All posts by Jeremy Schultz

REVIEW: Adobe Acrobat XI

Adobe is promoting Acrobat XI as a productivity enhancer for a variety of markets:

  • Increased editability and cloud service integration for business professionals
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint, and increased efficiency for IT departments
  • Much easier text and image editability for content creators and designers
  • Security measures and PDF protection is now easier to apply, for data security personnel

One new feature in Acrobat XI is a complete sea change from previous versions and something I personally would never have expected to see—full PDF editability. From the reviewer’s guide: “Professionals frequently need to edit content from existing PDF files without wasting precious time locating and revising source files.” This is very true. As a designer, I’ve asked for native files a hundred times from clients who delivered PDF files and then needed changes (and didn’t want to pay the original designer). There have always been tools to make PDF edits and Acrobat has had ways to revise certain elements such as images, but the PDF format has never been conducive to editing. That has changed in Acrobat XI.

Edit Image

Edit Text

This new editability is handled by the new Edit Text and Images tool. When it’s active, text and image elements can be scaled, rotated and edited. Text will usually reflow during editing, which cures a major pain point for designers editing PDFs. Images can still be sent to Photoshop or Illustrator and back again. And you can execute find/replace commands to make text changes across an entire PDF. Acrobat XI’s new editing tools are an improvement but I see some problems with it:

  • PDF pages are treated as individual documents, so changes on one page will not cause text to reflow across pages. In fact, if you add enough text to a block on the bottom of a page, it will flow beneath the next page.
  • Acrobat XI segments a PDF into text and image blocks during editing. Each one will reflow but they are not aware of each other, and this causes problems. For example, each bullet and item in a bulleted list is its own text block, and editing one will not cause layout changes for the other items. Paragraphs are separate text blocks and will not move up or down due to text changes around them.
  • For some reason, I have also seen single paragraphs and captions composed of multiple text blocks. Editing these would be tedious.
  • As with any document, missing fonts will be replaced with a default font. It looks like images are embedded, so they don’t need to be linked with native files.

I think Edit Text & Images is a decent improvement but it doesn’t replace native files. You can edit pretty much anything in a PDF with Acrobat XI, but it is not easy unless revisions are small. It’s great for typos, but major edits causing page reflow would be a nightmare to deal with strictly in Acrobat XI.

Moving files with drag-and-drop merge

Drag-and-drop merge is another major feature in Acrobat XI. Recent versions of Acrobat have provided ways to build large PDFs (PDF Portfolio comes to mind) and the “Combine Files in a Single PDF” command is buried in the File > Create menu and in other places including the Welcome dialog box. Acrobat has a lot of features nowadays and this one can be hard to find. When you do invoke the command, a dialog box is provided to add, reorder and remove files.

PowerPoint Export

Corporate users will appreciate Acrobat XI’s new Export to Microsoft PowerPoint feature. Entire PDFs or text selections can be exported as PowerPoint documents, and Acrobat XI does a great job preserving formatting and document structure (including master layouts). I see fewer PowerPoint presentations nowadays—Apple’s Keynote actually shows up quite a bit in my work—but PowerPoint is still the industry standard in corporate environments. Along with PowerPoint, PDFs can also be exported in Word, Excel or HTML file formats. I can’t think of any export formats missing now in Acrobat except for Keynote, although Acrobat can export a PPTX file that Keynote can work with.

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint now also integrate Acrobat XI’s enhancements in PDF security. Protect PDF is an option available when saving PDFs that will basically restrict copying, editing and printing. These restrictions are themselves not new but Acrobat XI makes it easier and faster to deploy these options. Along with Protect PDF, Restrict Editing in the Protection menu quickly password-protects PDFs from editing. This happens to be the restriction I apply the most, and it is an easy thing to do now. My only complaint—and it’s one that has been around for many versions of Acrobat—is that I have to apply the security to a copy of the PDF, not the same one I’m working on.

FormsCentral integration

This is the first version of Acrobat that really integrates with the Acrobat.com online applications and leverages those services. Acrobat XI ships with a desktop app for FormsCentral, the online form builder and response analytics service. FormsCentral is quite useful and I have used it for more than one project; it makes building robust forms easier and presents complete analytics. The Forms > Create menu item launches the FormsCentral desktop app, a portal to the online app, and from there you can command all FormsCentral features. One of the benefits of working with an online app is you can manage forms and analytics even if you’re away from Acrobat XI.

EchoSign integration

Another online application that Acrobat XI integrates with is EchoSign, the digital signature service. Acrobat has relied on digital signatures in PDF forms for years, and EchoSign provides another layer of features including online distribution and tracking, delivery confirmation with Adobe Certified Document Services, and hand-signed electronic signatures applied via touchscreen devices. Over the years, Acrobat’s electronic signature features have not changed much and I have found them to be confusing. EchoSign helps relieve the confusion, but what really clarifies things is the Place Signature option in the Sign panel. The Place Signature dialog box provides four options for electronically signing a document and it’s pretty easy to use. EchoSign’s real benefits come with document distribution.

One more feature that I think is really useful: Custom tool sets. Acrobat XI is a quite mature app and it has grown a long list of tools and toolbars. It has been particular long since the sidebar tool panel was released a couple versions back. There are almost too many tools, and definitely too many toolbars to be useful at once. Custom toolbars allow users to remove, add or move tools around in existing tool sets or create new tool sets. Tool sets are included on top of the sidebar panel. I don’t know how useful this is in the creative professional market: Adobe creative products have used task-specific workspaces for years now, but customizing tool panels have typically not done well. In this case, Acrobat XI might have a good use for custom tool sets in the corporate market, where there’s time, resources and motivation to build custom tool sets for department tasks. Another use for this could be in prepress and print production, where users work with PDFs regularly but have no need for Acrobat’s collaboration and commenting tool panels.

Acrobat XI provides several new features that really stand out, and it’s part of the Creative Cloud so it’s available to many users without extra cost. The standalone product costs US$449/$199 full/upgrade. FormsCentral and EchoSign are both services with monthly costs—both are just under $15 per month.

Acrobat XI
Adobe Systems
US$449/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10

Adobe Releases Dreamweaver, Edge Updates for Web Developers

Adobe today announced some new features for Dreamweaver CS6, Edge Animate and Edge Code preview, which are available today for Creative Cloud subscribers. Several of the new features are integrations of technology and services that we’ve seen before, such as web fonts via Typekit, the type service Adobe bought late in 2011.

The other major news is the first public preview of Adobe Edge Reflow, a tool for building responsive website layouts. “Responsive” layouts flex and change depending on what device you are on, ensuring a good user experience across personal computers, mobile devices and tablets.

I’ve seen the product before today in demos and it is geared toward web designers more than developers—the user interface is polished and designed to build the code. There is no expansive code view, although you can read the generated CSS in some places. That code can then be exported and used in programs like Dreamweaver or Edge Code.

The release is a public preview and Adobe welcomes feedback at https://github.com/edge-reflow/issues.

The update to Adobe Edge Code includes a Live Development preview which pushes changes to a web browser immediately for testing. I like this new feature quite a bit. There’s also now a “Quick Edit” option to edit code in context rather than moving to the original file. Code hinting for HTML and CSS, a longtime feature in Dreamweaver and other mature code editors, is now in Edge Code.

Adobe Edge Animate’s new features include support for some CSS3 technology including gradients (radial and linear) and CSS filters. The addition of CSS filters is particularly interesting because they promise amazing control over HTML elements, including the ability to apply drop shadow, brightness/contrast changes, blurring, color saturation and other functions you normally associate with Photoshop. The spec for CSS filters was created by Adobe, so it makes sense they would pursue this. Unfortunately, CSS filters are supported only by Webkit browsers at this time, excluding Internet Explorer and Gecko browsers such as Firefox—but I bet they will build in support soon.

The other major enhancement added to Edge Animate is a user interface for previewing web fonts from Adobe’s Edge Web Fonts service. This free service is powered by Typekit. This is a nice improvement for web designers but most web developers have no trouble integrating Typekit fonts by adding the code snippets and setting up kits on the Typekit website. This kind of change, like several others in today’s announcements, serve creative professionals more than web developers.

The Edge Web Fonts interface is also new in an update to Dreamweaver CS6 going live today. The Dreamweaver update does have a few new features for web developers, including the option to apply fluid grid layouts to elements by class as well as ID attributes. The interface for working with fluid grid layouts has also been improved. These are the kinds of things that can really make a developer’s life easier.

There aren’t many new updates today, but the Creative Cloud paradigm drives more updates than we’re used to but with fewer features. Most new features I’ve seen today are improvements and they fit with Adobe’s goal of providing tools for the latest web technology (web fonts, responsive web design) for creative professionals. Web developers and programmers will probably be less excited by today’s announcements, but there’s some goodies for them too.

Adobe’s CreateNow Event: New Photoshop 13.1, Muse, Creative Cloud For Teams

Apparently, the new Retina versions of Photoshop and Illustrator were just the tip of the iceberg. Besides announcing those, Adobe is announcing major updates to the Creative Cloud service and upgrades to Photoshop (besides the Retina enhancement) and Muse, Adobe’s webpage builder for non-coders. The biggest announcements have to be multi-seat Creative Cloud subscriptions for enterprise teams and Creative Cloud Connection for synching the 20GB+ of cloud storage with users’ desktops. Click here to see the CreateNow announcement live this morning.

Photoshop 13.1: Conditional actions, CSS output and more

For whatever reason, Adobe opted to announce Photoshop’s new Retina display support last night at midnight—before the CreateNow event. It ends up that Photoshop 13.1 has many more new features available today:

  • Blur Gallery and Liquify filters can now be saved as non-destructive Smart Objects. Non-destructive edits are wonderful time-savers and I recommend using them whenever possible.
  • Conditional Actions: Insert if-else logic that executes one of two actions depending on set criteria.
  • Layers can now be exported as CSS code for web developers to apply to their projects.
  • Improvements to the Crop tool.
  • Better OpenGL 3D shadow previews and better lighting controls.
  • Note that 512MB video RAM is now required for 13.1. Moreover, Windows XP is no longer supported.

Out of all the new features, the CSS export baffles me the most—Adobe had moved away from outputting code with their creative applications, perhaps because the code has never been very clean. I got my hands on the 13.1 build a week ago and have been looking at the CSS code produced by the new Photoshop (see below). It’s much improved. Photoshop generates CSS class rules for one or more layers that are absolutely positioned, z-indexed for the correct layering, and given background-image rules referring to PNG files for each layer (“images/Layer 1 copy.png”). I do not see a method for extracting those PNGs, which is strange. It’s also strange that the CSS uses inches instead of pixels for measurements, but my document is using inches so that makes sense.

.Group_1 {
position: absolute;
left: 0.767in;
top: 0.26in;
width: 6.753in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 6;
}
.Layer_3 {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 3.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0in;
top: 0.107in;
width: 4.87in;
height: 4.877in;
z-index: 5;
}
.Layer_1_copy {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 1 copy.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0.477in;
top: 0in;
width: 6.277in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 4;
}

Also, Photoshop can generate CSS code for single layers or a single layer group but not the entire document. This makes sense because developers often want just snippets for specific elements, but if the CSS output is all about positioning and specific measurements then I’d want code for all the elements so I don’t have to figure out how they line up.

My pick for the new features that’s great but could be a lot better is the Conditional Actions. In theory, they should be great: the action can execute one of two things depending on a condition in the document. However, two things hamper its usefulness:

Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
  • You can’t specify one of two commands to be executed—only actions. So if you want an image cropped a certain way if it’s landscape but another crop if it’s portrait, you have to save both crops as actions and apply them that way.
  • The conditions to be met are hard-coded into Photoshop and there’s 24 total. Most are based on the document’s status (color mode, pixel depth) or layer’s status (mask, adjustment layer, effects).

It’s obvious that overcoming these two points would require a very robust interface for selecting commands and creating conditions, so I am cool with not having it in 13.1. I would love to see this be developed further in version 14 (CS7?).

Creative Cloud: New teams, training service and desktop sync

Creative Cloud has some major momentum—200,000 members have joined in the last four months and most of them select an annual plan. I see this growing as Adobe continues to add value to the subscription and legacy users decide to stop purchasing standalone software. The new Creative Cloud for teams is going to accelerate the process.

David Wadhwani, senior vice president, Digital Media, Adobe, says, “Our goal is to make Creative Cloud the ultimate hub for creatives, where they can access the world’s best creative tools, store and collaborate around their work and ultimately showcase their creations. Now with the availability of the new Creative Cloud offering for teams, we’re making it easier for workgroups to create and collaborate.”

Creative Cloud for teams has some features that you find in subscription-based enterprise services:

  • Virtual workgroup management
  • 100GB of cloud storage per user (up from 20GB)
  • Expert support services
  • An admin interface for adding/removing seats
  • Easy migration from individual to team memberships
  • Annual contract is billed $69.99/month or $49.99/month for first year for users of CS3 or newer

I am really digging the Creative Cloud Connection, Adobe’s new desktop synchronization service for Creative Cloud. There are several cloud services out there now—Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Box and more—and they all provide some space for free, but it is not a lot. SkyDrive offers the most at 7GB. Creative Cloud isn’t free but subscribers do get a good 20GB along with all the Adobe programs. Some cloud services can sync files to users’ computers but not all; Creative Cloud can do so now today. Note that folder sharing is coming soon.

Adobe is also announcing today the new Creative Cloud Training service for subscribers. It’s a collection of training videos from various providers available free to subscribers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many customers already have subscriptions to these video providers such as Kelby Training and Lynda.com (who isn’t listed on the press release, so I don’t think they are participating) but it’s a good added value for those who don’t.

Muse: Better for tablet and mobile web layouts

Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse
Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse

Adobe Muse gets one major updates but it’s quite major: it can now create web layouts for the desktop, iPhone, iPad and other devices. Designers can work with all views within Muse, which is handy. I haven’t seen the new Muse so I don’t know whether it is generating a responsive website or just building multiple versions of a site—if it’s the latter, it’s unclear if Muse provides the code for device detection and serving up the correct version.

Availability

Tune in to see the full details unveiled at the Create Now online event at 10am PT with new Creative Cloud capabilities, including Creative Cloud for teams, available for download and purchase starting at 11am PT/1pm CT. Unless specified, everything announced today is available to users at that time.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 Now HiDPI Retina Display-Enabled

The rumor is true: Adobe has updated two flagship products for the ultra-high-resolution Retina Display screens. Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 is now capable of high-resolution graphics on Retina displays (such as those on the newest MacBook Pro models); Creative Cloud subscribers can log in and grab the update immediately as of 9PM PST/12AM EST, yet another bonus for users who subscribe through the Creative Cloud.

I’ve been running the Retina-capable Photoshop CS6 for several days now and the product works well–the user interface is sharp and clear, and views at various zoom settings work as expected. I wish Adobe was able to push this update sooner than this–the Retina models have been on the market for almost six months now–but I’m happy to see it here now.

More news?

Adobe probably has more in store for us today: their “Create Now” event to be broadcasted live on December 11 at noon CST says we’ll “explore what’s next in Creative Cloud.” I bet we will see more new features, or perhaps a Creative Cloud offering for enterprise clients (which has been often requested.) Click here to see the “Create Now” livecast on Facebook.

Global Publishing Platform Blurb Expands High-Quality Print Options to Include Magazines and Brochures

The online publishing platform Blurb has expanded their digital publishing products to include magazines and brochures. Online publishing has greatly changed the publishing industry—I think it’s the greatest industry change since desktop publishing in the 1980s and 1990s—and Blurb’s new brochure product in particular turns the entire printing process on its head. Who would have thought you could have a print run of one ten years ago?

I might be able to arrange an interview with CEO Eileen Gittins in the near future, but until then here is the press release with links to Blurb’s magazine and brochure pages.


PRESS RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Blurb, the global creative publishing platform, today released two additions to its on-demand print products—Magazines and Brochures. These new products, available via an Adobe® InDesign® plug-in, combine print-on-demand flexibility with quality and design capabilities to meet the individual needs of consumers and businesses, regardless of how big or small the job.

Until now, those looking to create high-quality product catalogs, promotional collateral, look books, brand presentations and brochures in small quantities were limited by minimum order requirements, resulting in high, unattainable costs. Blurb’s new on-demand offering allows consumers and businesses to print low-volume orders in one week, which can be easily updated and reprinted. This results in lower development costs, no inventory management or storage costs, and much less waste.

“Creating a distinctive print marketing piece used to mean printing thousands of copies and weeks to turnaround,” said Eileen Gittins, Blurb’s CEO and founder. “With our new brochure offering, the minimum order is one copy, the turnaround time is a few days and multiple options are available for cover finishes. Our new magazine offering is perfect for the short, ‘bursty’ way that people create and consume content today. Who doesn’t want to see their work published in a magazine?”

High-Quality Printing Meets Ease of Design

Blurb Magazines and Brochures, both of which are made using Blurb’s platform and its plug-in for Adobe® InDesign®, let anyone create customized publications that push the creative edge. Both products are printed on HP Indigo presses – the industry’s leading printer for on-demand publishing.

Blurb Magazines are affordable, lighter-weight, perfect-bound, 20- to 240- page publications ideal for creative and editorial content. Blurb Brochures, perfect for creating customized business collateral, range from 4 to 48 pages and offer saddle-stitched binding and a selection of cover finishes. Both Magazines and Brochures are U.S. industry standard 8.5 x 11-inch formats.

Customers can easily convert their Blurb Magazines or Brochures to digital versions as ebooks for the iPad® or as PDFs for easy sharing and dissemination. No minimum orders are required to create Blurb Magazines or Brochures, but customers creating publications in bulk can take advantage of Blurb’s volume orders discounts.

“With both of these new products, we are leveling the playing field; now individuals and businesses can look as impressive as their much larger competitors,” Gittins said.

Like Blurb on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. For more information on how you can get started creating your own Blurb magazine or brochure booklet, please visit http://www.blurb.com/.

About Blurb®

Blurb® is a creative publishing platform that unleashes the creative genius inside everyone. Blurb’s platform makes it easy to design, publish, market and sell professional-quality print books, magazines and ebooks. Blurb’s bookstore and online marketing tools enable customers to sell their work, and keep 100% of their profit for print books and 80% of their sales price for ebooks. Blurb’s social and community features allow customers to create and share Blurb books across social channels with ease.

Blurb was founded by Eileen Gittins in 2005, and includes a team of design, Internet and media veterans who share a passion for helping people bring their stories to life. In 2010, Blurb shipped over 1.4 million books to 69 countries. In 2010, Blurb was ranked the fastest growing media company on the Inc. 500. Blurb is based in San Francisco with offices in London.

Alien Skin’s Eye Candy 7 Plugin Released

Eye Candy 7 interface

Alien Skin has announced that version 7 of their popular Eye Candy plugin for Photoshop will be released next month. Eye Candy has always had some spectacular effects, but what I’m most excited about in this version is a new modern user interface that looks like a big improvement. (You can see some images of this UI on Alien Skin’s blog post here.)


PRESS RELEASE

Alien Skin Software Announces Eye Candy 7 Graphic Design Effects Plug-In for Photoshop

Realistic effects look natural, including the new Lightning, Electrify, and Clouds. All effects are now in one user interface, making experimentation easy.

Raleigh, North Carolina – November 14, 2012 – Alien Skin Software today announced Eye Candy® 7, the new version of its graphic design effects plug-in for Adobe® Photoshop® and Photoshop Elements. Eye Candy 7 renders realistic effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve in Photoshop alone, such as Fire, Chrome, and the new Lightning. The completely redesigned user interface lets you quickly browse all of Eye Candy’s effects through icons and instant previews.

Eye Candy 7 contains the spectacular new Lightning, Electrify, and Cloud effects. There are over 1,000 presets that handle every design situation elegantly, from slick Web interfaces (Chrome, Glass, Perspective Shadow) to tasteful logos (Bevel, Brushed Metal, Extrude) to spectacular titles (Chrome, Corona, Fire). Realism sets Eye Candy effects apart from the generic filters built into Photoshop. Effects like Animal Fur, Smoke, and Reptile Skin are rendered in exquisite detail down to individual hairs, turbulent wisps, and shiny scales. Eye Candy helps designs look more natural and organic.

Eye Candy’s new, modern user interface makes it easy to explore and design looks. In Eye Candy 7, the effects are chosen through easy to recognize icons rather than text menus. As users move their mouse over presets, the thumbnail preview instantly shows how they will look within the design. Effects adapt to the size of artwork, so preset can be used without any modification.

“I’m proud of our big simplification of the Eye Candy 7 user interface,” said Terence Tay, the designer of Eye Candy. “Now you can browse effects visually, which is how designers naturally work.”

Eye Candy is made for professionals in demanding production environments who need support for 16-bit/channel images and CMYK mode. Eye Candy provides multiple techniques for non-destructive editing in Photoshop, including Smart Filter support and rendering effects on a new layer.

Pricing and Availability

Eye Candy 7 will be available in December 2012 through www.alienskin.com for $199 USD. Owners of any previous version of Eye Candy may upgrade for $99 USD. Free upgrades will be automatically sent to all users who purchased Eye Candy 6 directly from Alien Skin Software in September 2012 or later.

Host Requirements

Eye Candy 7 is a plug-in and requires one of the following host applications:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 or later
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 or later

System Requirements

Microsoft Windows users need Windows 7 or later.
Apple Macintosh users need Mac OS X 10.7 or later.
An Intel Core 2 processor or compatible is required.
A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

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!

How Adobe FormsCentral Saved My Project

Adobe FormsCentral, one of their growing number of apps at Acrobat.com, has been on my review list for some time but didn’t have a great angle to write about until recently. Adobe FormsCentral literally saved a recent project of mine, and I was surprised how its strengths dovetailed with the technical issues I was facing.

The project objective was straightforward:

  • Build an online registration form
  • Include payment integration with PayPal
  • Send email notification to the user and the client on submission
  • Store registration data or send it via email to the client

The client’s website is constructed with Ning, which made its name as a social community builder but now is a blend of that and a typical content management system. Unfortunately, Ning’s backend is fairly difficult to work with unless you are doing basic CSS or HTML changes. The Perl script that we used last year to submit the form data was not allowed by Ning, effectively scuttling our existing solution. I was worried that Ning would force the form to be hosted elsewhere until I thought about FormsCentral, which has a few characteristics that made it ideal for this job:

  • A robust set of form elements covered all the inputs I needed.
  • The ability to embed my form on any webpage with an iframe let me put this form on a Ning page with no problem.
  • The FormsCentral service handles all the notifications and submission data storage, so I didn’t have to write code to handle it myself.
  • Multiple user accounts through FormsCentral meant that my client could run reports and check registrant data as easily as I could.

FormsCentral comes loaded with 50 templates for various industries, but I only needed five text fields so a blank template was adequate. In the Design tab, I was able to make fields required, limit the total characters, include help popups and restrict input to certain types like text, number or email. These are all typically included with forms services like FormsCentral. The one design feature that is completely absent is the ability to dictate design with CSS, which I’d normally use to design a web form. I understand Adobe’s focus on non-programmers, but CSS could really make it easier to apply design elements throughout forms.

The Options tab pretty much covered the rest of my project requirements. I created a Submission Receipt that is sent to all users after they complete the form. I also set up a notification to be sent to the client and myself after every submission, though I was a bit disappointed my client had to create an Adobe ID and log into FormsCentral in order to be added to the notifications list. I also noted that I couldn’t create my own HTML email template to be used for notifications or receipts.

Payment processing is also set up in FormsCentral’s Options tab. Configuring PayPal payments with this form was the most difficult step to master. Registering the PayPal account with the form is easy enough but connecting the form fields to the purchase functionality can be confusing. In the Payment Processing settings, I had to specify the purchase field, quantity field, price and description. The user selected their quantity in a particular field on the form, so that was used for the quantity field. (I also could have set it for exactly one item, which is helpful in some situations.) The purchase field is what confused me because, in this case, the form’s Submit button is also considered a valid purchase field. It was what I needed for this project.

FormsCentral forms can be distributed up to three ways:

  • An HTML page hosted at FormsCentral. An example is https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ.
  • A PDF form with interactive form fields. This can be submitted by the user when offline, and the data is stored locally until an Internet connection can be made.
  • Embedded via iframe into an HTML page. The embed code looks like this:


script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://formscentral.acrobat.com/Clients/Current/FormsCentral/htmlClient/scripts/adobe.form.embed.min.js”>
script type="text/javascript">
var fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ = new ADOBEFORMS.EmbedForm({formId:"zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ", server:"https://adobeformscentral.com/", width:640, showHeader:false, transparent:true, widthAfterRedirect:640, heightAfterRedirect:400});
fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ.display();

You can see some embedded parameters, such as background color, form width and the iframe size after the form is submitted and a redirect URL is specified. (I didn't use this because FormsCentral lets you show a confirmation message after submission.)

The View Responses tab is where the client and I could see the submitted data. Everything is stored, and PayPal even returns the transaction ID and total dollar amount to FormsCentral so the payment data is complete. A report can be exported from the File menu within FormsCentral, or you can view the Summary Report tab to see some charts based on your data. These did not help me much because most of my data was non-numerical, and the charts can only display data as a full count or an average. My client and I focused on the View Responses tab, which had all the data we required.

The Ning platform could accept FormsCentral's embed code since it's pure HTML, and the form itself worked perfectly. This got us around the limitations imposed by Ning and also provided me the data handling that I normally would have executed with my own scripts. Ultimately, FormsCentral gave me more tools with less work and helped both me and my client be more efficient. FormsCentral does have its limitations, mostly imposed by the product's emphasis on the non-programming user. However, FormsCentral is designed for projects like this one and I was lucky to consider it!

FormsCentral can be run as a 30-day trial for 99 cents or paid monthly for $14.99 per month. This allows up to five forms and up to 500 responses. An annual rate of $143.88, recently reduced, provides 5,000 responses per form with unlimited data storage and unlimited forms. Note that the Acrobat.com apps, including FormsCentral, are not included in Adobe's Creative Cloud product.

Updates to Adobe Touch Apps: Photoshop Touch 1.3 and Proto 1.5

Adobe Photoshop Touch and Adobe Proto, two of Adobe’s Touch Apps designed for tablets, were updated in the past month. Today, Photoshop Touch was updated to version 1.3 with a few new features designed for iPad users with Retina screens. Last month, the web design app Proto was updated to version 1.5 with more integration between desktop and cloud applications.

Photoshop Touch 1.3: High-resolution improvements

Adobe Photoshop Touch

According to Adobe’s blog post, Photoshop Touch 1.3′s primary goal is to support the new batch of high-resolution Retina screens being used by Apple in their new iPads (3rd generation). The app also supports images up to 12 megapixels, including print-quality resolutions. (The blog post makes it sound like you have to sacrifice the number of layers you can work with in order to gain the extra pixels.)

Other improvements include:

  • Two new Effects: Shred and Colorize
  • Smoother animation and scrolling in the organizer, tutorial browser and file picker
  • New three-finger tap gesture to toggle 100 percent view and fit screen
  • New pixel-nudging mode for precise movements
  • Support for Apple Photo Stream on the iPad

Adobe Proto 1.5: Little improvements can mean a lot

Adobe Proto Logo

Proto is one of my favorite Adobe Touch Apps (see my review of it here), but Proto 1.5 provides some very useful improvements that should have been in the original release. The more comprehensive list of improvements is here on John Nack’s blog, and here’s a selection of that list:

  • Email interactive wireframe as attachment or share via Dropbox and other Adobe Touch Apps
  • Copy and paste objects to different pages
  • Share common objects across pages
  • Navigations can now be pinned on all pages
  • Z-index (stacking over) can be changed via Context Menu
  • Show undo/redo count
  • Objects snap to both CSS Column and Design Grid
  • Code generated is now ordered according to the appearance in the page
  • All pinned objects generate a separate common CSS file (common.css)

Generally, the improvements provide a more productive workflow within Proto, a more efficient use of materials like common navigation elements, and more useful code outside of the Proto environment. Dreamweaver users should watch this Adobe TV clip to learn how to bring native Proto files into Dreamweaver CS6.

For more information, check out the product pages for Photoshop Touch and Proto or the Adobe Touch Apps homepage.

BOOK REVIEW: Node Up and Running

Front-end web developers everywhere know JavaScript and use it for everything from DOM manipulation to Ajax applications. That’s why I am really excited that Node.js exists—JavaScript running on the server side, running applications from the server rather than the browser. The exciting aspect of it is it opens up server-side programming to front-end developers who until now have focused on the browser.

Node Up and Running by Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson provides a primer on Node that I really enjoyed. I have not worked with Node before but I’m experienced with JavaScript—in other words, I’m the ideal reader for an introductory book such as this. The most useful chapter for me was actually the first, which introduces Node and—most importantly—explains the scalability of Node and its ability to handle large applications. I wasn’t sure it was suitable for these things compared to Java or other server-side languages. I wish the book dived deeper into these questions, but the chapter was enough to make me feel comfortable using Node in these situations.

The rest of the book covers basic Node concepts like loops, error handling, APIs and data handling. All the basics you will need are here, but there’s more to Node and I will be looking forward to a more extensive Node “cookbook” from O’Reilly in the future. (Tom Hughes-Croucher said on Amazon.com that it is in the works.) Node Up and Running is short so you don’t get into all the details, but I was impressed it packed in as much useful details as it did. I also liked that the very first project code in the second chapter consisted of a chat server and a Twitter service—both look impressive and show off Node functionality.

One complaint about Node Up and Running is that the book covers a quickly-changing framework and some parts of the book are outdated at this point. Another criticism is that the book is too short—it’s not even 200 pages, so it’s really just an introduction to Node. But as an introduction it serves its purpose very well and entices front-end developers with some great server-side code that can be built with their JavaScript skills. It’s an exciting time to be a JavaScript developer!

Node Up and Running
Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson
Published by O’Reilly
US $34.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com