Adobe Illustrator CS5 review

Illustrator CS5 brings a new dimension to vector graphics – literally, as it now offers grids and tools that allow you to draw shapes and scenes in accurate 1-, 2-, and 3-point linear perspectives (offering scenes with one, two and three vanishing points respectively).

The heart of this is the new Perspective Grid tool that supports drawing directly on planes of true perspective. Grids can be applied and adjusted simply by dragging grid handles. Objects can be moved, scaled, duplicated, and transformed dynamically in perspective. An onscreen widget indicates the active plane and allows you to easily move and duplicate objects from one plane to another. The Perspective Object control bar offers an Edit Text button for changing perspective type, and an isolation mode so you don’t disturb anything else. The concept and the grid setup may seem complex, but working in these extra dimensions is very straightforward and delivers powerful results.

Quick on the draw

The Drawing enhancements don’t end there. For example, the new Draw Inside mode automatically creates a mask from selected objects, so you can place a photo within live editable text with no need to create a clipping mask first. You can then update or edit the text without disturbing the image inside. Meanwhile, the Draw Behind mode enables creation of new artwork underneath any selected object, exactly where you want in the stacking order.

The new Bristle Brush brush tip options allow customisation of tip shape, bristle density and paint opacity, plus natural-looking paint strokes and blending in a traditional manner. The Bristle Brush works particularly well in conjunction with the Draw Inside mode to allow you to paint as loosely as you wish inside the masked shape. The effects can be sensational, with very little effort other than defining the original element to be masked. You can also brush along text shapes to create scrubby or soft-edged type that retains the scalability of vector graphic strokes.

The shape of things to come

On the subject of strokes, CS5 offers five significant updates. You can finely control dashes and arrowheads, as well as how brushes stretch along a path; improvements in corner handling mean that stroke shapes behave predictably in tight angles or around sharp points. The Width tool can be used to draw strokes with variable widths that you can adjust at any point. You can add width-control points wherever you want them, and moving them around to create an infinite variety of shapes. Custom width profiles can be saved and reapplied to any stroke.

Productivity boosts also go to the Shape Builder tool. It lets you merge objects merely by click-dragging over a group, while holding down Option subtracts areas in the same fashion. The Shape Builder includes interactive colour selection for quickly filling closed or partially closed areas of artwork, automatic gap detection, and the option to fill new shapes automatically.

Adobe has firmly set Illustrator within the web workflow, sharing symbols more faithfully with Flash Professional and offering round-trip design and editing with CS5’s new Flash Catalyst. Nine-slice scaling is a useful web-focused feature. It enables symbols and other elements to be resized while maintaining proportions in areas that need it most, such as the corners of boxes and text.

To create precise, clean artwork you can use the Align To Pixel Grid feature, which ensures that objects are automatically nudged to the closest pixel edge when you create them or apply transformations. Clean text for bitmap images intended for the web and mobile devices is likewise more achievable, now that four anti-aliasing options – Sharp, Crisp, Strong, and Smooth are included in the Character Panel.

OUR VERDICT

This is the most creative version of Illustrator yet. The artistic potential of game-changers like true perspective design, the Shape Builder and the Bristle Brush are matched by the productivity gains provided by enhancements to drawing modes, stroke handling and artboards. Designers of any stripe will find something to like here.

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