Creative Suite 2 full review

Last month Macworld ran the preview of Adobe Creative Suite 2, but as we don’t rate pre-release software, we’ve taken another, more critical look at the finished product.

Bridge (3.5 stars) and Acrobat
This replacement for the File Browser integrates with most of the tools in the Creative Suite, as well as being a standalone application on its own. It goes further however, by allowing images and other file types to be drag-&-dropped into suite applications, with previews. There is an integrated RSS reader, and Adobe Tips box, but Bridge also gives access to the new Adobe Stock Photos. Here designers can browse the world’s largest royalty-free picture libraries and find a watermark-free comp, which when approved can be purchased and downloaded. While Bridge will make a huge impact on workflow, especially when using it as a hub for working between Suite apps, the impact Stock Photos will have on picture research services and the royalty-free industry will be just as great.

Bridge provides access to a systemwide colour-management tool. This is simple to use and finally ensures consistent colour in all documents used in a project, no matter what the application. In a similar manner, all applications offer consistent PDF creation across the suite, which leads us onto Acrobat 7.0 Pro.

This was released before the rest of the suite, so Bridge compatibility is not built in. However, as Macworld has already reviewed the full standalone version (mmmmh; January 2005, it’s still far easier to create Adobe PDF files, review documents, and create high-end output, as well note the enhanced print production and collaboration tools.

InDesign CS2 (4 stars)
InDesign is really giving Quark a run for its money, and will edge ahead with this CS2 release. As well as taking full advantage of Bridge’s colour management, you can also now define and share colour swatches between applications in a job workflow. InDesign CS2 also offers a safe CMYK option for automatic RGB to CMYK conversion in PDF documents.

One of the biggest features, though, is the use of Adobe Bridge to drag-&-drop assets into InDesign layouts and organize content with ease. Page elements can be exported as smart Snippets that recreate component objects, complete with formatting and page position. Another formatting winner is Object Styles, designed to keep consistency in page-production tasks by the use of stylesheets for objects. Working in conjunction with this is the ability to reserve specific baseline rules for text frames, which can then be embedded in the Object Style for the text box.

Use of styles is further strengthened by the Quick Apply shortcut and the Apply Next Style command, which allows styles to remember the following style. Sounds confusing, yes, but this means that you can apply a whole cascading succession of preset styles to a page simply by applying the headline style. Adobe has got this clever little feature spot on, especially so for magazine designers, who will no doubt now be able to head home much earlier on press day.

Another rather useful feature is the improved import and handling of native PSD and PDF files. Visibility for layers in these imported files can be switched on and off, even for layer comps in Photoshop files. This is a boon for designers looking to quickly prepare alternate versions of a layout for clients or if you simply need to composite layer effects for an image. Sadly native Illustrator file support hasn’t followed suit.

Text support has also been revitalized with this release, with a welcome streamlining of the spellchecker and dictionary management as well as the addition of drag-&-drop text and the ability to paste text without formatting. Anchored objects, including text, also make life much easier, with the ability to flip position and any applied text wrap in relation to its orientation to the spine of the page.

As for the rest of the new text features, the WYSIWYG font menu is overdue as is the enhanced Word file handling, but both are welcome. XML support is also much enhanced, which has a wider impact for scripting and for exporting material further down the workflow. The text reforms were a long time coming, but the enhanced Styles and new Snippets make InDesign CS2 a worthy upgrade on their own.

Illustrator CS2 (4 stars)
Illustrator CS2 is dominated by the excellent Live Trace feature where you can scan in line-art or import bitmap photos, then see them instantly converted into editable and scaleable vector paths. The similarity to the Abobe-monickered (but never fully owned) Streamline is obvious, but Live Trace goes further, with more options and ways to fine-tune them.

There’s much tighter integration with Photoshop, including support for layer comps so you can import variations on Photoshop artwork into Illustrator. You can also apply Photoshop filters and effects using the built-in Photoshop Filters Gallery and Effects Gallery (effects are non-destructive, while filters change the underlying artwork, just like in Photoshop).

Less jazzy, but still worthy is the power to adapt the placement of strokes to suit your style and your projects, aligning the stroke relative to the inside, outside or centre of the path. Then there are new type enhancements and extended support for using spot colour to enhance greyscale images and drop shadows, as well as previewing and printing them accurately.

With Macromedia soon to be absorbed by the Adobe buy-out, the days of the FreeHand vs. Illustrator race are over, so the next focus must be to see how the fortunes of rival vector-media formats SVG and Flash play out. Much rides therefore on the support Illustrator now provides for SVG 1.1 and its derivatives for rich mobile applications (SVG Tiny (SVG-t) and SVG Basic). This version of Illustrator also ships with an SVG Viewer plug-in for Web browsers, ensuring previews within the workflow.

This is still a bit of a slim upgrade compared to Photoshop, though the standout features detailed here are real gems and it’s a far superior beast to the first Creative Suite version. The mobile SVG support alone is going to bring a whole new market to Illustrator, especially when combined with the Live Trace and Live Paint features and the suite integration with GoLive CS2.

GoLive CS2 (3.5 stars)

Adobe’s support for authoring Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) has been much improved in this incarnation of GoLive. While CSS Web sites are often visually rich and feature smaller file sizes, increased accessibility and simplified maintenance, the hand coding usually puts designers off. So the provision of the dedicated CSS editor is to be welcomed. New selection and editing tools aid the layout of the CSS content containers (DIVs) while writing the underlying code simultaneously. Designers need not fear coding again – there’s even the facility to drag-&-drop CSS block objects to quickly create pages. However you can also switch to a split view of code alongside the layout window.
As mentioned above, GoLive CS2 has greater authoring support for mobile authoring (including support for SMIL 3GPP, MPEG-4 and SVG-related, content) and includes a dedicated rendering engine for accurate preview of content, also scaleable to mobile devices It also supports direct import of InDesign content to create cutting-edge XHTML Web pages. While it has less new features than some parts of the suite, designers and those in the mobile space in particular, will find GoLive CS2 a more agreeable and flexible authoring tool than before.

Photoshop CS2 (5 stars)
Last of all, but the first thing many users of the suite will turn to for new features, is Photoshop – and they won’t be disappointed.

As we discovered last issue, the standout new feature of the world’s favourite image editor is Vanishing Point, a way to use the Photoshop clone and heal tools on other planes than normal. This new filter is simple enough to use when there is a perspective grid already in place, but if you need to start from scratch, you have to make sure it’s set up properly. Dragging the grid to form the new plane in the wrong direction can find the cloned elements acting unexpectedly, for example flipping horizontally for no reason. Luckily the filter controls have options to remedy this behaviour, but it does slow up what is meant to be a time-saving tool. That said, the benefits of Vanishing Point, such as the luminance matching and text handling capabilities far outweigh this relatively minor niggle.

Vanishing Point and Image Warp will bring new ways to incorporate 3D-style graphics and new depth to 2D design, but a major boon to 3D modellers also makes its debut with Creative Suite 2. The facility to create images with a high dynamic range (HDR) which is shared between Photoshop and Adobe Bridge lends itself well to create textures for image-based lighting in 3D modelling and rendering applications. It’s a simple process, too: if you’ve a series of pictures of one scene with bracketed exposures, it automatically combines them to form a perfectly exposed composite. This has the wider appeal of producing 32-bit images that can handle extremes of highlight and shade and display greater detail in both. Similarly the greater support for handling Camera RAW images, including a preview to adjust highlight clipping, means that professionals now have even more control over this digital darkroom facility.

Several new tools aimed at the general user such as Red Eye Removal, Spot Healing Brush and Smart Sharpen are excellent additions to the Photoshop toolbox and are very easy to use. Needing more experimentation, but no less effective in fixing common image errors are the new noise reduction, shadow/highlight and optical lens correction filters. There’s also a new direction in data-driven graphics using Variables, which with no programming required, brings yet another rather esoteric practice to the mainstream. Meanwhile once you use Smart Guides, you’ll never align objects in any other way. With this upgrade then, Photoshop definitely remains outstanding in its field.

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