FreeHand 9 Flash 4 Studio full review

The field of illustration software is unique in that two products, Macromedia FreeHand and Adobe Illustrator, share the market almost equally, with CorelDRAW and Deneba Canvas bringing up the rear. That two products compete on such even terms has created a situation where Illustrator and FreeHand are upgraded on an almost tit-for-tat basis, and it’s no coincidence that Adobe Illustrator 9 will follow hot on the heels of FreeHand 9. Or is it the other way around? Because of this competitive release schedule, a new version doesn’t always merit the tag. Such criticism might be levelled at FreeHand. However, Macromedia has probably done just about enough to justify the new release, and while many users will find little new of interest, this is a testament to the essential quality of the program. The studio bundles Flash 4 and FreeHand 9 with the woeful Insta-HTML that made up the numbers in the FreeHand 8 studio. This is now incorporated as part of the obligatory Publish as HTML command in FreeHand – and it’s still as useless as it was before. Flash 4 has been well covered before (August 1999), so I’ll focus on the new features in FreeHand 9. Keep it perspective
First, and most obvious – in fact, the only one that makes it onto the box art – is the perspective grids feature. While grids have traditionally always sat in the same plane as the drawing, FreeHand 9 allows you to define 1, 2 or 3 dimensional perspective grids. Vanishing points (VPs) can be controlled by manipulating the grid, as well as the setting of the horizon line. The perspective grid can by used as a spatializing guide for objects that sit in the same plane as the drawing, or to attach objects to the grid to make them part of the perspective. It’s a great way to add depth to an image, and if you have ever had to create your own perspective guides, a great timesaver and aid to accuracy. Because the VPs and horizon can be changed, any elements attached to the grid will also change accordingly – allowing greater flexibility, as well as accuracy, than the manual guidelines approach. But attaching objects to the grid is a pain, and scaling them within the grid more so, requiring use of the keyboard as well as the mouse. It’s not a great example of interface design, and I’m sure a more elegant solution could have been found. Another minor gripe is that the horizon line is always firmly fixed on the horizontal, preventing more dynamic viewpoints. Other new illustration features include a lasso tool, to aid selection of points, and an improved trace tool that, Macromedia claims, is twice as fast and more accurate than the trace facility of FH8. Macromedia is so proud of the spiral tool that it has moved it to the main toolbar. Blends have been improved to offer a greater range of objects that can be blended, including composite paths and groups. The other most important new features relate to FreeHand’s capability as an all-round document layout program. The new page tool makes it easier to add pages and manipulate elements on the pasteboard, and multiple pages are displayed at the same time. Furthermore, the new symbols library, with a symbols and instances concept similar to Flash, allows common elements to be used across pages and documents easily. Elements can also be dynamically updated – a very powerful feature. Add the export-as-PDF feature, and FreeHand is a superb page layout tool. I’m so narked by Quark and disappointed in InDesign that I’m intending to use FreeHand from now on. The Flash integration features have been improved greatly in this new release, and you can preview a document in Flash Anti-alias mode. The enhanced Export as Flash feature offers a similar range of options as the Export facility in Flash. And, it includes options to determine how elements, such as text and layers, will be handled. However, there is still no ability to export from FreeHand as native Flash (.FLA) format, or import native FreeHand (.FH9) format into Flash. It would be great to be able to maintain FreeHand layers and symbols in Flash.
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