16 December 2008

Whats New in Adobe Illustrator CS4

The main running theme for Illustrator CS4 is usability and efficiency. Adobe has reworked tools like gradients and clipping masks that have always been a bit clunky to work with, and completely streamlined them. The interface itself follows this trend by showing off such improvements such as the Multiple Art boards and Tabbed Documents views.

Multiple Art boards

I have a feeling Adobe had me in mind when they decided to add this new feature in. When I work in Illustrator I create a new document and then start hammering away at drawing, ignoring the document size and page tiling. Next I would create rectangles of my deliverable size, let's say 960x540 pix and then lock them — these would be my guide layers that I do my layout in. Finally, I would start a new document as my final deliverable document — usually for print or export to After Effects. If you can imagine, it doesn't take long for me to have these locked guide layers and my artwork strewn all over my document.

Working with multiple artboards within a single document

With multiple artboards you can individually define working areas of varying sizes with complete freedom, all within one document. Yep, it's true. In one fell swoop Adobe solved my headache of creating multiple documents, a mess of guide layers, and multiple final / export documents. There is no longer a need to use page tiling to create multipage PDF files, and you can arrange up to 100 artboards of different sizes any way you want—tiled, overlapping or freeform. You can also create artboards within artboards, quickly set up bleeds and crop marks, and choose to show video-safe areas using preset profiles.

Transparency in Gradients

What sounds like a very simple upgrade actually has enormous potential. If you want to see how gradients are properly utilized or you are new to gradients, I would suggest checking out the great Illustrator tutorial site, Vectortuts.com. Almost all of the tutorials use gradients to add incredible lighting and depth. I think once you understand the enormous capabilities of gradients as they were in previous versions, you will see that by just adding a simple transparency option makes the capabilities of the gradient tool almost limitless. Because of this I think this is update is the single most important update to the gradient tool since, well, the gradient tool.

When you add a color to a gradient, you can now adjust its opacity as well. Its potential and uses go anywhere from simple feathering and cover-up fades to full photo-real specular lighting and shaded artwork. Also new to gradients is immediate visual feedback. No longer do you have to back and forth between the gradient panel to make adjustments. All of your adjustment sliders — gradient stops and color sliders — now appear directly on your object.

Interface is everything. I can say personally that I never got into using gradients precisely because of the problems that Adobe addressed in this new update. Going back and forth between my artwork and the gradient panel is annoying, unnatural, and just plain bad interface design. With the new immediate visual feedback system, I actually want to use gradients now, not completely try to avoid it.

Blob Brush Tool

When I got my Wacom tablet the very first thing I did was fire up Illustrator to do some drawings and hand-lettered text. Besides the support for pen pressure strokes, I didn't like it a whole lot. Actually, I really didn't like it. That's because drawing in Illustrator creates paths, which really has no analog or real parallel to actual hand drawing. Drawing a path, manipulating the path, and drawing another path but having to manipulate the old path while manipulating the new one... isn't exactly the most time efficient way to work — you end up worrying about bezier curves, stroke widths, and control points, rather than simply drawing. Adobe has addressed this with the new Blob Brush tool.

Blob Brush Tool

The Blob Brush tool generates a clean, filled, vector shape while you sketch, even when strokes overlap, merging your paths naturally into a single object that’s easily selected and edited. Now, when you draw, you don’t get the typical jumble of paths, you get an outlined and filled shape. This is a tool that you've really got to try on your own to realize its capabilities. Of course, if you are first time user, you won't have a platform to make any comparisons, but that's okay too — the Blob Brush is just plain fun to use.

Tabbed Document View

This is a very simple and straightforward new addition to Illustrator CS4, however extremely useful. Illustrator now (finally?!) was a tabbed document view. You can now navigate between multiple documents without having to tile or cascade your windows. Tabbed documents are also spring-loaded for easy copying and pasting. Simply drag a selection from your window onto a document tab, and that document pops to the front so you can paste your selection where you want.

In-Panel Appearance Editing

To me, this was such no-brainer to add to CS4 because, well, it was so obvious that the Appearance panel needed some TLC. Every time, and I do mean every time I opened up the Appearance panel, I have lamented to Illustrator, "Why oh why can't I toggle effects on and off?". Well that question is now answered in Illustrator CS4. You can now edit object characteristics directly in the Appearance panel. This improved panel shows attributes for single and multiple objects, such as fill or stroke color, which you can edit by simply clicking on the attribute—even when it’s shared among objects. Referring to my woes above, the other new function in the Appearance panel is the ability to control the display of individual attributes, simply by clicking the eye icon on and off — just like layers.

Clipping Masks Demystified

Masks in Illustrator CS4 are much easier to use, and definitely much more approachable to new users. They now function in true WYSIWYG behavior. Now, when the clipping object or group is selected, you will see only the clipped area (the visible parts of your objects). My favorite part is the ability to edit the masked object in Isolation Mode or working with it directly by making it visible using the Clipping Path menu options. As an After Effects user this method of working with masks is much more familiar and useful to me.

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