I had previously skimmed the surface of Adobe Illustrator CS4 in an overview of the Adobe CS4 Master Collection. Looking deeper, it is very apparent just how much of an important upgrade this version is, especially for those looking for an easier way to work in Adobe Illustrator.
Illustrator has long been an industry leader for work in vector graphics, and continues righteously on this path in Illustrator CS4. And as Adobe continually adds new features and improved functionality, Illustrator is broadening its user base to include folks who may not have previously considered adding this application to their digital toolset.
So, we'll take a look first at one of the strongest points to consider for an upgrade - workflow. From there, we'll look at other impressive features this time around in Illustrator CS4.
The first thing you may notice, is that the interface looks very familiar, as it has a look that is consistent with other CS apps. Also notice how much area there is available to work in just by reducing the panels to an icon strip to the side. Just a click to the appropriate icon, and that particular panel springs right out. What is really cool, is that you can quite smartly drag an object you want to edit, for example, right to the appropriate icon, and hold it there until the panel swings out and drop it in. This is absolutely beautiful if you are using a tablet.
Oh, and I must mention the 'workspace switcher'! As in other CS4 apps, there is a drop-down that allows you to change the look/layout of the workspace. So, for instance, say you are coming from experience in Freehand, you can just switch over to that workspace type. Of course, you can even save your own custom workspace as well.
Now, there is that one killer feature that apparently many folks have been screaming for - multiple Artboards! What this means is that you can now have multiple artboards in a single document. Pretty groovy, eh? Further, using the new artboard tool, you can easily create, edit and efficiently arrange your artboards. You can also easily navigate your artboards in the artboard navigator at the bottom of the workspace, and quickly zoom into the artboard you want to work in.
If you are working in several documents, the new tabbed document feature is really nice. But also notice that there is an 'arrange documents' feature that allows you to quickly change the way documents are displayed, such as if you want to be able to readily see all documents at once in the workspace. The options here include tiling and various other displays from 2-up to 6-up configurations, which is really nice for a quick change to a better working layout.
There is a new tool included in Illustrator CS4 that many will find quite cool. It is the new Blob Brush tool. This tool, with its own multitude of options, is fairly straight forward and easy to use. Now you can easily paint in Illustrator, without the anchor/control points getting in the way. Also, with it brush strokes are immediately merged with the underlying work, so you don't end up with a bunch of separate painted objects. It's a lot like the Calligraphy brush, but without anchors, and know that it is still painting in vectors, not pixels.
What I found especially cool and very useful, is the new on-object gradient controls. So, check this out - all you have to do is select an object and click on the gradient tool. You'll then see a gradient bar with controls appear directly on the selected object. You can also adjust the area affected by the gradient. There is now the additional ability to apply transparency with gradients as well, say for a smooth fade transition, for example.
There is another feature concerning selections, that is very useful, and that is something called isolation mode. If you select an object, you can right-click for a menu and choose "isolation." You'll then notice that everything else is dimmed somewhat, so your selection is clearly at the forefront. Now also, while in isolation mode, there is a "breadcrumb trail" of sorts at the top of the artboard, so that you can see where the selection is nested within the layers, and can easily click back through these breadcrumbs to another point.
The Appearance Panel has been enhanced - very nice! You can now make adjustments on objects much more easily, and immediately see the results.
One final thing I should point out is the Kuler Panel that is available in Illustrator CS4. I absolutely love this feature. You can check out many different color schemes that might suit your project. You'll find some immediately available in the panel, and can sort by rating, what's new, etc., or even enter a search term to find others. You can also view color schemes online, and have the opportunity to share some of your very own with others in the Kuler community.
A couple additional items to note are the newly enhanced smart guides, as well as a better ability to edit clipping masks.
On the whole, what I have seen makes this a very worthy upgrade from CS3, and a must have for folks using earlier versions. The workflow enhancements are absolutely wonderful, but the additional editing features and capabilities really shine in Illustrator CS4. Throw in the new Blob Brush tool and the artboard features, and you have no reason not to consider looking into Illustrator CS4.
For more information, as well as pricing and availability, please visit: www.adobe.com.
Special note: A must to check out is Adobe TV, where you can find an abundance of tutorials and tips to make your work easier in Illustrator, as well as other Creative Suite applications. Especially note the new "Everyday Timesavers" videos that provide much helpful information in short video clips that will serve well to help get any job done. And if you have a video tutorial of your own to share, please consider posting to the Renderosity Video Center.
Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, writer, and Managing Editor for Renderosity's Front Page News.
April 20, 2009
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