FreeHand 9 Flash 4 Studio
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.
FreeHand 9 is not the giant leap a whole new version would suggest. There are a lot of minor, but needed, enhancements and new features. These add up a to a good upgrade, and for new users, the best program of its kind. But, FreeHand can go further. Closer Flash integration and better Web publishing are surely within Macromedia’s capabilities.