option to break the link between placed symbol instances and the original if you wish to modify the objects without making a global change, but this means you lose the benefit of smaller file sizes or being able to make global symbol changes. The applications for these tools are wide and varied. Not only do they make for efficient and small files, but they also open up new creative possibilities.
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