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.

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Illustrator CS4 Reveals Multiple Improvements”

  1. I’ve been wanting to upgrade, because all the new features are great (transparency gradients ftw!). But I’ve heard so many people complaining about the stability of ilcs4 >.>

  2. I haven’t experienced much instability myself. The one thing that irks me (and I didn’t mention this in my reviews) is the fact that these apps take time to launch and they also have a tendency to hang when quitting during my computer shutdown process. I actually think what’s happening is when multiple CS4 apps are quitting at the same time, they take so long that the computer thinks they’re hanging. I am on a 3-year-old MacBook Pro so it might be my computer to blame—CS4 requires a lot of resources to run.

  3. Yeah, CS4 is a resource-heavy set of applications. But I haven’t had a lot of problems with the applications hanging.

    Try adding a bit more RAM, if you have the room to do so. 4 gigs is the absolute minimum I would suggest having, and if you’re on a mac or a windows machine with a 64 bit version of windows, having 8 gigs is my recommendation.

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