Creative Suite 4 full review
Central to Design Premium, InDesign CS4 has received a wedge of productivity enhancements, possibly to combat the threat of a revitalised QuarkXPress 8. The first is live Preflighting, using a new dockable Preflight panel that tracks your work and alerts you to any errors in the layout while you’re in the middle of the design process, rather than at the end.
The Links panel has been rejigged to display placed files, link attributes and metadata in a collapsible tree view. Each object is displayed in thumbnail view, which can be clicked to access additional information about that link, such as scale, rotation, and resolution. Multiple instances of the same file are grouped in an expandable list and can all be updated simultaneously when the parent file is edited.
InDesign allows you to produce multiple versions of a document for different users and platforms using the new Conditional Text feature. So if you have a layout intended for publishing both in print and online, you can apply conditions to content appropriate to each version, then activate the feature when you want to edit or export the content.
Increased productivity is also the idea behind the new Rotate Spread View, which allows you to temporarily turn a document in 90-degree increments, ideal for working with vertical text elements. When aligning and resizing objects, you can now make use of Smart Guides, which are dynamically drawn when you transform an object and then disappear automatically when you stop. You can set preferences for the guides, including Smart Spacing, Smart Dimensions, and ultra-precise positioning.
Several key themes stand out in Design Premium, with the first being integration between applications, something of a tradition for Creative Suite. As well as the new ability to export a whole InDesign document as a SWF file, and embed interactive buttons, hyperlinks and page transitions in the document, you can also export in the new XFL interchange format. This means you can freely edit text and graphics between InDesign and Flash CS4.
Collaboration is another key driver here, with the asset-sharing facilities of Acrobat.com’s ConnectNow utility appearing under the guise of the Share My Screen command in several of the suite components including InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. You can work online, with immediate feedback, with up to two guests at a time for no additional service charge. Anything like a studio level service will require a subscription.
Acrobat itself has received an update of some note, with significant enhancements appearing in Acrobat 9 Pro (reviewed October 2008). One of the most noteworthy is the PDF Portfolio, which offers the ability to bring together a wide range of content into a single document. This can be customised with several professional layouts and your own branding. Acrobat Pro’s authoring environment lets you to choose the layout method that the user encounters when they open the portfolio, including carousel, basic grid or sliding row. On a related note, Adobe Reader 9 and Acrobat 9 Pro support video compatible with the Flash Player and also custom applications and widgets created in Flash.
Print professionals are also well served by a range of output preview tools. These include an Overprint Preview that intelligently activates when a PDF/X file is opened, an enhanced Output Preview featuring an Object Inspector for detailing information about assets and enhanced colour conversion, including converting RGB and rich blacks to solid black. In addition there is support for the latest PDF industry standards, new layers controls and enhanced preflight checking and corrections, including embedding a preflight audit trail.
Some of the new productivity features in InDesign, include a learning tool as well as a productivity asset, the new Preflight panel follows your progress in real time to suggest what’s required to make a correction, providing a link directly to the problem area. For example, it’ll display a red error indicator to flag up overset text, and explain how it can be fixed by enlarging your text frame. You can monitor errors across an entire document or constrain monitoring to a specific page range. It’s also possible to set up custom preflight profiles for the real-time facility to monitor.
Conditional text is another new feature, allowing you to hide or reveal content depending on the destination, without relying on layers. Once you create and apply conditions to selected text, you can use this feature to hide or show all text with this condition applied throughout your document.
The new Smart Text Reflow feature works in conjunction with Conditional text to automatically reflow the visible text and anchored objects. It can also remove or add blank pages that result from hiding or showing conditional text. On a more general basis, Smart Text Reflow also facilitates automatic addition of pages at the end of a story, selection or document when text is overset.
As with the rest of Creative Suite 4, the focus of Illustrator is on enhancing productivity. The first of these is multiple artboards that allow you to create a design once, then adapt it quickly for multiple deliverables. For example, you could create a design and work with it on independent artboards for a poster, a postcard and a T-shirt design. You then export your artboards in any supported file format as a series of automatically numbered files, or save them into one multi-page PDF file.
Transparency has been enabled for gradients, allowing you to create cover-up fades or reveal underlying objects or images. There’s no need to work with the gradient panel either, because Illustrator has introduced on-object controls that give instant visual feedback. In addition, Radial gradients are enhanced with the ability to set dimensions independently, to create an elliptical gradient of any proportion.
Illustrator CS4 features an enhanced version of Smart Guides with on-object controls, so when you arrange your new artboards you’ll be able to see size dimensions on the cursor and green horizontal and vertical lines that show alignment with adjacent objects.
This works in conjunction with the enhanced clipping mask that only displays the clipped object or group. You can edit the masking object in Isolation Mode or choose to make it visible using the Clipping Path menu options.
Last, but certainly not least, there is a completely new tool, the Blob Brush, which lets you sketch a shape freehand style using overlapping strokes. When you finish painting, these strokes are instantly merged to create one clean, unified vector object.
The heart of all the various versions of the latest Creative Suite is Photoshop CS4, which again is offered as an Extended version when bought as part of the collections.
The first change is obvious. Photoshop is now presented in a unified application frame, bounded at the top by an application bar offering new and enhanced features. This arrangement offers self-adjusting panels, which dynamically resize when you scale the application frame. A new tab-based interface above the image window allows you to switch from one open image to another, or you can choose Arrange Documents button in the Application Bar to tile the images efficiently within the frame. If you don’t like it you can turn application frame off and revert to a CS3-style interface.
Further image refinement is possible with enhancements made to the Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools. The latter gains a Vibrance setting, while Dodge and Burn can be set to protect skin tones.
Like InDesign, Photoshop has a new canvas rotation tool. Rotate View, a flyout from the Hand tool, lets you drag in the image to spin the canvas to any orientation. Rotate View uses OpenGL, as does the enhanced Zoom function, which allows for continuous and smooth zooming, while a modifier key springs the view back to a previous magnification level. Another such tool is on-the-fly brush resizing, an interactive way to adjust the hardness and diameter of a brush.
Photomerge gains new vignetting and geometric distortion corrections, as well as an option to create 360-degree panoramas and to automatically detect and correct fish-eye lens distortion.
Blending also plays a part in the new ability to stack a group of similar shots with different focal points and exposures into an image offering greatly extended depth of field.
As before, Photoshop CS Extended also offers medical enhancements. Volume rendering a DICOM stack allows medical professionals to more easily explore scans and prepare them for educational materials. The Count tool has also been expanded to allow for multiple counts, as well as resizable labels and markers in separate colours for each count.
CS4 sports new panels and enhanced workflow in the third dimension. Photoshop CS4 has a dedicated Adjustments panel, which allows one click application of Photoshop’s adjustment layers effect, complete with new layer and mask. The panel includes the new Vibrance adjustment, which gives greater control over colour saturation while preserving delicate textures such as skin tones. There’s also a wide variety of modifiable presets for each effect, including more than 20 new preconfigured, customisable starting points. Another productivity boost in this area is new on-image adjustments for Hue/Saturation and Curves.
A dedicated panel offering controls for adjusting pixel and vector masks enhances Photoshop’s powerful Masks feature – useful for applying effects to precisely defined areas of an image. Quick sliders give access to mask density and feathering adjustments and you’re also able to control both the sharpness of the mask edge and how much of the adjustment effect you’d like to reveal. Colour Range has been upgraded, letting you automatically create powerful and detailed masks based on single or multiple colours, while the new Refine Mask feature allows fine-grained control over the mask size and edges.
Adobe continues to implement 3D capabilities, with Photoshop CS4 Extended offering the ability to directly edit 3D layers without having to open texture files or navigate dialog boxes. You can merge and wrap 2D layers onto 3D models and three different lighting types can be added or edited using the 3D panel. Captions