Category Archives: Illustration

Anime Studio Pro 9 Released

Anime Studio 9 Pro box

Today, SmithMicro announced the release of Anime Studio 9 for Mac and PC. Anime Studio is an animation application that emphasizes frame-based cartoon animation and illustration, 3D character and scene animation, and animating bone rigging. According to the press release, “Anime Studio 9 boasts a dramatically revamped timeline, 64-bit architecture and GPU acceleration for increased speed and memory, with new advanced features that make it easier than ever to create quality 2D animations.”

I think Anime Studio 9 fills the frame-based animation niche that used to be serviced by Adobe Flash until that application began to focus on its ActionScript programming language and developer community. Adobe Edge Animate and Anime Studio are the applications that now remind me most of the old Flash, but Anime Studio also emphasizes rigging, 3D animation on a 2D stage, and cartoon-style animation.

Version 9 of Anime Studio Pro has some welcome improvements:

  • Performance enhancements such as 64-bit architecture and acceleration through Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).
  • Motion graphs are now editable in the Timeline, which means animations can be tweaked with Bézier curves for precise control.
  • Multi-touch tablet support for the latest generation of Wacom multi-touch tablets like the Bamboo, Cintiq and the latest Intuos tablets.
  • Smart Bones, which is the most visible improvement of the bunch. Smart Bones maintain object forms while being manipulated, avoiding bizarre distortions around joints.
  • An updated Character Wizard for creating and customizing characters, including riggings and walk cycles.
  • A Smart Tool Palette for improved tool organization.
  • Enhanced Drawing Tools for smarter drawing and less need to draw precisely.
  • The Texture Budget memory management tool, which downsizes images if your computer runs out of resources.
  • You can now stop an animation on a specific keyframe for a specified time.
  • Built-in word balloons.

Motion paths

The Timeline’s Motion Graphs are editable with Bézier curves, making transitions and easing a lot more precise. This is a feature that has been in Flash for two or three versions now.

Smart Bones can also work as “master” objects that can animate other objects, which allows for intriguing possibilities. In the demo, my SmithMicro contact showed a character that was given multiple animated characteristics (blinking eyes, jumping legs, moving arms). Each animated element was paired with a Smart Bone off the stage, which itself could be animated to make the character elements animate. The end result was an off-stage user interface for animating the character, which can be a great time-saver in complex animations. It made me think how a future Anime Studio might weave this technology into an “animation wizard” in a future version.

Smart bones

New in version 9: Smart Bones can be rigged up with animated elements in other characters, producing a simple user interface for animating the object.

Anime Studio 9 also works pretty well with other applications. My contact at SmithMicro commented that many pro users bring their Anime Studio renders into Adobe’s After Effects or Premiere Pro for extra effects like motion blur. Conversely, Anime Studio Pro 9 also imports 3D scenes and characters from Poser, another SmithMicro app devoted to creating 3D elements, and layered Photoshop files. But even though Anime Studio Pro can use 3D assets, the application does not support depth (z-axis), lighting or shading. Drop shadows and other effects can mimic 3D effects.

Art

The quality of artwork coming out of Anime Studio Pro 9 projects is impressive.

As with previous versions, Anime Studio 9 is available in the entry-level Debut package or the Pro package for professionals. Debut users can open files created in Pro but won’t have some Pro features such as actions, Smart Bones and 3D capabilities. Debut also has a maximum render resolution of 720×720 pixels and a maximum video length of two minutes.

I received my copy of Anime Studio Pro 9 just recently so a review of the product will be published in a few weeks. In particular, I want to test how the Anime Studio works with the multi-touch Wacom Bamboo tablet. Keep reading for more news!

MotionArtist Announced, Beta Release for Producing Interactive Graphic Novels

Last week, Smith Micro announced the release of MotionArtist, an application designed for creating interative graphic novels and comic books for online, mobile and tablet readers. MotionArtist is available now as a beta release, and in about a year it will retail for approximately $50. The press release is below.


PRESS RELEASE

Introducing the Easiest Way to Create Digital Comics and Interactive Graphic Novels – MotionArtist by Smith Micro

  • For graphic novelists, comic creators, or anyone wishing to create animated presentations and photo shows
  • Offers truly simple animation, panel creation tools and HTML5 export
  • Download free Beta version at motionartist.smithmicro.com

SAN DIEGO, CA – July 11, 2012 – Smith Micro Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: SMSI) Productivity and Graphics Group today announced the beta release of MotionArtist®, a new version that bridges the gap between comic creators and their readers. With the MotionArtist version users can add motion to their comics, create interactive HTML5 presentations as well as uniquely styled photo-shows. International Comic-Con 2012 attendees will be the first to see MotionArtist’s new approach to layout, animation and adding interactivity at Smith Micro’s booth #5353.

MotionArtist is a composition and presentation application unlike anything that exists in the world of digital comic creation,” said Steve Yatson, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Smith Micro Software, Inc. “It’s a simple solution to a very complicated set of problems that introduces a new approach to animation. We provide the platform – from there, professional artists or everyday users can really let their creativity run wild.”

The MotionArtist version combines cutting-edge tools with a truly simple user experience, creating a highly versatile solution that appeals to a wide range of users, from hardcore comic creators to anyone who loves to share their favorite photos, including:

  • Graphic novelists – Create amazing interactive animated comics and presentations with state-of-the-art technology, such as GPU acceleration for a lightning fast work environment and 3D layering for that cool parallax effect
  • Traditional comic creators – Artists of any skill-level can quickly convert their work into digital comics with panel creation, layout tools and the ability to add motion
  • Web developers – Export projects to HTML5 and deploy on your favorite website or save as standard movie formats and share your comics and presentations directly to Facebook or YouTube
  • Photographers – Create fun, animated “photo shows” by dropping in a folder of images; MotionArtist will automatically place the images on the stage and animate the camera

Poser capture in MotionArtist

MotionArtist is an awesome animation and interactivity product that was clearly conceived with comic creators in mind,” said Brian Haberlin, co-artist and co-writer of the multi-media sci-fi adventure saga Anomaly. “With MotionArtist you can create panel-based comics, add animation and export in common file formats without being locked into a specific format or being required to use a particular service. You can even export as a common video format or, more importantly, HTML5.”

Key MotionArtist version Features:

  • HTML5 export – Save out as HTML5 with interactive navigation or export as standard video files and share on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Comic style panel creation – Create panels of just about any shape. Go back and resize, duplicate, rotate, align and cut at any time.
  • Word balloons & dynamic text – Vector based balloons, thought bubbles, dialogue boxes and text can easily be added and edited at any time
  • Arrange in 3D – add layered 3D depth to your panels and presentations for that cool parallax effect
  • Motion – A new approach to animation for non-animators. We’ve hidden the technical stuff and brought the animation process forward in an intuitive visual manner
  • Photo shows – Simple creation of photo presentations through automated object placement and camera movement
  • Working modes and views – Creation and animation workflow is laid out with comic creators in mind

Pricing and Availability:

Download MotionArtist for free during its beta availability direct from the Smith Micro online store at: motionartist.smithmicro.com.

Comic composition in MotionArtist

About Smith Micro Software, Inc. – Productivity and Graphics Group:

Based in Santa Cruz, Calif., the Smith Micro Software Productivity and Graphics Group produces award-winning software that inspires consumer creativity and enables efficiency. The group’s creative suite of programs provides artists of all skill levels – from novice to professional – with the tools to illustrate, animate and create 2D and 3D art. Some of the Productivity and Graphics Group’s award-winning creative and utilities products include Poser, Anime Studio, Manga Studio and StuffIt. For more information, please visit: www.smithmicro.com.

Safe Harbor Statement:

This release contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties, including without limitation, forward-looking statements relating to the company’s financial prospects and other projections of its performance, the existence of new market opportunities and interest in the company’s products and solutions, and the company’s ability to increase its revenue and regain profitability by capitalizing on these new market opportunities and interest and introducing new products and solutions. Among the important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements are changes in demand for the company’s products from its customers and their end-users, new and changing technologies, customer acceptance and timing of deployment of those technologies, new and continuing adverse economic conditions, and the company’s ability to compete effectively with other software companies. These and other factors discussed in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its filings on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements contained in this release are made on the basis of the views and assumptions of management regarding future events and business performance as of the date of this release, and the company does not undertake any obligation to update these statements to reflect events or circumstances occurring after the date of this release.

Smith Micro, the Smith Micro logo and MotionArtist are trademarks or registered trademarks of Smith Micro Software, Inc. All other trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

Adobe Releases Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud

Adobe announced today the release of Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and the Adobe Creative Cloud, representing the latest in the company’s lineup of applications for creative professionals. They will be available for purchase in May.

Both products had been previously announced—Creative Cloud was first announced back in October at Adobe MAX—and there are many official and unofficial “sneak peek” videos online of new CS6 features. Some applications have also been available as public betas, including Photoshop CS6 (1 million downloads as of this writing), Edge and Muse (over 1 million downloads each). Despite this early exposure, the creative community seems more excited over this release than some previous Creative Suite releases and the response to the public betas have been very positive. The Photoshop CS6 beta has been downloaded more than any in Adobe’s history.

The Creative Cloud structure

Adobe Creative Cloud is a response by Adobe to the changing nature of software and online services. It’s become clear that large version releases every 18 to 24 months is an anachronism compared to bug fixes pushed over the Internet or online apps handled by many hands across Github. Most of the CS6 products are the same familiar ones we’ve used for years, but Creative Cloud provides a new pricing model, online services and a new activation/updating system.

Adobe Creative Cloud includes:

Lightroom 4 and the Digital Publishing Suite will not be included until the summer. Adobe Touch applications for iOS are planned for release before the summer, particularly Photoshop Touch which my source says will be available in May.

Adobe Creative Cloud is not dependent on an Internet connection; software is downloaded to the user’s computer and can run without a connection. The installed software does check Adobe’s servers once a month to ensure a valid Creative Cloud license exists for the user based on his/her Adobe ID. Software updates can be pushed directly to the user’s computer and content will be available on all devices through Creative Cloud synchronization.

Purchasing software through a Creative Cloud subscription has some advantages. Typically, a Creative Suite customer gets a boxed product that can be installed on two machines—typically a desktop and laptop computer—but the box contains either Mac or Windows versions. Creative Cloud users are still restricted to two machines but one can be a Mac and the other Windows. This is a sweet deal for Mac users who happen to use a PC laptop.

There is also a free subscription available for prospective Creative Cloud customers. The free subscription includes 2GB of cloud storage for projects and trials of all available software. Note that if you buy into Creative Cloud and then cancel at some point, the software will stop working (after it pings the server) but your cloud storage space remains for several months.

Creative Cloud Pricing

Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99 per month annually or $74.99 per month, paid monthly. There’s also an introductory rate of $29.99 per month for users of CS3, CS4, CS5 or CS5.5. A version of Creative Cloud optimized for teams will cost $69.99 per person per month. This team-optimized product will include expert services and support, company IT tools and workstation synchronization, but it’s buried deep in Adobe’s development timeline and a fall release would not surprise me.

What if I don’t want Creative Cloud?

Adobe expects many users to create on tablets and mobile devices first, then polish their creations with CS6 and eventually “publish anywhere” with software like Edge—which converts animations to HTML5—and services like Business Catalyst. I reviewed the Adobe Touch apps and I thought they were not robust enough as a whole to bring more than a kernel of a final product back to the desktop, so I’m glad to see a typical Creative Suite workflow—without most of the Creative Cloud-specific features—is still possible.

CS6 icons

There are four Creative Suite 6 suites:

  • Design Standard includes:
    • Acrobat X Pro
    • InDesign CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6
  • Design Premium and Web Premium have been combined into one suite that includes:
    • All Design Standard products
    • Dreamweaver CS6
    • Fireworks CS6
    • Flash Professional CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended replaces Photoshop CS6
  • Production Premium includes:
    • After Effects CS6
    • Audition CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended
    • Premiere Pro CS6
    • Encore CS6
    • Prelude CS6 (new)
    • SpeedGrade CS6 (new)
  • Master Collection includes all CS6 applications.

Adobe Edge, Muse and Lightroom 4 are not CS6 applications and aren’t available in any CS6 suite, though they are included in Creative Cloud.

Prices are:

  • CS6 Design Standard: $1,299 full, $299 upgrade
  • CS6 Design & Web Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Production Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Master Collection: $2,599 full, $549 upgrade

Flash Builder 4.6 and Acrobat X will not see an update, but Creative Cloud users will get their updates automatically when they are available. CS5.5 single-product subscribers will be able to continue their subscriptions at $19.99 per month per product, and they will also score 10GB of Creative Cloud space. However, CS5.5 suite subscribers will need to transition to Creative Cloud.

What’s in Creative Suite 6?

A lot of readers will really just want to know what’s in the newest versions of the Creative Suite products. There are two new CS6 applications, both in the video category:

  • SpeedGrade CS6, for color grading and color-correcting video
  • Prelude CS6, for adding metadata to clips on import and handling shoot data

There are a huge number of new features for CS6, particularly for some of the flagship products like Photoshop. I think this is why so many public beta users are getting excited for the launch. I am using a few prerelease betas of CS6 software but I prefer to work with the shipping product before I write a review, so those will be forthcoming.

Conclusion

Adobe is naturally excited about the CS6 and Creative Cloud launch, which Scott Morris—Senior Marketing Director for Creative Pros—said might be the most important launch in Adobe’s history. The Creative Cloud product is what makes it so important—it’s a rethinking of the way Adobe delivers products, and it’s the first single product that puts the entire creative workflow in the user’s hands.

REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

Adobe Releases Touch Apps Tablet Applications For Android

Today Adobe officially released their lineup of Touch Apps for Android tablets, deepening their dive into products for mobile devices. The company has devoted considerable resources to mobile applications for a few years now, so the Touch Apps represent a major investment for Adobe.

The Touch App lineup released today includes six applications:

  • Adobe Collage, for creating “moldboard” layouts including photos, drawings and text.
  • Adobe Debut, a presentation tool for mockups and Touch App projects.
  • Adobe Ideas, which is similar other vector drawing programs like Illustrator.
  • Adobe Kuler, a color palette builder.
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, which is designed to deliver core Photoshop features on a tablet.
  • Adobe Proto, for building interactive prototypes of websites and mobile apps.

Even though it’s considered part of the “Touch Apps family,” the previously-announced Adobe Carousel photo management app isn’t listed as one of the “Adobe Touch Apps.” It also is only available on iOS devices at the moment; see below for more details. Kuler and Ideas both exist in other forms as well.

I received a demo tablet from Adobe just last Saturday and I’ve just started to work with the applications, so no review for now. However, these applications were shown extensively at Adobe MAX (including the Day 1 keynote) and I’m fairly familiar with how they work. Together, they provide a solid collection of core tools from most of the major Creative Suite products—Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and minor elements from a couple others. The hurdle Adobe has to clear is to provide a user interface that works in a tablet but has the power and flexibility to get serious work done in a variety of environments.

The Touch Apps are on the Android Market now and sell for $9.99 each, a price well over the $3.13 average price of paid Android apps. Adobe will have to appeal to the professional community to justify the price. The apps are also restricted by language (English only) and by hardware specs: 8.9-inch, 1280×800 minimum screen size and resolution with Android 3.1 or higher, which eliminates all current Android non-tablets. The apps are currently available only on Android, but they will be ported over to iOS devices in early 2012. There’s no word yet whether the apps will be restricted to the larger iPad.

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
Artistry
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: Adobe Creative Cloud And Adobe Touch Apps

Today Adobe announced a variety of newsworthy items, mostly acquisitions and new products that will greatly impact creative professionals. Ironically, “Flash Platform” was not mentioned once at this event, traditionally Adobe’s largest for Flash developers, but I and other press colleagues think more developer news will be announced at tomorrow’s keynote.

Adobe Creative Cloud Combines Apps, Services and Community

This was the big-picture announcement: Adobe has a new service called Adobe Creative Cloud that combines their desktop products, tablet and touch applications, a community website with cloud storage, and a variety of services. The Adobe Creative Cloud’s discrete components will be detailed separately below, but the outline includes:

General pricing and availability of the Adobe Creative Cloud will not be announced until November 2011. The product itself looks absolutely beautiful, and is what I expected from a company like Adobe responding to huge changes in mobile computing and data distribution. Apple and Amazon are doing the same thing in the cloud computing landscape. However, right now we don’t know what a service like Adobe Creative Cloud will cost, so until then we can’t judge how successful it might be.

Another complication is the fact that the Creative Suite 5.5 products have been available with a subscription since May. Will that option go away now that users can subscribe to those and more through the Adobe Creative Cloud? I doubt it will—I know the CS5.5 apps and suites will still be available as standalone products and for sale through the conventional way, and I expect Creative Suite subscriptions will also continue. I also think you can look at the prices of those CS subscriptions, add a bit more money, and have an idea what the Adobe Creative Cloud will cost.

Adobe Touch Apps Released, Includes Photoshop Touch

Adobe has been investing considerable resources into tablet and mobile applications, first with Adobe Ideas and then with Photoshop Touch SDK apps like Eazel and Nav, and the iOS-only Carousel. Today Adobe announced six new “touch apps” currently on Android, which will all be available to Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers.

  • Adobe Photoshop Touch brings basic Photoshop features to tablets, including layers, adjustments, selection and background extraction among other features. Out of all the apps this is the only one to be named after an existing desktop product, and I predicted a “Photoshop on the iPad” product at some point. However, Adobe has made a strategic decision not to put too many Photoshop features into Photoshop Touch and so the app is nowhere near as powerful as its namesake. This was out of both necessity and UX considerations, but I think it will hurt its reception by users.
  • Adobe Collage helps creative people combine imagery, drawing and text to create storyboards and basic layouts. I see this being more useful in the conceptual phase of a creative project, and it doesn’t take the place of Illustrator or InDesign.
  • Adobe Debut is a client presentation application for displaying project materials in meeting situations. Photoshop and Illustrator files can be displayed, among other Creative Suite file formats.
  • Adobe Ideas is a vector drawing application whose files can be opened in Illustrator or Photoshop for refinement. As with Collage, it can’t take the place of Illustrator and it’s useful for off-site work when a laptop isn’t an option.
  • Adobe Kuler is a tablet-based version of Adobe’s existing kuler application, previously just a web and AIR application. Users can build and share color palettes.
  • Adobe Proto builds wireframes and prototypes for websites. It’s the only app that incorporates gestures in a major way: users can draw an “x” to insert an image, or squiggly lines to create headlines and text. There are roughly 16 different gestures already created for Proto.

All the touch apps integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud and share projects and assets in the cloud, so projects can be touched by multiple apps. For example, a project can be conceived by a project manager in Collage, passed on to a designer who builds the color palette in Kuler, then to a web developer who wireframes the product in Proto, and approved by the client in Debut before moving on to final production in Creative Suite. All these apps are also built with Adobe AIR, so they could technically be deployed on the desktop, but the apps’ user interface is designed for small devices and touch screens.

All apps will be available separately for $9.99 each.

Conclusion

After all these announcements, I wasn’t sure if life will be easier or harder now for the traditional creative professional—those who design or develop with Adobe products and have been using the Creative Suite products for years. The Adobe Creative Cloud moves resources to everyone, not just the creative professionals, and the touch apps seem like they are designed for creative users who aren’t necessarily the ones putting publications to bed or deploying code to the web. Even Photoshop Touch, whose namesake is Adobe’s flagship product, feels lightweight and lean. Adobe seems to be focusing on a larger creative audience, and it could complicate things for creative professionals.

However, I like the direction Adobe is taking in marrying everything through the cloud—it had to happen eventually, and the opportunity is huge for business and also for creative productivity. The notion of web fonts being available in the cloud via TypeKit makes sense not only for web fonts but for all fonts—imagine being able to license the entire Adobe type library without installing files on your own network. Out of all this news, the Adobe Creative Cloud has the most implications for Adobe and for consumers.

BOOK REVIEW: Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers

Abduzeedo Guide cover

The Internet is an amazing thing—there’s so much inspiration out there now for designers to reflect upon. Designers and illustrators from across the world can show their work to each other. And since it’s easy for anyone to write and publish online, there are many tutorials and articles out there from the best in the field. I’m sure many old-school designers who made their careers without the Internet wonder how much easier it would have been if they had had it.

The Internet is a significant factor in the success—and failure—of the Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers. The book was written by Fábio Sasso, founder of the design blog Abduzeedo.com, and several other illustrators. All of these artists have their own blogs and websites, full of illustrations and articles, and they are prolific online publishers. The book design is very nice—clean, colorful and easy to read. I enjoyed reading it very much.

However, the Inspiration Guide might be the first book I’ve read where some of the content was already familiar to me—because I had seen it on the Internet. In particular, Alex Varanese’s “Alt 1977″ series of illustrations was popular on Twitter and blogs not too long ago. I enjoyed seeing his work then and I still do, but it wasn’t new anymore. The Internet makes it so easy to find content that a book based on online content is at a disadvantage.

The Inspiration Guide is more than just images though, which is its redeeming grace. Many illustrators are interviewed in the Guide, and they are good reading for artists who are early in their careers. (I think they are good for experienced artists too, but they tend to focus on young careers because the artists are relatively young.) There are several tutorials available as well that combine Photoshop and digital tools with real artistry, which I really like. They were fun to do, not too hard or easy, and the results were excellent.

At $40, the Inspiration Guide might be a hard sell for illustrators. (NOTE: Amazon has it listed for $26.) After all, why buy the book when you can see the work online? But I think it’s a good book and it does have some fresh content that Abduzeedo regulars might not know already.

Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers
Fábio Sasso and others
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 8/10

BOOK REVIEW: Vector Basic Training Shows The Grunt Work

Vector Basic Training

I wanted to review Vector Basic Training on the reputation of its author, Von Glitschka, who is well-known in illustration circles and has produced demo illustrations for Adobe to promote its Illustrator product. The title also appealed to me because I think the art of solid vector drawing is a hard art to master and has faded a little in the years since Illustrator started making it easy to generate vectors with features like Live Trace. A “basic training” for making vector artwork is probably due.

Vector Basic Training is well-written and an enjoyable read. Von has made this book clear and organized without being dull—I’ve noticed a lot of artists and illustrators who write such books turn out to be good writers. Illustration fans will appreciate the breadth of the examples, many of them from Von’s personal sketchbooks and side projects. You get to know Von a little bit better by reading this book, and some illustration buffs will enjoy that a lot. Illustrators who are passionate about the industry and its luminaries are ideal readers of Vector Basic Training and definitely should pick it up.

Like I said, Vector Basic Training is well-organized. It covers all the right topics—Bézier curves, point placement, moving from sketch to vectors—and each chapter has a drill at the end to give the readers some practice. I’m actually least impressed by these drills, because they are not very hands-on and are more of a demo of Von’s existing work. The companion DVD helps fill the lack of hands-on material: it has hours of tutorials and native files to work with.

Surprisingly, Vector Basic Training actually has relatively little emphasis on Illustrator or other vector drawing applications. This might be a disappointment to Illustrator users wanting to learn more about Illustrator, so it is worth mentioning. I learned Von is less of an “Illustrator guy” and more of an illustrator, and he spends maybe half of the book discussing sketching, capturing ideas on paper, art direction and the refinement process. Another chapter is spent on point placement and vector drawing techniques that apply to all vector drawing programs. This was the most interesting chapter for me because it demonstrated some of Von’s own methods for drawing proper paths.

This leaves only a minority of the pages to Illustrator tips and tricks, and some of the Illustrator techniques shown in Vector Basic Training actually require Xtream Path, a third-party plugin. Fans of illustration as a craft will probably appreciate this focus on drawing and creating, while some Illustrator users who love using the technology will be disappointed. I think there are plenty of good books on Illustrator—think Classroom in a Book—so having one like Vector Basic Training on the shelf isn’t a bad thing.

Vector Basic Training
Von Glitschka
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 9/10

buy from amazon

BOOK REVIEW: Secrets of Corel Painter Experts

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts is a thick book for what is basically a showcase of great Painter artwork, and there are only 17 featured artists so each one gets several pages to show their talent. I review some of these “showcase” books from time to time—fewer tutorials, more spectacular art to show off—and this one really impressed me with its breadth and depth of work as well as some decent tutorials.

Interestingly, I’ve seen many Photoshop books and I get less excited by the end results than those I see in Painter books. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many mind-bending, “wow” Photoshop images that nothing surprises me about Photoshop anymore. Painter is less-known and artists sometimes start with a blank file so I see fewer Painter projects and I am really impressed when I see a perfect blend of imagery and painterly technique that Painter does better than anyone else.

With that in mind, Secrets of Corel Painter Experts obviously impresses me with the quality of work. There’s an ecliptic mix of painters, illustrators and photography pros in this book so styles differ and I like some more than others, but they are all excellent. I particularly enjoy the illustrators (Mike Thompson, Dwayne Vance) and the fantasy/comic painters (Wonman Kim, Brian Haberlin). Brian’s chapter happens to show artwork from an upcoming sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel called Anomaly, which looks awesome. I will be reading it because of the art in this book.

I was a little surprised to see small tutorials included in every chapter. They are not long but each one is related to the artist’s work shown in the book and I am really glad they were willing to share some techniques with readers. The tutorials themselves are only really long enough to give the germ of an idea or technique, but serious readers will be able to make good use of them. A DVD is included with Secrets of Corel Painter Experts, but I’m disappointed because they don’t really support the tutorials. The DVD basically contains gallery pages of the artists’ work, a demo of Painter 11 (now out of date with the release of Painter 12). Some artists have also included some brushes and textures they use.

Painter users should definitely pick this book up. It’s also a good buy for fans of digital illustration in general, because the work shown here is excellent and has a variety of subject matter. It can be a little expensive at just under $45, but it’s a high-quality book from top to bottom.

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts
Daryl Wise and Linda Hellfritsch
Published by CENGAGE Learning
US $44.99
Rating: 9/10

99 Free Valentine’s Day Fonts

99 Ways to Type I Love You

Download fonts individually below, or download all 99 in a single 2.75MB Zip archive.

NOTE: Fonts are all TrueType format, compatible with Windows and Mac OS X. To convert them for Mac OS 9 and below, download this free utility: TTConverter15.hqx.

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Adobe Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack Improves SVG and CSS3 Creation

Adobe announced today the immediate availability of the Adobe Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack, an extension of Illustrator CS5 designed to make it easier to output SVG graphics and CSS3 styles for use with HTML5 web layouts. This is surprising news despite Dreamweaver’s own HTML5 Pack, introduced last summer—Illustrator has never been considered a vital tool for web designers. However, the strategy behind the Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack suggests it might eventually be as important as Photoshop to web designers.

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) has been around for over 10 years but has been seldom used by web designers. HTML5 allows designers to embed SVG graphics in documents and not rely on pixel-based bitmap graphics for web design. SVG graphics look sharp and clear no matter the browser’s zoom settings and can be modified with JavaScript or HTML5′s canvas element. The HTML5 specification is not yet implemented by all browsers and SVG is not supported by Internet Explorer, so consider the HTML5 Pack a forward-thinking addition to Illustrator.

The Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack does four major functions:

  • Export artboards as SVG graphics and include CSS3 media queries
  • Create widgets with dynamic vector art that can be manipulated by data sources
  • Implement SVG graphics and HTML5 canvas to create interactive art
  • Export character styles and object appearances as CSS3 styles

The first function is particularly important because it plays into Adobe’s strategy of helping designers deploy to multiple devices. The idea is to create artboards for various devices—computers, tables, mobile phones and TV—and output SVG graphics and a CSS file that serves up the right graphics depending on the user’s window size.

Visit www.adobe.com/go/illustrator_html5 to download the HTML5 Pack and view demos, forums, the press release and download a trial of Illustrator CS5. The HTML5 Pack requires the most recent update of Illustrator (CS5 15.0.1) so be sure to use the Help > Updates… command in Illustrator if you don’t have the most recent version of CS5. Also note that this is not a public beta but is instead a “compatibility update” that isn’t final. I expect it will be rolled into an Illustrator dot-update the way Dreamweaver’s HTML5 Pack was added to its 11.0.3 update a couple weeks ago.

Illustrator CS5 Review

ai_box

This review supplements Illustrator CS5 First Impressions, which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in Illustrator CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with Illustrator CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.

Much more useful

In “First Impressions” I said I wasn’t sure Illustrator CS5 was a necessary upgrade, but some of the new tools have impressed me more and more since then. One thing I’ve learned to do is simplify my illustrations with variable-width strokes, replacing shapes made with the Pathfinder panel or shapes drawn freehand with the Pen tool. It takes some practice and sometimes the controls aren’t refined enough to get the exact shapes I want, but variable-width strokes can usually achieve what I want.

One trick in particular that I tried was to build the Nike logo with a single stroke. It’s a perfect candidate—a simple shape with a clear line connecting the two endpoints—but even then it was tough to achieve. The sharp turn in the brand is very hard for the variable-width stroke control to get without bending the turn on top of itself, but I was able to do it and I hope to publish a tutorial on this when I can.

Even though I still use the Pathfinder panel for a few things, I am using the Shape Builder tool more and more to combine objects. It’s very intuitive, well-designed and effective. Another major improvement for usability is artboard alignment. There’s no way I could go back to moving my artboards around manually and aligning them by typing in measurements! I’m also labeling my artboards now for organizational purposes.

One more feature that has proven really useful is the Perspective Grid, which I am really grateful for every time I create the illusion of depth. Snapping objects to the grid and moving them along a z-axis has really simplified the process of creating depth, and everything remains live so ease of use is not compromised. It does require handling the two perspective tools added to Illustrator CS5, and I think Illustrator has a huge array of tools as it is, but the benefits outweigh the learning curve.

Some features not as useful

I haven’t found Drawing Modes to be useful—I still prefer to move objects forward and backward rather than interrupt my flow to change modes. I’m trying to get used to Draw Inside but I still fall back on opacity masks, which feel most comfortable to me.

The Bristle Brush has also turned out to be something I don’t use very often, which has surprised me. It makes some excellent painterly effects and brings Illustrator closer to Photoshop and Corel Painter, but perhaps due to force of habit I still go to those apps for those effects and use Illustrator mostly to create logos, graphics and other hard-edged products. The Bristle Brush just hasn’t been compelling enough to make me skip Photoshop for those painterly brushstrokes. I am also wary of throwing that much transparency and objects at a commercial print job: the Bristle Brush really does produce a lot of transparency and that can tax even the most professional hardware.

Conclusion

The more I use Illustrator CS5, the more I find I like its new features. It seems like a really useful upgrade, and anyone who works a lot in Illustrator should at least get the 30-day trial. Many designers use Illustrator only for a few specific tasks, but even they could get some use out of variable-width strokes, perspective grid and the Shape Builder. These three features make fundamental Illustrator work faster and more productive.

Illustrator CS5
Adobe Systems
US$599/$199 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

Illustrator CS5 First Impressions

ai_box

Adobe Illustrator CS5, a part of all Creative Suite 5 (CS5) suites announced today, was the first beta application I tested for Adobe several months ago and I’ve used it all this time in my professional workflow. The application is stable and has some nice new features and improvements to existing features, but I’m not sure if it is an essential upgrade.

Some new features are extensions of old features

CS4 was a notable release because many product teams focused on productivity enhancements and “making things easier” for users. Adobe began to promote this approach about halfway through CS4′s product cycle. I think the Illustrator CS5 product team has maintained this approach, because several new features in Illustrator CS5 are improvements to old features or provide new ways of doing things.

One example is the addition of Drawing Modes, which allow you to draw behind or inside objects. There are three modes:

  • Draw Normal, which is default behavior,
  • Draw Behind, which draws behind a selected object, and
  • Draw Inside, which will put strokes and placed objects inside an object.

Draw Behind is not particularly useful, and I tend to go back to my usual behavior of moving objects to the back if needed. Draw Inside is a lot more useful but you can do the same thing with clipping masks or opacity masks. I happen to not like working with clipping masks so Draw Inside is a positive addition to Illustrator, and I think others will agree, but it’s not one of those jaw-dropping features we have come to expect from Adobe. It’s really a productivity enhancement.

ai_rearrangeartboardsThe Rearrange Artboards dialog box makes it much easier to organize artboards without precise dragging and numeric inputs.

Another example are the enhancements made to artboards, which was the killer feature introduced in Illustrator CS4. I use artboards regularly as an organization tool for my work but Illustrator CS4 does not make it easy to align or organize artboards. Illustrator CS5 has improved the artboard feature with an Artboards panel where you can rename, reorder and rearrange artboards pretty easily with just a panel menu command or a dialog box. You can also rename artboards in the Artboard tool’s Options bar. These are all welcome improvements to an existing feature, and it makes handling artboards easier without changing artboards’ basic functions.

Probably the most dramatic tool designed to improve an existing feature is the Shape Builder tool, which duplicates what one can do with the Pathfinder’s Add and Subtract buttons. The Pathfinder panel is powerful but disappointingly complicated. The Shape Builder tool will combine or exclude shapes with a simple drag, and it’s fast and intuitive. It can take a little time to master but it’s worth learning, and it will also lessen the need for clipping masks to hide objects.

New perspective drawing

ai_perspectiveIllustrator CS5′s perspective grids make three-dimensional drawing much easier, and two-dimensional objects snap to the 3D space when dragged onto it.

Perspective drawing might be the most dazzling new feature in Illustrator CS5. 1-, 2- and 3-point linear perspective grids can be produced and drawn upon for building three-dimensional drawings. You can drag and drop two-dimensional shapes and drawings onto grids and they’ll conform to the right perspective, and it’s fun to build three-dimensional drawings so easily with perspective grids. Everything remains live so you can edit shapes and even text, but you have to be careful: if you use the regular Selection tool to resize perspective-enhanced text it will be expanded and you’ll lose edibility. A Perspective Grid tool and Perspective Selection tool are available to handle perspective-enhanced objects.

Stroke shaping

It blows my mind that Illustrator can now widen and narrow specific points in a stroke! The new Width tool can change the width of points on a stroke so multi-width shapes can be built with just one stroke. I really like this feature because I often draw organic shapes that can’t be produced with the Pathfinder panel and can be comprised of just one multi-width stroke. A good example is a stroke that’s pointed on one end: in Illustrator CS4, a combination of stroke outlining and point manipulation is needed to produce this. The Width tool can do the same thing with just one drag.

ai_strokesThe maroon stroke (top) demonstrates multiple widths while the star (above) has new dash controls that keep the points sharp.

There’s also some improvements to arrowheads and dashed line control in the Stroke panel that help users fine-tune the positioning of arrowheads and dashes around endpoints and corners. This is another example of a feature that is helpful but is really an extension of long-standing features.

The Bristle Brush: Beautiful art done quickly

Photoshop CS5 has introduced brush tips to its painting engine, making it a better application for fine art painting. Illustrator CS5, being a vector art application, doesn’t handle painting the same way but it tries to mimic the look of painting with a new Bristle Brush brush type. A variety of round, pointed and fan brushes are available with settings for brush length, density, paint load and opacity. Illustrator CS5 recreates the look of paint by overlaying multiple strokes of various opacities to create a blended and shaded strokes of color.

ai_bristlebrushBristle Brush controls are easy to work with, but you can get good results with the defaults as well—even if you “get creative” and just start brushing.

I like the Bristle Brushes, not really because they recreate a painterly look (Painter and Photoshop are superior in that regard) but because the results are very pretty. Illustrator graphics tend to be flat and blocky, but the Bristle Brush can make very nuanced and shaded artwork quickly. I will be curious to see how easy it is to actually print Bristle Brush art in the final version, because I fear so much transparency and overlaying strokes may make it hard for a RIP or a printer to handle, but on the screen the results are striking.

ai_drawmodesThere are two Bristle Brush strokes in the artwork above, one drawn above and one with the new Draw Inside feature. Nesting elements inside shapes will be easier and more intuitive.

My first impression

Illustrator CS5 might be an exciting upgrade for some and not worth the money for others. I was surprised how many features are enhancements to existing features or rely on other applications like Flash Catalyst CS5. My favorite new features are the Shape Builder and the Width tools, with the perspective drawing features a close second. I will be writing a full review of Illustrator CS5 when the final product is shipped.

BOOK REVIEW: Papervision3D Essentials

papervision3d

Paul Tondeur and Jeff Winder’s Papervision3D Essentials is a solid book with clear writing, a very hands-on approach to learning Papervision 3D and a thorough coverage of the material—at 400 pages, it’s a meaty book despite its size.

Papervision3D is an open-source ActionScript 3.0-based engine for generating 3D content for Flash. It seems 3D is becoming more important for Adobe and Flash: even though Adobe still has not produced an application strictly for creating 3D content, a few Creative Suite apps are adding 3D functionality to their features, most notably Photoshop which has had 3D tools for a couple versions now. This means that more and more 3D content will eventually reach Flash Player and a framework for handling such material is more and more pertinent.

Papervision3D Essentials is mostly exercises and written lecture, which is advantageous for readers who want to learn by doing. It’s comparable to the Classroom In A Book series, though I’d say Papervision3D Essentials has less explanatory material that is sometimes important to explaining concepts. I’m disappointed the book doesn’t have a companion CD, though the code in the book is available for download online.

As far as the exercises themselves go, they are solid and provide good training for Papervision3D for beginners and intermediate users in particular but also for advanced users. The exercises I did were fairly easy to follow and made some impressive results by the end. I’m a learner who likes to dive into more explanatory copy at the beginning of the chapters, and I wish the book did flesh out the concepts a little more, but it was an enjoyable learning experience and the authors should be proud of Papervision3D Essentials. I could go for a book with color pages and a more interesting design, but the material itself is very good.

Papervision3D Essentials
Paul Tondeur and Jeff Winder
Published by Packt Publishing
US$44.99
Rating: 8/10

Adobe MAX Sneak Peeks—Video!

I finally got permission from Adobe to show some video I captured during the Sneak Peeks event at Adobe MAX. The Sneak Peeks reveal some of Adobe’s latest technology being developed for possible inclusion in future Creative Suite applications. Some of the technology is still pretty raw and didn’t always function during the event, but other features performed well and I would not be surprised if some are already in the beta stage, being prepared for future release. Adobe wanted me to add this disclaimer to the video: “The sneak peeks at Adobe MAX represent technology projects from Adobe’s development labs. Please note that the demonstrated technologies may or may not be incorporated into future Adobe products or services.”

Copy/paste Illustrator graphics into Dreamweaver

A demonstration of copying and pasting an Illustrator chart into Dreamweaver. A “Smart Paste” command pastes the chart and also binds data to the chart for dynamic updating.

Copy/paste Flash animation into Dreamweaver

As with the previous footage, the demonstrator is pasting media into Dreamweaver. This time, it’s a Flash animation.

Content-Aware retouching in Photoshop

This one got the most applause: the Content-Aware technology behind Photoshop CS4′s Content-Aware Scaling is now applied to a brush, making it an exceptional retouching tool. Star Wars fans also get a treat at the end.

Adobe Rome

Adobe Rome is an AIR application that combines tools from Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and other Creative Suite applications. Rome probably surprised the crowd the most—a new desktop application that combines basic Creative Suite tools?—but it doesn’t surprise me: the CS4 applications often borrow features from one another, and I’ve predicted a “super-application” that could do the work of several apps. Rome doesn’t look as feature-heavy as the average CS4 application, but it has great potential.

Flash physics panel

A Physics panel attached to Flash allows gravity to be applied to instances on the stage and then animated by Flash. Experienced Flash users will note that the animation is produced frame by frame, not with ActionScript or tweens. This may be problematic from a production standpoint, but the effect looks cool nonetheless.

REVIEW: DrawPlus X3 Does Some Catching Up

drawplusThe UK-based developer Serif has released DrawPlus X3, the latest version of their drawing application that most closely resembles Adobe’s Illustrator and the defunct Freehand. Unlike those programs, DrawPlus X3 has also taken after Photoshop Elements and other applications that help users along with wizards, visual aids and step-by-step instructions built into the application, making this product a good selection for amateur and prosumer users who do not need the Adobe standard.

Working with EPS and other formats

The new version of DrawPlus X3 works with more image formats including Microsoft’s HD Photo format, EPS and Illustrator (AI). I have never used the HD Photo format and it surprises me given that DrawPlus X3 is a drawing application. The additions of EPS and AI are much more pleasing, since they are two of three of Adobe’s major vector image formats (the other being PDF). I imported an Illustrator CS3, Illustrator CS3 EPS, and PDF saved with the Illustrator Default preset and DrawPlus X3 did not have a problem importing the data. I was able to work with points (called “nodes” in DrawPlus X3) but one shape using a compound path could not be edited in any of the three formats. It’s handy to import Illustrator and EPS artwork but illustrators who want to import complex artwork should expect difficulties.

AutoTrace = Live Trace

DrawPlus X3 introduces AutoTrace, a module that will trace bitmap graphics and convert them to vectors. This technology has been in Illustrator for a few years, dubbed Live Trace; before that, Adobe produced an application called Streamline for this purpose. Converting bitmaps to vectors is a very helpful feature, so AutoTrace is a great addition to DrawPlus. The interface is straightforward and presets can be saved in one of three modes: logo, black/white and color.

autotrace
AutoTrace is similar to Illustrator's Live Trace and produces good results, but offers less control.

AutoTrace offers fewer controls than Live Trace and it seems harder to get great results. I missed the presets that ship with Illustrator and Live Trace: I often use them as a starting point and fine-tune the controls to perfect the trace, but with AutoTrace I was searching for the right sliders to achieve good results. Part of the problem might be the sliders’ labels and icons, which I didn’t always understand. I also wished AutoTrace would preview the trace on the full-sized image rather than a small preview thumbnail. Quick tip: you can preview on the large image by clicking the Trace button, though you have to click to re-render every time settings are changed.

Head to the Image Cutout Studio

Another major addition to DrawPlus X3 is the Image Cutout Studio, which most closely resembles Photoshop‘s Extract filter, which was actually retired when Photoshop CS4 was released. Image Cutout Studio is a simplified version of Extract that doesn’t require tedious highlighting of edges, but that is what made Extract such a precise extracting filter. Instead, Image Cutout Studio employs Keep and Discard Brush tools that are more like Photoshop’s Magic Eraser tool—click a background with the Discard Brush tool and it goes away. A Tolerance setting controls its sensitivity. Once everything is extracted, you can preview the results, fine-tune the edges with more brush tools and output as an alpha mask or vector mask.

cutout
Photoshop CS4 no longer has the Extract filter, but DrawPlus X3 offers a very similar feature that performs well.

I found that, even though previews within Image Cutout Studio suggest less than perfect results, extracted images look great in DrawPlus X3. Image Cutout Studio did have difficulty with images with fine details, such as hair, and subjects whose color was close to the background. However, Photoshop CS4′s eraser tools have the same problems. The old Extract filter is the only tool I’ve used that could handle such images well, other than third-party plug-ins such as Corel’s KnockOut 2.

DrawPlus.com

An interesting new addition is not in the application itself but online: DrawPlus.com has become a “community website” where DrawPlus users can upload their artwork, rate their and others’ art, make comments and search in various ways. I’m disappointed the website is built with Silverlight—it’s definitely not as ubiquitous as Flash, especially in the Macintosh market—but it doesn’t surprise me since DrawPlus uses several Microsoft technologies such as the Windows Metafile and HD Photo formats.

drawpluscom
This elephant was created with DrawPlus X3 and uploaded to DrawPlus.com, an online community for DrawPlus users.

If anyone doubts that professional results can be created with DrawPlus, visit DrawPlus.com and see the artwork that’s been posted: some of the artwork could be better, but there are also some excellent photorealistic illustrations and creative artwork!

New design additions

Serif has added some nice new spray brush strokes to DrawPlus X3, including airbrush, grungy and special effect strokes that look really good. I think the best application of these is to create textures with the Grunge family of brushes: a swirl of paint with these strokes will make a very nice texture for use in other applications or within DrawPlus. The Special Effects family is also fun to play with but the presets aren’t particularly useful for my daily work.

You can see the Grunge brushes creating a painterly effect on the edges of these shapes.
You can see the Grunge brushes creating a painterly effect on the edges of these shapes.

Some new overlays have also been added in order to aid the designer: a Rule of Thirds grid, which creates a simple 3×3 grid, and a Divine Proportions grid that creates a Fibonacci spiral, considered a harmonious basis for many designs and layouts. Experienced designers may not find these particularly useful but novices could find them very useful.

There are a variety of other new features for the designer, including:

  • A Crop Tool that allows position, rotation and shape changes in the middle of the cropping procedure. It even can apply a Rule of Thirds grid to the crop window so it’s easy to know the most harmonious places to crop.
  • Brush outlines can be stroked or textured.
  • New 2D and 3D filters that can apply blur, reflection maps and lighting effects. These have been around in Photoshop for many years.
  • Specific areas in a document can be exported with the Export Optimizer. Photoshop and Fireworks have better bitmap image optimizing interfaces but DrawPlus X3 has all the basic functions and the option of exporting a section of an image is appealing to me.
  • The new Arrange tab allows for basic arranging, rotation and reflection of elements. Again, this has been available in Adobe products for several years.

Conclusion

I keep coming back again and again to the fact that DrawPlus X3 has added features that are already familiar to Photoshop and Illustrator users. One could chide Serif for basically playing catch-up, but improvement is not a bad thing. DrawPlus is borrowing ideas from good products and has matured into a solid application for prosumers.

DrawPlus X3
Serif
US$99.99
Rating: 8/10

Adobe CS4 and ROI: Is Productivity The New Killer Feature?

cs4lineup

Last fall Adobe Systems released Creative Suite 4 (CS4) to good reviews, which was good news to Adobe since CS4 represents the bulk of their creative pro software products and includes industry standards such as Photoshop, After Effects and Flash. Adobe stayed true to their traditional upgrade cycle and released all the CS4 products simultaneously, 18 months after CS3 was released.

But over the past few years, the 18-month product cycle has forced Adobe to release upgrades that haven’t had as many groundbreaking features as those in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many CS4 applications saw more improvements in efficiency and productivity as fewer new tools and cool technologies have been included. In my reviews I considered this shift detrimental, but according to third-party research commissioned by Adobe productivity may very well be the “new killer feature” that delivers tangible savings to CS4 users.

The methodology

Adobe commissioned Pfeiffer Consulting, an independent technology research institute, to benchmark the productivity capabilities of CS4 and compare them to CS3 to measure productivity gains. More than 125 benchmarks were conducted across the design, web, video and digital imaging (Photoshop and Lightroom) segments and tested a variety of large and small real-world tasks and assignments including:

Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett.

Dave Burkett, Adobe’s Vice President and General Manager for Creative Suite – Design and Web Segments, said the goal of CS4′s productivity capabilities was to improve “deep usability”—refinements of the small steps designers execute every day in their daily work. “When developing Creative Suite 4 we paid close attention to our customers’ needs and pinpointed common tasks that matter most to them. We then focused on adding features and improving upon existing features in order to make those tasks more intuitive and less repetitive. Put simply, it now takes less clicks to achieve the same results.” Andreas Pfeiffer, who conducted the research, wrote that “the cumulative effect of small productivity gains in everyday operations is almost universally underestimated.”

The benchmarks were performed by professional designers and measured by researchers. No scripting or automation was used. The research does not take into account the time and money spent in training, installation and continued learning after the initial purchase, since such investments apply to previous versions of Creative Suite and don’t affect the measurements in productivity. For more information about the benchmark methodology, visit www.pfeifferconsulting.com.

roi-chartPfeiffer’s benchmarks were quite thorough and takes very small time savings into account. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

The findings

Pfeiffer found that “CS4 increases efficiency in a vast variety of operations, including many routine, everyday production tasks.” In particular, the following CS4 features provided substantial time savings:

  • InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight,
  • Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code,
  • Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments and Masks panels,
  • Tapeless video support in Premiere Pro CS4, and
  • CSS export from Fireworks CS4.

As an example, Illustrator CS4′s multiple artboards feature allowed designers to consolidate related projects in one file and become more efficient when experimenting with color palettes and designs. I’ve been using multiple artboards myself in my design business: handling one or two Illustrator CS4 files is a lot easier than handling one file for every illustration. I work with a lot of logos and brands, which often have several versions for size and color, and multiple artboards help me organize my clients’ branding. Burkett commented that multiple artboards, according to the research, can save designers three hours per month.

indesign-charts
The research on InDesign CS4 shows Smart Guides and Live Preflight can save a load of production time. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

Other examples, such as InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight, save time and money fixing printing errors by intercepting them early—research found that Live Preflight helped designers find and fix errors twice as fast than with InDesign CS3. Live Preflight is one of my favorite CS4 features because I haven’t had to mess with preflighting at the end of a project like I used to—violations are flagged immediately and I can fix them right away. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code features were shown to offer similar speed improvements.

CS4 was also designed with multiple media content delivery in mind, and is the first Creative Suite to fully integrate Macromedia software (Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks) so Pfeiffer also analyzed cross-application features such as Photoshop Smart Object support in Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional’s abilities in handling After Effects and InDesign content, and Dynamic Link technology that integrates assets between the CS4 video applications.

So how much money does productivity save you? Pfeiffer’s analysis estimates show a substantial sum:

  • $5,753 saved with CS4 Design Premium compared to CS3 Design Premium
  • $10,563 saved with CS4 Web Premium compared to CS3 Web Premium
  • $11,404 saved with CS4 Production Premium compared to CS3 Production Premium
  • $4,020 saved with Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 compared to Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 1

Burkett commented, “Ensuring that time- and cost-saving benefits were built into our Creative Suite offerings was always a priority, but is even more vital right now given the current economy. Users can now complete everyday tasks in significantly less time, allowing designers and agencies of all sizes to come in under budget, deliver ahead of deadline and maximize time spent on the creative aspects of the project.”

ps-chartsPhotoshop CS4′s OpenGL support and speed has always been one of its most promoted features, mostly because of its efficiency potential. Pfeiffer’s research supports this, but my view is that your mileage may vary. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

My view

I think CS4 is a major step ahead of CS3 when it comes to efficiency: it’s clear that many improvements in CS4 had efficiency improvements in mind. I’ve always thought this shift toward improving efficiency occurred because it’s become harder and harder to pack the upgrades with cool, exciting new tools when their toolsets are quite mature already. But it appears productivity might have been Adobe’s game plan all along.

As with many such objective findings in the industry, your mileage may vary. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel was found to decrease the time making adjustments in half, but I actually do not like the feature: the new keyboard shortcuts are difficult and the panel is either too small to make adjustments or so large the panel strip takes up too much space. As another example, the research found Fireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 cuts down CSS creation and management time by over 80% but the CSS generated by Fireworks was not clean enough for my tastes and I still do quite a bit of coding in Dreamweaver.

fw-dw-chartsFireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 have various new improvements in CSS creation and editing that appear to save a great deal of time. However, my experience suggests not everyone will reap such productivity gains. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

But I am a fan of many other efficiency improvements, especially InDesign CS4′s Smart Guides and Live Preflight features and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View feature. Flash CS4 Professional’s new object-based animation system, which was also cited as a major time-saving feature, can be difficult for experienced Flash users to get used to but does make sense in the long run. Ultimately, consumers should remember that Pfeiffer’s benchmarks were performed by experienced users of both CS3 and CS4—designers new to CS4 will have a harder time duplicating their level of efficiency—but, given training and experience, the time and cost savings could be substantial.

SIDEBAR: The Visionaire Group and Fast & Furious Show CS4’s Time Savings

Adobe is praising The Visionaire Group for leveraging the productivity benefits of CS4 in order to maximize the online campaign for the movie Fast and Furious. Universal Pictures, the studio that produced Fast and Furious, attributes the movie’s recent #1 position at the weekend box office to the online experience that sparked the enthusiasm of young car enthusiasts and hard-core moviegoers. An engaging Web site, rich-media advertisements, a downloadable desktop widget and a custom iPhone Web site were just some of the campaign’s key elements. J.P. Richards, vice president of marketing, said, “Our goal on Fast and Furious was to develop the most compelling creative content and Adobe Creative Suite 4 delivered way beyond my expectations, while doing it in half the development time.”

In an article published on Enhanced Online News, several CS4 features are called out including Flash CS4 Professional’s 3-D tools, a faster Adobe Media Encoder, Dreamweaver CS4’s Code Navigator and integrated Flash and AIR development with the Adobe Flash Platform.

Today’s economy

In the current economic climate, such findings are sure to command attention. “In today’s economy more than ever, investments in software need to be justified by clear business reasons,” said Andreas Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Consulting. Adobe certainly showed good timing in paying close attention to efficiency and time-cost savings just before the recent economic downturn. According to Burkett, productivity improvement was a primary objective of the CS4 product line and it’s the first time product teams scrutinized this objective in such detail: “We took a new approach with CS4 and decided very early on in the development cycle to better understand how real-life projects could be enhanced with productivity improvements.” Customers were consulted to help pinpoint the most effective ways to improve workflow, and during development the product teams worked to improve raw performance and reduce steps required to complete a task. In some cases, the goal was to make it so users wouldn’t have to access a single panel to execute a command, although I’ve noticed that in some applications (such as Photoshop CS4) more commands have migrated to panels.

Even though productivity improvement was a primary goal, no metrics were developed internally to measure the applications’ success; despite this, Burkett and his team were pleased with the results. “We’re happy that these benchmarking tests were performed,” said Burkett, “as they allow us to gauge just how much of an improvement CS4 is over previous versions.” For more information on Pfeiffer Consulting, visit www.pfeifferconsulting.com. For more information on the CS4 ROI study, including the benchmark data, visit www.adobe.com/go/cs_productivity.

REVIEW: Corel Painter 11 Produces Beautiful Work, Makes Small Improvements

painter11box

Corel Painter is one of the few applications that is a gold standard in the design industry but is not produced by Adobe, which is refreshing to me. The new Corel Painter 11, produced two years after its previous version, arrives in a small environmentally-friendly package and comes with a batch of new features, both large and small, that together make Painter 11 an interesting upgrade.

New hard media variants

painter-markers

Painter has always boasted a huge number of brushes and media, but Painter 11 adds to the heap with 40 more hard media variants in a variety of media including acrylic, chalk, colored pencil, watercolor, pastels and pencils. Ten of these variants are in the new Markers category, which is worth exploring; I particularly enjoyed the Leaky Marker and Dry Chisel Tip Marker, and the Fine Tip Marker made some cool effects at larger sizes. The Markers are designed to emulate rendering markers.

painter-hardmedia

A Hard Media palette has also been added to the gob of Brush Control palettes, offering control over tip shape and behavior when given varying degrees of tilt and velocity. The palette performs perfectly and gives more control than most users will ever need; the one thing I wish it had is a reset function. I also wonder if 20 Brush Control palettes is too many. Corel should consider the usability difficulties inherent in such a large palette interface and perhaps streamline the group.

One more thing: I am so excited to see Painter 11 now organizes its brush category menu in alphabetical order!

Selecting and transforming

Painter 11 Transform tool
Painter 11′s Transform tool gives users the same transform functions found in Photoshop and other image editing apps.

The other two major features added to Painter are the Polygonal Selection and Transform tools. Painter is arriving late to the Polygonal Selection party: Photoshop and other graphics applications has had such a tool for years. Painter has traditionally focused on recreating the painting experience, but I think Corel has realized users also need the selection and transform features found in other applications. Thus, the Polygonal Selection tool makes its debut—along with the Transform tool, which functions a little differently than Photoshop’s Free Transform function but does all the same things. Here’s a tip: hold Option when you select the Transform tool from the toolbar, and Painter will create a copy of your selection or layer and transform that, leaving the original untouched.

A variety of productivity and compatibility enhancements

My reviews of Adobe’s CS4 applications grappled with the dilemma of whether an upgrade succeeds by its new killer features or its small improvements in efficiency. I have always expected upgrades to wow users with great new features, but CS4 focused more on productivity and Adobe has been promoting this as “the new killer feature.” Painter is a mature application and, if Painter 11 is any indication, Corel may be pursuing the same productivity goals. Many of Painter 11′s new and enhanced features are small tweaks designed to make things easier:

  • The Colors palette now includes the controls previously found in the Color Info palette, and it can be enlarged up to 800 pixels wide for easier color selection. I’m very glad they made this change, because the small color triangle made it hard to select an exact color. I’m also glad to see one palette do the job of two. However, Painter 11 also has new Color Variability and Color Expression palettes that creates a net gain for color palettes.
  • The Mixer palette has been similarly enhanced so it can be enlarged like the Colors palette. The Painter documentation also says users can add mixer swatches to the lineup of swatches on the Mixer palette, but I was only able to add mixer swatches to the Color Sets palette.
  • The keyboard has become a more useful tool in Painter 11. The arrow keys adjust the saturation of hues selected in the Colors palette.
  • The messy Color Managment dialog box from Painter X has been redesigned into something much simpler and effective. Painter 11 requires just an RGB and CMYK profile (Painter X managed five profiles for a variety of hardware and colorspaces) and the profile handling options are in plain view (in Painter X, users had to click an unmarked icon). Painter 11′s color management options are still no match for Photoshop’s, and there is no method to create custom settings, but it is an improvement. One more improvement: unlike Painter X, Painter 11 allows access to the Color Management dialog box without an active document open.

Color Management box comparison image
Comparing the Color Management dialog boxes from Painter X (top) and Painter 11 (bottom) shows a major change—from confusion to relative clarity.

Painter 11 is also compatible with more third-party technology and image formats:

  • Painter 11 understands color profiles in a variety of image formats, including PSD, TIFF and JPEG. It also open PNG files, which Painter X could not do.
  • Tablet pen tilt is better understood by Painter 11, adding realism to digital brushstrokes.
  • Painter 11 is optimized to run on Intel Mac, PowerPC Mac and Windows Vista PC computers.
  • According to the documentation, Painter 11 has improved its handling of Photoshop (PSD) files, with support for layer masks, alpha channels, layer merge modes and layer sets/groups. I tested this with a PSD file I used for a retractable banner project, and it seems both Painter X and Painter 11 understood the file perfectly except for layer styles, Smart Objects and text layers (which are rasterized).

Conclusion

Painter 11 is a solid upgrade, with a couple major new features and several smaller improvements designed to enhance efficiency and third-party compatibility. Those using Painter IX or older should consider the upgrade: for US$199, you’ll get a good assortment of new tools and compatibility improvements. Painter X users have a tougher choice because I don’t believe there is a big difference between Painter X and Painter 11, and in any case a $200 upgrade in today’s economic climate may be a harder sell for any user. A free trial of Painter 11 is available at www.corel.com so I would suggest you try before you buy.

If you have never used Painter before and are considering Painter 11, I would heartily recommend it if you enjoy painting and drawing. Painter has always offered the best painterly experience found on a computer, and Painter 11 is an improvement over its predecessor.

Painter 11
Corel
US$399/$199
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Illustrator CS4 Reveals Multiple Improvements


Illustrator CS4 box

Can you believe Adobe Illustrator has reached version 14? It doesn’t seem too long ago that we designers were working with small-numbered applications such as Photoshop 6, InDesign 2, Quark 4 and others. Many of these are now consolidated under one company and into one homogenous Creative Suite. We should still keep in mind that Illustrator has been shipping for 21 years this month.

Illustrator’s longevity is one reason why I am somewhat disappointed with Illustrator CS4. There really is not a lot of groundbreaking new technology in the new release, and some of its new features are new to all CS4 applications—the CS4 interface is a prime example. I really have not had a need for most of the new features found in Illustrator CS4, though most of them are useful and a few of them do push the envelope. One in particular is something that I’m now using with all my Illustrator files, and is something that more than a few designers will find earth-shattering.

Multiple artboards

While it’s frowned upon by most designers, there are still a lot of designers who create multi-page layouts in Illustrator. This is meant to be done in an actual page layout application like QuarkXPress or InDesign, but some people simply have made do with Illustrator over the years (it’s one of the few apps that can do both art and type fairly well) and cause grief for publication designers with their ads and page layouts.

I had always expected the Illustrator team to eventually allow multiple pages to accommodate these designers, since it’s clear these designers will never learn a second application when they can do it all in one. Illustrator CS4 comes close by introducing multiple artboards. Designed to be an efficiency aid, multiple artboards can be set up in one document to allow multiple deliverables or art to reside in one file. There’s a new Artboard tool for selecting, resizing and positioning artboards as well.


Illustrator CS4 artboards

Illustrator CS4 allows for multiple artboards for multiple graphics.

Multiple artboards is the one great new feature in Illustrator CS4. I’ve used it to compile all my various logos in one single file, and I can place a selected artboard in InDesign CS4 so compatibility is not an issue. I have clients who maintain large libraries of logos, and now they can be compiled into one or a few Illustrator files. You can also print multiple artboards, which is a valuable ability, and artboards don’t have to be the same size. However, multiple artboards aren’t really designed to make Illustrator into InDesign or QuarkXPress—artboards aren’t linked in any kind of pageflow structure. Think of them as separate Illustrator documents that just happen to be in one file. I don’t see multiple artboards as the final solution for the designers who use Illustrator for page layout—it will probably help, but in the end it’s still a kludge for them to do such work in Illustrator.


Illustrator CS4 PDF

Multiple artboards can be exported as a multi-page PDF file.

The Blob Brush: Borrowed from Flash


Illustrator CS4 Blob Brush

The Blob Brush adds some realism to the painting/drawing experience.

Another improvement touted in Illustrator CS4 is the Blob Brush tool, which is supposed to recapture the fluidity of painting. You can brush with the tool and then use the Eraser and/or Smooth tools to tweak the resulting shape. The most interesting aspect of the Blob Brush tool is the fact that strokes will “blend in” with other shapes of the same color, creating a painterly feel. Those who are familiar with Flash know that its Brush tool has been behaving this way for years. The benefit of the Blob Brush tool is its painterly behavior in a vector-based drawing application, but most of what I do in Illustrator is drawing and drafting so I have not had a need for it. When I do paint, I stick with Photoshop and Painter—but if I ever need to combine vector output and painterly styles, I will look to the Blob Brush tool to make it work.

A major advancement with gradients


Illustrator CS4 gradient

Gradient controls are overlaid on gradient-filled objects for greater ease of use.

Most of what I like in Illustrator CS4 does not revolve around new paintbrushes or tools but efficiency enhancements. One of the latter is the new Gradient controls that appear on top of objects with applied gradients. I’ve always hated going back to the Gradient panel every time I use gradients, and now the same controls are available right on the object! Working with the controls take a little practice but they’re fairly self-explanatory and very forgiving with mistakes.

Another good development in Illustrator gradient technology is transparency control for individual gradient stops. With this, gradients can now fade anywhere. Photoshop has been doing this as long as I can remember, and only now has Illustrator caught up. The two applications handle transparency differently (Illustrator uses an Opacity slider, Photoshop uses “transparency stops”) but the end result is the same.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 Now Shipping

PRESS RELEASE

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Oct. 15, 2008 – Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of the Adobe® Creative Suite® 4 product family, the highly-anticipated release of industry-leading design and development software for virtually every creative workflow. Delivering radical breakthroughs in workflow efficiency – and packed with hundreds of innovative, time saving features – the new Creative Suite 4 product line advances the creative process across print, Web, interactive, film, video and mobile.

Customers can choose from six new versions: Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium and Master Collection. The combination of Creative Suite and the new capabilities of Adobe Flash® Player 10, also available today (see separate press release) deliver new levels of creativity and expressiveness across media channels. Designers using the Adobe Creative Suite 4 product family will gain unprecedented creative control using the new expressive features and visual performance improvements in Adobe Flash Player 10 to deliver breakthrough Web experiences across multiple browsers and operating systems.

“Creative Suite 4 and Flash Player 10 introduce vital time-saving features, new levels of integration and the jaw-dropping innovations our design and developer customers expect from us,” said John Loiacono, senior vice president, Creative Solutions Business Unit at Adobe.

“CS4 continues to fulfill our promise to customers to break down more barriers in cross-media workflows, while also providing new services and collaboration tools that help them manage complex client demands.”

As part of the CS4 product launch, the largest in Adobe’s history, also available today are brand new versions of Photoshop® CS4, Photoshop CS4 Extended, InDesign® CS4, Illustrator® CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Dreamweaver® CS4, Fireworks® CS4, Contribute® CS4, After Effects® CS4, Adobe Premiere® Pro CS4, Encore® CS4, Soundbooth® CS4 and Adobe OnLocation(tm) CS4.

Intuitive Workflows Improve Creative Efficiency

A simplified workflow in Adobe Creative Suite 4 enables users to design across media more efficiently by making it easier to complete common tasks and move content seamlessly among applications. InDesign CS4 includes a new Live Preflight tool that allows designers to catch production errors and a newly customizable Links panel to manage placed files more efficiently. The revolutionary new Content-Aware Scaling tool in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended automatically recomposes an image as it is resized, preserving vital areas as it adapts to new dimensions. An expanded version of Dynamic Link in CS4 Production Premium enables users to move and update content between After Effects CS4, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Soundbooth CS4, and Encore CS4 without rendering, saving countless hours in production. With deep XMP metadata support, the production workflow is simplified, resulting in online content that gives viewers new ways to interact with and search for video, while giving content owners new opportunities to track and monetize content.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 brings 3D center-stage providing the ability to paint, composite, and animate 3D models using familiar tools in Photoshop CS4 Extended. Flash CS4 Professional now offers the ability to apply tweens to objects instead of keyframes, providing greater control over animation attributes. Also in Flash CS4 Professional, the new Bones tool helps create more realistic animations between linked objects. With a searchable library of more than 450 dynamically updated device profiles from leading manufacturers, Adobe Device Central CS4 enables users to easily test mobile content designed using many of the Creative Suite 4 products.

New and Expanded Services Extend Capabilities for Online Collaboration

Adobe Creative Suite 4 now also offers a host of services* for online collaboration. Adobe ConnectNow, a service of Acrobat.com, allows real-time collaboration with two colleagues or clients. Designers can also share color harmonies with Adobe Kuler(tm). Other online resources include: Adobe Community Help for technical questions; Resource Central for accessing video and audio product-related news and tutorials, as well as Soundbooth scores and sound effects; and Adobe Bridge Home, a customizable resource for tips, tutorials, news and inspirational content.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Creative Suite 4 and its associated point products are immediately available through Adobe Authorized Resellers and the Adobe Store at www.adobe.com/store. Estimated street price for the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium is US$1799, US$1699 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium, US$1699 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium, and US$2499 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection. To reward customers for staying current, Adobe is offering Creative Suite 3 customers moving to Creative Suite 4 a lower upgrade price than it offers to those moving from older, qualifying versions. For a limited time, a special introductory offer enables customers with older qualifying products to enjoy the same lower price with savings of up to US$200 off their actual upgrade price. For more detailed information please visit www.adobe.com/creativesuite.

Adobe Flash Player 10 is available immediately as a free download for Windows, Macintosh and Linux platforms (including new support for Ubuntu 7 and 8) from www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe revolutionizes how the world engages with ideas and information – anytime, anywhere and through any medium. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

First Impressions: InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop CS4

CS4 Design Standard includes four applications:

Since Acrobat 9 isn’t new, I’ll concentrate on the first three programs in this first look. The following information is based on my experience using betas of the CS4 apps since July of this year.

InDesign CS4: One of My Favorites

I’m a proponent of InDesign’s interactive features, so I’m pleased that InDesign CS4 has several improvements for creating Flash and PDF presentations. Some people pooh-pooh the idea of using a print application to create multimedia, but I know clients call for this sort of thing all the time, and not all InDesign users are also skilled Flash users….

For the rest of this article, click here to read it on CreativePro.com.

Adobe Announces Creative Suite 4

Today, Adobe Systems announced Creative Suite 4 (CS4), which contains all-new versions of the company’s design, Web, and video applications. The product suite structure of CS4 is relatively unchanged from Creative Suite 3.

CS4 design

CS4 Design Standard and Design Premium:

CS4 web

CS4 Web Standard and Web Premium:

CS4 prod

CS4 Production Premium:

CS4 master

CS4 Master Collection includes all CS4 applications except Adobe Photoshop CS4.

There are even more applications in the CS4 suites:

REVIEW: Serif Jumps The Pond With Four Creative Pro Apps

Back in May it was announced that Serif, a UK company known for its publishing and design applications, would start offering its software for purchase in the United States. It was exciting news because their four main products align closely with Adobe’s Creative Suite applications and could serve as a low-cost substitute (Serif’s apps cost only $80–100 each while Adobe’s comparable apps cost anywhere from $400–700, if purchased separately). The news was exciting enough for me to jump into the world of Windows and try these applications out for myself.

It’s hard to compare software like this to Adobe’s, since applications like Photoshop and Illustrator practically created the desktop publishing and digital imaging industries. Rather than strictly compare the two product families, I approached the task as a working designer would and tested the Serif products to see if they could work well in an ad agency or design firm. This includes working well with standard graphics and text formats, supporting standard spot color libraries such as the PANTONE Matching System, being easy to use and robust for standard design work, and exporting files that will work well with printers.

Serif’s four products include:

  • DrawPlus X2, a graphics program similar to Illustrator,
  • PhotoPlus X2, a digital studio similar to Photoshop,
  • PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional, similar to InDesign, and
  • WebPlus X2, similar to Dreamweaver.

DrawPlus X2: A lot of toys and plays well with others


DrawPlus

DrawPlus X2 is a lot of fun to use and has some cool tricks that are either new to me or are similar to what I’ve seen in Illustrator and Freehand. It can open Illustrator and PDF files and import a variety of other formats including Photoshop and EPS files, though when I threw some complex Illustrator files at it, I learned it couldn’t process opacity masks. But as long as you are not migrating a library of Illustrator files to DrawPlus, you should be all right in your daily work.

Working with the application is fairly easy to do and there’s some powerful tools available to users. There’s a library of brushes that are easy to use and look very natural—charcoal, paint, pastel, pencil, pen and waterpaint strokes are all available, and they are good enough to remind me of Corel Painter. While DrawPlus doesn’t have many color libraries, it does have the PANTONE® libraries which is good. Unfortunately, you can only access them within the Color Selector dialog box, and I don’t like how the Color Selector handles—you can change the color mode within the dialog box but it doesn’t seem to affect what color goes into the Color panel.


DrawPlus

DrawPlus X2 is perfect for making simple graphics such as those shown here. Click the image for a larger view.

There are a few other oddities that really bothered me:

  • You can’t swap the foreground and background color in the Color panel.
  • The Zoom tool is in the lower-right corner of the interface and is easy to miss.
  • Autotracing bitmap graphics is an important part of any illustration application, and DrawPlus does have an autotracing feature but it is inferior to Illustrator. You can only preview your work in a very small window, and there are only a couple settings to handle (smoothness and tolerance). Also note that autotracing a complex image will likely crash the application—the dialog box even warns the user about this.

But there’s some things I haven’t seen in other drawing applications that I like:

  • A Pressure panel allows you to fine-tune how your drawing tablet’s pen pressure is interpreted and applied to brushstrokes.
  • Along with the usual effects like drop shadow and glows, there are some nice 3D filter effects such as bump maps, pattern maps and lighting effects. They make for some really nice effects. I should also note that I’m somewhat disappointed there aren’t more effects and filters, like in Illustrator, but some missing effects (like Roughen) can be found in the toolbar.
  • Instant 3D can make a line, shape or image into a 3D object. For an image this means superimposing it on a three-dimensional image box. It creates some really cool graphics quickly.
  • The Transparency tool allows you to click and apply transparency effects to any element, and you can apply these in a variety of ways (radial, conical, three points, plasma and more).


DrawPlus

DrawPlus X2 also comes equipped with an impressive array of wet and dry brushes. Click the image for a larger view.

You can’t output a DrawPlus graphic as a Photoshop or Illustrator graphic but you can make a variety of bitmap and vector formats including PDF. The PDF export dialog box only allows compatibility up to Acrobat 6 (the application just went up to version 9). You can produce PDF/X-1a files but since the the dialog box seems to be outdated it doesn’t include any other specs like PDF/X-3 or PDF/X-4. Also, in my testing it took awhile to export from complex documents and the resulting files were large.

I would feel comfortable using DrawPlus for my daily work, though I’m not sure I would want to work with complex documents that need to go to PDF or files that need to be converted from Illustrator. I think Illustrator and DrawPlus are a little too different, though Draw Plus really does do a decent job of getting most of it right. The best customer for DrawPlus may be those who are currently drawing with a bottom-dollar application but don’t want to tackle something like Illustrator. DrawPlus gives you some of Illustrator’s power at a fraction of the cost, and it has some fun toys to play with.


DrawPlus

I didn’t cover it in this review, but DrawPlus X2 also has some animation features including the ability to export to Flash. Click the image for a larger view.

CS4 Will Be Announced September 23

CS4

A new CS4 logo?

It looks like Adobe will announce its much-anticipated Creative Suite version 4 (CS4) on Tuesday, September 23. There’s a link on the Adobe home page that takes you to a simple page to sign up for information about the CS4 webcast to happen on the 23rd. Along with that is this interesting icon—if this is the new iconography to go with CS4, things are about to get a whole lot funkier.