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Adobe Illustrator

Manufacturer: Adobe Systems Incorporated
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided NewTechReview with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
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Adobe Illustrator 9 provided some significant advances for web designers by adding features such as Pixel Preview and Save For Web. Although Adobe Illustrator 10 is still not quite a full-fledged web graphics application, features like object-based and manual slicing, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and dynamic data-driven graphics bring it much further along. In addition, Illustrator 10 includes some significant new tools for graphic designers in general. These new features (such as live enveloping and symbols) make working with Illustrator delightfully easy and efficient.

Two of the most significant new features for both graphic and web designers in Illustrator 10 are support for symbols and dynamic data-driven graphics. Symbols allow you to save an object (or group of objects) as a single graphic in a symbol library. You can then place many instances of the symbol onto your canvas, all of which are connected to the original. If you make changes to the original, all the instances are updated. You can also share symbols across multiple documents. Illustrator 10 goes even further by providing symbolism tools. Using these tools, you can edit symbol instances without severing their connection to the original symbol. The tools allow you to change the density, color, location, size, rotation, transparency, or style of symbols. There is even a symbol sprayer tool that lets you ‘paint’ symbols onto your canvas in many creative ways.

Dynamic data-driven graphics bring a whole new level of efficiency and flexibility to working with Illustrator. Now if you need to design similar but not exact replicas of the same illustration, you designate it as a template. Some regions of the template can stay the same, and others can be defined as placeholders using the new Variables palette. Then by setting up links between placeholders in the template and record fields in a database, you can instantly create different variations of the same illustration by having the placeholders automatically populated by the information in the database. The only drawback is that there is no easy way to set up links between variables and an ODBC database. You need to use scripting for this task, which may be a bit overwhelming for some users.

Speaking of scripting, if you know your code, you’re going to fall in love with the new scripting support in Illustrator 10. Using one of three popular scripting languages (JavaScript, AppleScript, or Windows Visual Basic), you can automate routine tasks with access to virtually every feature that Illustrator provides. Although this sounds similar to Actions, it’s actually much more powerful because scripting allows you to use conditional logic that can actually ‘talk’ to Illustrator and make different decisions as to what should be done based on Illustrator’s response. Yes, scripting can be complex and not everyone will be able to use it, but if you have the desire, the power is there for you.

Specifically for web designers, Illustrator 10 provides new slicing tools, CSS layer support, SVG support, enhanced SWF support, and selective anti-aliasing. The new slicing tools let you slice an illustration manually or based on objects. You can also apply different formats and compression to each slice, and if you have overlapping slices, you can elect to export using CSS layers. If you use Flash, you can now generate an associated HTML page along with your SWF file. The new SVG file format can now be imported, and exported SVG files now include a fully editable Illustrator file for easy exchanges between designers and developers. And finally, individual runs of text can have their own anti-alias settings in case legibility is a problem when reading the text on the Web.

Specifically for graphic designers, Illustrator 10 provides new live enveloping, warp effects, liquify and flare tools, as well as a number of new drawing tools. With live enveloping, any path you draw can be used as an envelope to reshape objects, text, and images. The 15 customizable warp effects let you manipulate objects, text and images interactively. The liquify tools (one of my favorite new enhancements) let you easily distort objects interactively. The flare tool lets you add reflections or photorealistic lens flare effects to your images. And finally, there are new drawing tools available that allow you create lines, arcs, grids and polar grids instantly.

So the final question is, ‘should you upgrade?’ The answer to that is definitely yes. While the web capabilities of Illustrator are still a bit lacking (there’s no support for JavaScript rollovers and pop-up menus, or GIF animations), the tools the program does provide are extremely powerful. And as far as graphic designers are concerned, the symbols feature is worth the upgrade alone. Adobe continues to strive for excellence and it definitely shows in this latest incarnation of Illustrator.
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