Adobe Illustrator 10 full review

Adobe’s first full Mac OS X-native application has finally hit the shelves. Just as we revealed in our preview in the November 2001 issue, Illustrator 10 introduces some highly innovative ideas, deceptively powerful automation features, and a valuable clutch of fresh tools and functions. In this era of upgrades for upgrading’s sake, Illustrator 10 really does bring something new to the mix. Given that the package has been upgraded many times in its history, it’s not easy to summarize the state of play before this latest release in just a few sentences. Over the years, Illustrator has built up a powerful – if highly complex – tool and feature set for PostScript-clean graphic design. It has brought many clever concepts to the market, such as the ability to apply Photoshop-filter effects to placed images on an Illustrator page, a Pixel Preview working mode for those creating Web graphics, and the ability to create designer graphs and charts from numeric data. Playing catch-up
Even when Adobe doesn’t come up with the best ideas, the company is pretty good at catching up and then going one better on the competition. This is certainly the case with Illustrator 10’s support for Mac OS X: the interface is beautiful, leaving FreeHand 10 looking rushed and clunky by comparison. You can, of course, still run Illustrator 10 under Mac OS 9, but you’d be missing out. You don’t need to run Illustrator 10 under Classic Mode in order to drag-&-drop to and from Photoshop 6.0 with full layer support. Adobe has handled the crossover brilliantly. As we explained in our beta review, the killer feature of the new release is something Adobe calls “symbolism”. A symbol in any other illustration package is basically a template graphic sitting in a library palette to which copies in the layout are linked. You drag-&-drop multiple copies of the graphic onto the page so that when you edit the original, all the rest update automatically. At last, you can now do this in Illustrator 10. Symbolism
You also get eight new tools devoted to the symbolism concept. There’s a Sprayer tool for pouring multiples of your selected symbol onto the page as a randomized group. You can then drag with the Shifter tool to nudge them around and the Scruncher to pull them closer together, the Sizer to grow and shrink them, and the Spinner to rotate them. You apply the tools by click-&-dragging over the artwork like brushes, affecting only the symbols within the group that you actually drag over. Then you can start playing with the Stainer to recolour them, the Screener to apply transparency, and the amazing Styler to gradually apply a different appearance to the symbols based on selections in the Styles palette. It sounds awkward, but playing with the Symbol tools is very easy, highly intuitive and extremely satisfying. You can produce complex artwork comprising multiple objects in random arrangements in a short space of time. No other design package offers anything quite like it. Illustrator has also been bolstered with a number of welcome additions to the program’s Web-design features. It’s now possible to mark-up layouts for slicing just as if you were working within Photoshop or ImageReady. The advantage of doing it within Illustrator, of course, is that graphics remain vector-based and re-editable at all times. Web output
You can apply the slice boxes manually, drop a mesh of boxes over an area like a table, or use selected objects as the basis for an automatic slice set. This last approach means that when you move the objects around, the slices shift and reshape themselves accordingly. This slicing feature was unpredictable in the beta, but has now been fixed. However, it’s still a bit fiddly, and it can be difficult to fully understand which slices are real and which are just ghosts – and indeed, why there is a distinction at all. Assigning URL links and unique naming and optimization settings to particular slices is also fussy – Deneba’s Canvas 8 handles this far better. As expected, Adobe has enhanced Illustrator’s support for the open SVG (scalable vector graphic) format for vector images and animations on the Web. Illustrator 10 can open up the SVG format as well as export to it, and you can embed a number of live filter effects. For example, if you design an SVG to incorporate some text that a Web-site visitor has typed into a form, you can embed filters to give that live text a soft drop-shadow, or apply a blur over the top. That’s not to say designing SVGs is an easy business, since you’ll still need to understand scripting (or at least be handed a bunch of scripts from a developer colleague) to build any interactivity into the graphics. By contrast, not much has been done to upgrade Illustrator’s Flash SWF export filter. Sure, you can export symbols to reduce file size, control looping, and produce an HTML wrapper for Flash sequences, but it still lags behind the Flash-generation features in FreeHand 10, which themselves are far from comprehensive. In the wider field of vector design, Adobe has played catch-up with the competition once again – this time, with regard to envelopes. An envelope is a bounding box around an object or group of objects; as you manipulate the shape of the envelope, its entire contents are reshaped accordingly. Simple envelopes can apply a 3D-perspective to artwork, or create a fish-eye appearance, or any manner of bent and barrelled manipulations. But Illustrator 10 can work with more-complex envelope shapes too, and even lets you use any closed vector-object you’ve drawn as a custom envelope, into which other artwork can be pasted to produce an instant deformation. Pushing the envelope
Most striking of all is the Mesh Warp envelope, which drops not just a bounding box around the selected shapes, but a grid of vector handles over the top as well. It looks exactly like Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh feature – but instead of dragging around the grid handles to adjust the mix of colours inside an object, you do so to distort the interior shapes of the selection, and it’s done independently from the outer envelope. Another clever touch is the way everything inside an envelope is affected in a predictable way, whether it’s a collection of vectors, bitmaps, or a mixture of both. Even texture, pattern and hatch fills, not to mention line thicknesses, can be set to distort along with the shapes. Another example of Adobe bringing Illustrator into line with other professional-design applications is its fresh treatment of compound shapes. Previously, you could build complex artwork by compounding simpler objects by using various Pathfinder combinations such as Trim, Crop and Intersect – but it was a one-way trip. With the upgrade, you can now continue to manipulate the component objects independently and, if necessary, separate them back to their individual elements again. For example, if you compound a logo with a background in order to knock a logo-shaped hole through it, everything remains re-editable – the hole can be moved around, and you can release the compound pair at any time. A clutch of additional tools also make their debut in Illustrator 10. The basic Line tool has been complemented with a CAD-like Arc tool for drawing precise bézier-free point-to-point curves, and there’s a Spiral tool. There are two tools for creating instant grids – Rectangular and Polar (circular) – which can save hours off when trying to lay out intersecting criss-cross lines. There’s even a dedicated Flare tool for producing antialiased vector-based camera lens-flare effects, although it’s something you may use once and never again.
Old and new
Best of all the new tools is a familiar but unlikely addition: the Magic Wand. In a photo-editing package, you’d use a Magic Wand tool for selecting areas of similar colour. This is pretty much what it does in Illustrator 10 as well, but with a few extra abilities. As well as being able to select all objects of a particular colour – or similar colour within a tolerance level that you set – the tool can be used to restrict its search for fill colours or stroke colours independently or in combination, plus stroke weight. You can even use it to select all objects in a piece of artwork that conform to similar transparency values and blending modes (multiply, screen, overlay, and so on). The Magic Wand is certainly an interesting and largely intuitive approach to locating lost objects in a complex layout. For example, if you had designed some print advertisements that make various uses of a company’s corporate Pantone colour, and then the company subsequently decided to change it to a new Pantone reference, all you have to do to make the change is use the Magic Wand to select all instances of that colour. Finally, Illustrator 10 introduces the concept of data-driven graphics, allowing artwork to be scripted to link to external databases. A typical example might be where you have been asked to prepare business cards or photo-ID cards for 500 people in a big company. By scripting on-page links to names, contact details and photos held in a database, you can lay out one version of the card and let Illustrator auto-generate the other 499. The trick, of course, is that you need to learn scripting, but at least Illustrator 10 keeps to JavaScript and AppleScript standards; you may know enough already to get using the data-driven features immediately. The limitation is that this mailmerge-like feature is currently intended only for creating documents, and is not a full solution for creating variable-data PDFs, for example, which might pick up the data at the moment of printing on a digital press. Illustrator 10’s other main limitation, which has hamstrung the program since version 1.0, is its insistence on a single-page methodology. At a time when FreeHand, CorelDraw and Canvas have each supported multipage documents for many years, Illustrator’s one-page wonder is frustrating at times. You can create superb Web-page layouts, for example, but only one per document, rather than multiple pages complete with links between them.
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