Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

With the release of Creative Suite 4, Illustrator has benefited from a number of the tools developed by Adobe Labs, such as the community-based swatches utility Kuler. Kuler is now integrated into the application and works in conjunction with Live Color to create quick colour variations.

One big change is the use of artboards. A dedicated toolset is activated when you work in Artboard mode, allowing you to drag artboards with or without content intact, or create new artboards at preset sizes. You can create new custom artboards by clicking on an object to bind it with an artboard, or simply by drawing a rectangle on a blank area of the canvas. The latter method prompts Smart Guides to appear, lines that show alignment with adjacent objects and display size dimensions on your cursor. This new artboard feature will allow you to quickly create a number of deliverables from one design, allowing up to 100 artboards. It will prove to be a real timesaver, as will the ability to export the artboards as one multi-page PDF or as a series of automatically numbered files.

You can also import Illustrator’s multiple artboards into InDesign CS4 if you’re running Design Premium. A dialog allows you to select only the artboard you want to place in your InDesign layout, matching the artwork bleed with the layout bleed. A similar path exists for Flash CS4 and Photoshop CS4, while Bridge now previews individual artboards in Illustrator files.

Illustrator introduced isolation mode in CS3, enabling you to segregate parts of a layout to work on. In CS4 it’s been enhanced with a breadcrumb trail to navigate through the layers of groups above the object you’re working on. It also supports more object types, including compound paths, gradient mesh objects and images.


The new Blob Brush offers free-form drawing or sketching, creating new paths as it goes. It works in a similar fashion to the eraser, though it offers more options. Both tools are well suited for tablet and pressure-sensitive pen work.

The Gradient panel has been revamped, now offering a quick menu of saved gradients and access to swatches and colour panels. However, a greater enhancement to gradients is the ability to enter different opacity values for the various colour stops on your gradient. This makes it good for creating gradients with a fade in or out effect. An on-object control for gradients gives instant visual feedback as you adjust the settings. Furthermore, radial gradients can now set dimensions independently and it’s possible to create an elliptical gradient of any proportion.

Like InDesign and the other components of Design Premium, Illustrator CS4 supports multiple documents, opening them in tabs or displaying them in preset configurations on the Application Frame. Panels are now spring-loaded, so an object dragged onto the Symbol icon is automatically added to the library. Transparency can be applied in the same drag-and-drop fashion. Spring-loaded behaviour is also evident when dragging objects between tabbed documents, allowing instant pasting. Symbols and swatches can be handled in the same way.

A new panel offers a separations preview, which allows you to display spot colours in the document and preview the effect overprinting or the absence of an ink will have on the colour-separated print output. It’s especially good for preview blends and transparency, but is offered for CMYK documents only.

The Appearance panel now displays buttons at the bottom for Add New Stroke, Add New Fill and Add New Effect, and is generally more powerful all round. By clicking on an attribute, then choosing Select➝Same➝ Appearance Attribute to select all the objects in your artwork with that same appearance applied, you can edit one attribute via its hyperlink and see the change instantly repeated in multiple objects. You can also use the eye icons in the panel to temporarily turn off shared attributes across groups, which is useful for hiding complex, rendered effects that are slowing down your work.

The Graphic Styles feature and panel have also been improved, with large previews available by hitting the control key when selecting the style. Editing styles has become a lot easier thanks to the appearance panel enhancements and there’s a new library of pre-built styles that can be added without replacing any fills.

OUR VERDICT

Illustrator has received a major boost in productivity features with this release and it’s hard to see anyone reminiscing over CS3 once they’ve worked with the enhanced gradients and appearances in CS4. The blob brush is useful, but support for multiple artboards in both workflow and export will provide real benefits.

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