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First Look: Adobe Illustrator CS3

New version gets Flash integration, creative tools By Dave Nagel
Amid the flurry of new applications announced today by Adobe stands good, ol', unassuming Illustrator. Now in its 13th major revision (or thereabouts, depending on how you define "major"), Adobe's original vector illustration tool continues to adopt new creative features--some borrowed from Freehand, which Adobe acquired when it bought ought Macromedia--and adapt to life in the modern computing age.

The latest release, coming in the second quarter officially, incorporates several seemingly minor creative enhancements--including drawing tools and other utilitarian features--while at the same time getting a tremendous performance boost and some additional Flash integration to boot.

Compatibility, performance, interface
We begin with the all-important compatibility features. Illustrator CS3 marks the first Universal Binary release of Illustrator, allowing it to run natively on Intel-based Mac hardware and continue to run on PowerPC-based Macs. It also gains compatibility with Windows Vista.

But the thing that stands out the most about the new release is the performance improvements that have come through the recoding process. Illustrator CS3 sees dramatic improvements in speed.

Under the hood, Illustrator has been completely revamped, providing faster scrolling, zooming and general on screen redraw--an improvement that was long overdue. It's also dramatically faster when it comes to redrawing 3D elements on screen. The performance improvements are even more pronounced on machines with multiple cores/CPUs.

I can't give you any specific performance benchmarks at the moment, as I'm still working with a beta version of Illustrator CS3, and the results would be irrelevant when it comes to the final release. Suffice to say that the speed improvements are not unnoticeable. They will scream out at you the first time you do anything complex in a document that previously would have stalled Illustrator.

And, over on the interface side of things, Illustrator adopts the new standard CS3 interface elements, like docking palettes and all the rest.

Flash integration
Those of you who use Illustrator in concert with Flash--and, from your letters, I'd say that's about 12.5 billion of you, give or take--can take heart: Now that Adobe owns Flash outright, the two applications seem to be getting along much better.

For example, it's now possible to copy out anything from Illustrator and paste it into Flash without the old problems you'd normally encounter in doing so.

By way of example, here's a live 3D cylinder in Illustrator:

and here it is pasted tidily into Flash CS3:

Now expansion or rasterization was used in the process. Flash simply takes the Illustrator object from the Clipboard, asks you how you want to interpret it, and then places it onto the stage area.

For regular vector objects, Illustrator objects pasted into Flash now maintain paths, anchor point positions, gradients and clipping masks properly. And object and layer grouping structures are also maintained.

In addition, Illustrator shapes can be saved as symbols and pasted into Flash CS3 and manipulated as symbols. (The two applications now offer similar symbol functionality.)

And, finally, text objects in Illustrator can be used in Flash and defined as "regular," "dynamic" or "input" text.

Creative features
On the creative side, Illustrator CS3 adds a few new features. The most major of these is probably the new Live Color functionality. This is essentially a suite of new color tools.

One of these is the new Color Guide palette, which provides you with color scheme suggestions based on a range of selected objects. Say, for example, that I start with a bunch of objects that have been filled with the random colors seen below. The Color Guide shows me some options for creating a more harmonic scheme for these objects (also seen below).

I can then press the Edit/Apply button, and the objects are automatically converted to a harmonious color scheme, which I can also edit on the fly.

In the color wheel of the Live Color palette, you can click and drag on the color handles, which will allow you to modify the colors while continuing to produce a harmonious color scheme. You can also, as seen below, click over to the Assign tab in the palette and manually assign new colors to your objects based on the old colors.

There are 23 predefined color scheme algorithms in Illustrator CS3, ranging from simple complements to triads, tetrads and more.

And, it's important to note, these color schemes are not fixed. They're based entirely on the colors used in the objects you've selected. And, what's more, you can limit the color scheme algorithms to select either just the swatches you're currently using in your document or groups of pre-defined swatches (using swatch palettes that you create or that ship with Illustrator, such as "Pastels, "Metals," "Foods," etc.).

There are two other enhancements to Illustrator CS3 that fall under the category of creative tools. One of them is the addition of new controls and refinements to the drawing tools. These include:

Alignment and distribution of points, based on the same Align and Distribute tools previously available only at the object level. This is a handy new feature to help bring symmetry to objects without having to create guides or perform manual measurements.

Path editing tools are now displayed in the new Control panel when you select any object with the Direct Selection tool.

And, finally, there are also some very minor enhancements to point selection, with anchor points highlighting automatically as you mouse over them.

Also new in Illustrator CS3, the Eraser tool can now be used in a manner similar to that of Freehand's Eraser tool. That is, you can click and drag with the Eraser to erase portions of objects interactively, as if you were erasing pixels in Photoshop. New paths are automatically created when you use the Eraser, as seen below, where I've simply scribbled the Eraser tool over a rectangular object.

The Eraser can be set for diameter, angle and roundness, and those parameters can be controlled dynamically using a Wacom stylus.

And the rest
Beyond these new features, Illustrator CS3 adds a few other enhancements worth noting. These include the new Control panel, a Crop Area tool and a new Isolation mode.

The Control panel we've mentioned a little bit in the context of path editing tools. But beyond path selection, this panel is context-sensitive, calling up any number of relevant parameters and sub-tools based on whatever tool you're using or object you have selected--clipping masks, envelope distortions, Live Color settings, etc. It just provides another easy way to get to the tools you're likely to need at hand in any given situation.

The Crop Area tool simply provides you with an easy way to crop your document for whatever type of output it's designed for. To create a crop area, you can select the Crop Area tool and simply click and drag on your file. Or you can double-click the tool to cal up the Crop Area palette, which includes pre-defined crop presets (such as letter-sized paper, DV NTSC video, 2k film, etc.).

And, finally, there's also a new feature called Isolation mode. This is basically designed to help you with selections of objects when working with complex documents and prevent you from editing elements of the composition that you didn't want to modify. Obviously you can already do this by locking individual objects. This method just makes it a little bit simpler. To use this feature, you just use the selection tool to double-click on a group of objects, and all other objects become uneditable. You can then leave Isolation mode by simply double-clicking elsewhere on the canvas. It's a clever feature, and one that's sure to save you (as it has me) a lot of frustration when dealing with complex artwork.

Pricing, availability
Adobe Illustrator CS3 will be available in the second quarter for $599 for the full version. Users of Illustrator 10 through CS2 can upgrade for $199. It requires a PowerPC- or Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.4.8 or higher (including 10.5) or a PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista. Upgrade pricing is available on Adobe's site.

In addition to a standalone version, Illustrator CS3 will also be available in five configurations of the Adobe Creative Suite 3: Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Production Premium and Master Collection.

The Design Premium suite includes: InDesign CS3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Illustrator CS3, Flash CS3 Professional, Dreamweaver CS3 and Acrobat 8 Professional. It will be available in April for $1,799.

The Design Standard edition includes: InDesign CS3, Photoshop CS3, Illustrator CS3 and Acrobat 8 Professional. It will sell for $1,199.

The Production Premium suite includes: After Effects CS3 Professional, Premiere Pro CS3, Encore CS3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Illustrator CS3, Flash CS3 Professional and Soundbooth CS3. It will be available in the third quarter for $1,699. Various upgrade pricing schemes are available on Adobe's site.

The Web Premium edition includes: Dreamweaver CS3, Flash CS3 Professional, Fireworks CS3, Contribute CS3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Illustrator CS3, and Acrobat 8 Professional. It will be available in April for $1,599.

And, finally, there's the Master Collection, which includes all of the new Adobe apps: InDesign CS3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Illustrator CS3, Flash CS3 Professional, Dreamweaver CS3, Contribute CS3, Fireworks CS3, After Effects CS3 Professional, Premiere Pro CS3, Soundbooth CS3, Encore CS3, Acrobat 8 Professional, OnLocation CS3 (Windows only) and Ultra CS3.

The Master Collection will be available in the third quarter for $2,499. Users of Adobe Creative Suite 1 or 2 and users of Macromedia Studio MX, MX 2004 and 8 can upgrade for $1,999. Users of more than one of those collections (say, for example, Studio 8 and Creative Suite 1) can upgrade for $1,399. other upgrades are also available. See Adobe's site for more details.

With the exception of Adobe OnLocation, all of the tools in the Creative Suite 3 packages support both Mac OS X and Windows. Most are Universal Binary, supporting both PowerPC and Intel Mac hardware, except for programs that were not previously available on the Mac (Premiere Pro, Encore, etc.), which, in their new incarnations, will run only on Intel-based Macs.

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