Tag Archives: 5

REVIEW: Adobe Captivate 5 for Mac

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Adobe Captivate 5, released last July, is the first version of Captivate to be available for Mac OS and so it’s the first version to be on the radar of many creative professionals who produce eLearning material through other products like Flash but don’t work with Windows. The Adobe team did a very good job porting Captivate to the Mac—it looks and feels just like its Windows counterpart—but creative users might be a little surprised by the differences between other creative pro apps like Flash and Captivate, which reminds me of PowerPoint.

The user interface

I’ve noticed two different user interface strategies at Adobe in the past couple years (excluding their video applications, which have their own interface design). Creative pro applications from Adobe either have an older user interface with multiple panels and many settings—think Photshop and Illustrator—or a newer, cleaner interface with a sidebar and fewer panels, segmented to show and hide groups of settings easily. Flash Catalyst CS5 is a prime example of this newer design, and Flash Pro CS5 uses some elements of both.

Captivate 5 offers a new user interface based on the newer version, and it’s very clean and easy to use. Like with Flash Pro CS5, the Properties Inspector is the main panel in the sidebar that provides most of the controls needed for everyday operations. I happen to like the older user interface, but that might be because I’ve used it for years in Photoshop and other Creative Suite apps. However, I prefer to have a lot of controls at my fingertips and the Captivate user interface is clean to the point where it might be a little dull and not as useful. For example, the alignment controls are in the menu bar—there’s no Align panel, which is common in other apps.

On the other hand, PowerPoint users might find Captivate 5’s user interface familiar. The panel layout reminds me of PowerPoint’s, and tools and settings are sometimes in similar positions. Ultimately, I think Captivate’s roots in the PC market and its connections to PowerPoint influenced the direction the user interface took. It’s an improvement over Captivate 4.

One more note that relates to user experience: unlike its predecessor, Captivate 5 now allows multiple Captivate projects to be open at the same time. I think it goes without saying that this is a vital improvement and one that will be universally praised.

New editing features

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The Effects menu (in the Timeline window) has several effects for transitions and other events.

Captivate 5’s killer feature is, of course, being available to Mac users for the first time. That in itself makes Captivate 5 notable. But PC users looking to justify an upgrade will want to look at the new features, which are mostly productivity enhancements that are major improvements and also longtime features of other software on the market:

  • Master Slides are simply slide masters that can apply a consistent layout to a group of slides. PowerPoint has had slide masters for years and in Captivate they provide a tremendous benefit.
  • Object Styles, a longtime feature of other creative apps like InDesign, allow users to save and apply design and typographical settings to elements.
  • It’s kind of buried in the Effects panel, but new animation effects are really nice—the list of effects is fairly long and they provide some original transitions I’m not used to seeing in other applications. Related to this is the new Widget API, which are all built with ActionScript 3 starting with Captivate 5. There’s several new classes that respond to more behaviors like a slide change or a video event. Captivate 4 had widgets as well, but they have been improved in Captivate 5.
  • Span & Synch Video allows a video clip to play across several slides and still allow navigation and slide changes. Captivate 5 has an Edit Video Timing dialog box where slide transitions can be synchronized with the clip.

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Master slides allow consistent design application.

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Styles can be applied to several kinds of elements in Captivate 5 to make designing faster and less prone to errors.

Things like animation, master slides and styles are not new. Captivate has followed a winding road of evolution since starting out as a screen recording utility (Flashcam) and demo-recording tool for Flash (RoboDemo) before it was acquired by Adobe and turned into an eLearning application. This might explain why Captivate has lacked some basic presentation and layout tools until lately. I think Captivate 4 was the first version designed for layout and presentation, and Captivate 5 has gone maybe twice as far to solidify that purpose.

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When video is inserted into a project, the slide duration can be made to match the video or the video can span multiple slides.

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A spanned and synched video shows up in the slide filmstrip (left) and can be previewed across multiple slides.

New distribution features

Captivate was designed to support the collaborative nature of eLearning. Captivate 5’s major new features is integration with Acrobat.com and its use of Acrobat.com as a learning management system. Connecting with LMSes was an important feature of Captivate 4, but the collaborative nature of Acrobat.com and its various online apps also makes it a nice solution for eLearning if a LMS isn’t already in place.

The Acrobat.com experience is basic but useful. The eLearning product is basically uploaded to Acrobat.com and from there users can log in and participate. As with everything on Acrobat.com, a free Adobe account is required. The benefit of Acrobat.com is its tracking and reporting features, which record and report users’ scores within Acrobat.com and without a LMS. Unless you require a standards-compliant LMS, Acrobat.com provides a solid solution.

Conclusion

Captivate 5 is ground-breaking if only for the reason that it’s on the Mac: many creative pros who have been building eLearning products with Flash or PowerPoint now have another option tailored for the job. I also think Captivate 5 has several major improvements that aren’t necessarily original but are time-tested and very useful. I think there’s other areas that can be improved, particularly if Adobe wishes to make it more desirable for the creative pro market, but considering its short time as an eLearning product I think it has come far.

Captivate 5
Adobe Systems
US $799/ $299 upgrade
US $1,799/ $599 upgrade with eLearning Suite 2
Rating: 9/10

Photoshop Extended CS5 First Impressions

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Today Adobe announced the upcoming release of Creative Suite 5 (CS5) and its vast array of applications for creative professionals. Photoshop upgrades to CS5 along with the rest of the applications and I’ve been working with Photoshop Extended CS5 for several months now as a beta tester and reviewer. I believe Photoshop CS5 is a more compelling upgrade than Photoshop CS4 was and there are some very smart new features coming to Photoshop users everywhere.

Why Photoshop without Extended?

Before I go into Photoshop CS5’s new features, I should point out the are still two version of Photoshop:

  • Photoshop Extended CS5, which has special features for certain professionals and is included in all CS5 suites except Design Standard, and
  • Photoshop CS5, which has a smaller feature set and is included only with CS5 Design Standard.

I don’t know why Adobe continues to sell Photoshop CS5. Every professional I know uses Photoshop Extended CS5, though that may change with this new configuration of suites: the difference between Design Standard and Design Premium is only the addition of four web design applications, and print designers can easily do their work with Design Standard. But so far there’s no compelling reason to use anything other than Photoshop Extended CS5 so that’s what this article and my upcoming review will cover.

The File Browser is back

It’s true: the File Browser, that handy little asset management tool from way back in Photoshop CS, is back and I think it’s better than before! Adobe had moved digital asset management from File Browser to Bridge but that application turned out to be too cumbersome and overpowered for some users. Bridge has improved over the years but the Photoshop team has an extension called Mini Bridge that provides a leaner and more useful experience.

Mini Bridge provides only a few features from Bridge including file preview, filmstrip/thumbnail views and access to image processing functions such as Photomerge or the new Merge to HDR Pro. It’s not very powerful but it’s very accessible and easy to work with, and I like docking Mini Bridge to the bottom of my screen so I can access the filmstrip. Bridge’s Compact and Ultra-Compact modes come closest to Mini Bridge’s ease of use but Compact mode can still get in my way and Ultra-Compact mode is not really useful enough for me. I think users who loved the old File Browser will love Mini Bridge.

HDR reclaims its old intentions

Merge to HDR was introduced in Photoshop CS2 as a tool to boost photography’s tonal range, but it was used and overused by some professionals to produce work that is close to surreal. Overdone HDR photography is usually easy to spot with its extreme range of highlight and shadow as well as oversaturated colors. I personally like the artistic expression in such HDR photography but I don’t use it in my own work.

Merge to HDR has been augmented in Photoshop CS5 to “Merge to HDR Pro,” and I think it comes closer to making HDR photography a useful tool for everyday professionals. One simple example is the new Remove Ghosts feature that eliminates ghosting caused by misaligned shots: it works great and will probably salvage a lot of work. Previously, such ghosting was sometimes removed by exaggerating HDR effects, making the “surreal” HDR style more common.

ps_hdrproThe Merge to HDR interface is more useful and detailed now with Merge to HDR Pro.

There’s a lot more to Merge to HDR Pro, including settings for precise control of edges, glows, tonal settings and color. Things that were done before in Photoshop can be done in Merge to HDR Pro. There’s also a preset menu available that gives you 14 custom settings for everything from photorealistic to surreal imagery. Photographers who haven’t been comfortable with HDR photography in the past due to its lack of control should look at the new features in Photoshop CS5.

ps_hdrpresetsThe HDR presets that will ship with Photoshop CS5.

If you like the wild colors in HDR photos but actually don’t care to shoot multiple exposures and do the work with Merge to HDR Pro, Photoshop CS5 has a new HDR Toning feature in the Adjustments menu that recreates the HDR look for 8-bit images. Unfortunately it’s not available as an adjustment layer, but it’s available in Image > Adjustments and it does a good job of recreating that HDR look. I’m curious to see if any color correction gurus will consider it as a color correction tool, because at first glance it produces colors close to the Lab color space, which has been proven to be a useful colorspace for corrections.

Refine Edge: Still not Extract

ps_refineedgeThe Refine Edge dialog box in CS4 (left) and CS5 (right). Click the image for a better view.

I lamented when the Extract filter was removed from Photoshop CS4 because it was the best background-removal tool Photoshop had. The Background Eraser and Magic Eraser tools were just not as good. In Photoshop CS5, the Refine Edge has been rebuilt with much-improved edge detection and interpretation that almost makes it a replacement for the Extract filter. This would be a phenomenal addition, since the Extract filter was a very difficult feature to use, but so far I don’t think Refine Edge duplicates Extract’s results. It was hard for me to retouch edges despite Refine Edge’s new Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brush tools. I am still working with a beta copy of Photoshop Extended CS5 so I am not passing judgment on Refine Edge yet, but so far it’s a fair improvement but not a replacement for the Extract filter.

More 3D improvements in CS5

I keep waiting for Adobe to produce a standalone 3D application, but for some reason they continue to load Photoshop Extended with more and more 3D tools. In CS5 we have a new 2D>3D extrusion feature with its own name—oddly enough, “Adobe Repoussé.” When I saw this name appear in the Photoshop prerelease beta program I hoped it would be temporary, but it looks like it will be a permanent addition to the product. I don’t have a problem with the name myself but I can see how it would be confusing. Repoussé basically extrudes 2D shapes into 3D shapes, the same way Illustrator has been for years with its 3D filters. Repoussé is more powerful than Illustrator’s filters and finally gives Photoshop a method to produce its own 3D objects.

There’s also some improvements to the current 3D tools in Photoshop Extended, including support for 3D materials and a new ray-tracing engine for handling lights, reflections and refractions. Photoshop Extended CS5 can also produce cast shadows with the Shadow Catcher feature. This all helps to make Photoshop Extended CS5 a better producer of realistic 3D objects.

Better brushes

Photoshop has always prided itself on its brush engine, but I’ve preferred Painter to Photoshop any day for digital painting. Photoshop CS5 introduces a new Mixer Brush that behaves like Painter’s brushes—responding to canvas wetness, “paint” load, mixing and flow—and a Bristle Tips feature that delivers conventional fine art brushes—such as fan brushes—to the Brushes panel.

I had a really fun time testing these new painting features out. Some brushes feel a little stiff but some fiddling with the settings can make these brushes work very much like real paint brushes. Right now I prefer working with paint on a blank canvas rather than an existing photograph, because photos tend to dominate any color on your brush, but with some practice and more tweaking of the settings I hope to improve my results.

Nips and tucks

Photoshop Product Manager John Nack seems to mention the “nips and tucks” every time a new version of Photoshop is released. With CS4 it seemed like these small improvements actually outnumbered the big new features, but this time around they do not. I think this bodes well for Photoshop CS5. However, these small productivity enhancements really do make Photoshop CS5 a more valuable tool. Here’s a list of my current favorites:

  • Perhaps the most well-known Photoshop tip is using the Ruler tool and Rotate Canvas to straighten an image. Now the Ruler tool has a Straighten button in its toolbar that will straighten an image for you. However, the button actually executes a Rotate Canvas and Crop at the same time, so undoing this requires two undos.
  • The Gradient tool now has a neutral-density preset.
  • The Zoom tool now zooms in and out gradually if you hold the mouse button.
  • 16-bit photos can be saved as 8-bit JPEGs in one step.
  • Lens Correction is in the Filter menu and does much more auto-correction. This filter has been much improved and I’ll cover it in more detail in my review.
  • Default values for layer styles can now be modified and saved.
  • A new on-screen heads-up display (HUD) lets you select colors without going to the color well on the toolbar.
  • A Paste Special menu item in the Edit menu lets you paste inside and outside elements.
  • Workspaces will now remember any changes made to it, so if you move a panel or change a keyboard shortcut it will stay that way. You can reset workspaces as always.

The big one: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing

I wanted to save what might be the most jaw-dropping surprise until last: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing. Photoshop CS4 impressed many with its Content-Aware Scaling, which can accurately judge how to scale an image and scrap or create detail without losing important elements. Photoshop CS5 takes it a step further with Content-Aware Fill—available with the long-standing Edit > Fill command—and the Spot Healing Brush tool, which now has Content-Aware as an available mode. These two new features have made the rounds on YouTube, having been demoed at some events such as Adobe MAX’s Sneak Peeks, and elicited oohs and ahhs from the crowds.

ps_cafContent-Aware Fill before (left) and after (right). Ironically, the new Content-Aware technology in Photoshop CS5 works better as a fill than as a brush.

I’ve been using Content-Aware Fill and the Spot Healing Brush tool for my retouching and they have performed well in the past few months I’ve used them. Content-Aware Fill performs the best: it is very smart about figuring out what is subject and what is background in an image selection and recreating the background to cover up the subject. The Content-Aware mode of the Spot Healing Brush performs well too but less so—sometimes it will pull detail from unrelated areas to replace brushed areas, which is the problem I’ve had with the Spot Healing Brush in general. But I am only working with a beta version so I’m withholding judgment until I get the final product to test.

My first impression

Photoshop Extended CS5 could generate excitement like I haven’t seen since Photoshop CS first hit the market. The Content-Aware features by themselves make this an upgrade worth considering, but for me it’s Mini Bridge and the improved Refine Edge that make Photoshop Extended CS5 far more useful. There’s many more new features besides these that I will look at in my full review.

Dreamweaver CS5 First Impressions

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Dreamweaver CS5, just announced today as part of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (CS5), has actually been doing duty in my web design business for several months now—I’m a beta tester for several Adobe products including Dreamweaver. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Dreamweaver CS5 is that it has performed like a shipping product from the first day I got it. Dreamweaver CS4 users will not find too many differences between that application and Dreamweaver CS5, but there are some major improvements in handling CSS and working with dynamically-generated webpages, such as those created by PHP-based content management systems (CMS).

Dreamweaver CS5 is included with the Design Premium, Web Premium and Master Collection suites as well as a standalone product.

Improvements for CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) have been the primary method for controlling websites’ designs and Dreamweaver has emphasized it for a few years now. The application gets a few new CSS-related features with every release, and Dreamweaver CS5 is no different:

  • A new Inspect button produces colored overlays that help visualize the margins, widths, padding and other properties of the CSS box model. If your paragraphs or divs have any of these properties, click Inspect and then hover over the elements with your mouse to reveal these properties. The CSS Styles panel will also highlight the particular rules you are hovering over, which is handy.
  • CSS styles can now be disabled or enabled in the CSS Styles panel—hover over a property in the panel and click the icon, and Dreamweaver CS5 will comment out the rule in the CSS code. I find this to be more useful than the Inspect feature, because you can toggle properties and get immediate feedback on what they do. Designers who constantly check their CSS changes in browsers or Live View can now disable CSS properties and see the results in Design view or Live View.
  • The CSS-based starter layouts have been redesigned to use simpler CSS classes and include more comments in the code and the actual page text. Ironically, there are significantly fewer layout templates in Dreamweaver CS5 than in its predecessor. I don’t use these canned layouts myself because I prefer to build mine from scratch, but intermediate and beginner CSS users will benefit from their educational value and even expert CSS users can get a jump-start on a project with these layouts.

dw_cssenableYou can click the “no-smoking” icon in the CSS Styles panel to enable and disable styles. The colored overlay on the paragraph shows the width, padding and margins for that element.

Improvements for PHP-based CMSes

The most game-changing improvement in Dreamweaver CS5 is its support for PHP-based content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. The new Dynamically Related Files feature basically compiles all the CMS-related PHP files and use them and Live View to generate dynamic pages just like the CMS would. You can navigate pages like you would in any other browser, work with JavaScript-powered navigations and move from page to page on internal and external servers. Dreamweaver CS5 even can bring data into pages from external databases.

dw_cmsThis image shows the prompt to “discover” dynamic files (inset left), the list of files after discovery (inset right) and Dreamweaver CS5’s ability to render a dynamic page (background). Click the image for a better view.

I tested these new CMS-related features at Adobe in January and they work very well for the common PHP-based CMSes like WordPress. I want to do some further testing for my upcoming review because I actually prefer to use a paid PHP-based CMS called ExpressionEngine and my first attempt to use Dynamically Related Files with an EE-based website did not work. I will figure out what I did wrong and report back in my full review.

PHP coders will enjoy the new custom class code hinting and site-specific code hinting available in Dreamweaver CS5. Dreamweaver now provides hinting—even for code that hasn’t been saved yet—for PHP core functions, objects and site-specific hints for customized code like those for blog themes and content management systems.

dw_sshintsYou can get code hinting on a site-specific basis, based on its CMS…

dw_phphints…and you can also get PHP code hinting.

Other than that…

…there aren’t a lot of major features beyond those for CSS and CMS handling:

  • Those who read and liked my piece on Adobe BrowserLab will be glad to hear Dreamweaver CS5 has an integrated BrowserLab preview. BrowserLab, like similar services, will take a snapshot of a webpage previewed with one of a variety of web browsers. The service is now improved because there are more browsers available and you can also freeze JavaScript interactions in Live View and preview them with BrowserLab.
  • New support for the open-source version-control application Subversion lets users move files and synchronize changes with the remote depository. You can also revert to previous versions of a file.
  • One change that I particularly appreciate is a redesigned Site Definition dialog box. Every website designed with Dreamweaver is first set up in this dialog box and it hasn’t always been user-friendly. There’s not really many improvements to this other than a new look and feel, but some new prompts and the ability to start a site without having every detail filled in makes this dialog box an improvement over the one in Dreamweaver CS4.

My first impression

The quantity of new features in Dreamweaver CS5 is not large, but what is included are improvements vital to the way web designers and developers work today. Dynamic websites powered by content management systems are all around us and Dreamweaver needed to address the lack of tools and interface to handle these sites. The Webkit-powered browser within Dreamweaver and introduced in CS4 was a catalyst for the improvements in Dreamweaver CS5, and interaction has now become as manageable as images and layouts.

InDesign CS5 First Impressions

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InDesign CS5, announced today with the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (CS5) applications, has already proven to be a solid and dependable product in my toolkit. InDesign is actually not one of the products I beta-test for Adobe so I haven’t used InDesign CS5 for more than a couple months, but in that time I’ve played with many new features and have enjoyed the experience.

InDesign CS5 is included with the Design Standard and Design Premium suites as well as the Master Collection.

“Not about the new stuff”

“Not about the new stuff” is written in my notes from my visit to Adobe headquarters in January, and this is a good way to classify the differences between InDesign CS4 and CS5. As with Illustrator CS5, InDesign CS5 doesn’t have many radically new features: several features augment basic functions like creating text frames and organizing page elements. However, some of those simple additions constitute radical departures from InDesign conventions—can you imagine text flowing outside of its frame?! You can now with InDesign CS5.

Now a multimedia publishing tool

id_mediapanelInDesign CS5 previews and controls video with the new Media panel.

InDesign has been a Flash-publishing application since CS3 and CS4, but InDesign CS5 sports several panels designed to handle video, animation and multimedia functions, making Flash publishing a larger aspect of the application. In the past this print/media combined strategy has not performed too well—QuarkXPress’s HTML publishing capabilities come to mind—but the InDesign team believes multimedia and Flash will be most valuable to publishers as they look for multiple revenue streams and try to embrace the Internet to do it. I was at Adobe the day Apple announced the iPad and the synergy between the iPad device and InDesign-built eBooks (exportable to the widely-supported EPUB format) and Flash was apparent. But Adobe has a near-impossible task in convincing Apple to put Flash on the iPad and its other devices, and my experience as a print designer is that many of my customers still consider print and electronic publishing to be separate things.

InDesign CS5 introduces five new panels in the Interactive category:

  • Animation, for building animations with the same motion presets in Flash Professional CS5,
  • Object States, which can build multi-state objects such as slideshows and text that responds to simple mouse input,
  • Timing to control timing and playback for interactive and animated elements on the page,
  • Media, a video monitor and playback interface for tweaking video in InDesign, and
  • Preview, which will show all multimedia on the page in real-time.

id_interactiveThe five new Interactive panels in InDesign CS5. Click the image for a better view.

The panels are easy enough to understand and use, though there are quite a few interactive panels now—nine total—and you have to move back and forth between them to produce multimedia in InDesign CS5. Some streamlining of the interface would be a good feature to add in the next version of InDesign. The other advancement for multimedia in InDesign CS5 is the ability to export files as Interactive PDFs or FLA files for further editing in Flash Professional CS5. The Interactive PDF export dialog box is a simplified version of the standardized PDF Export dialog box, and I don’t understand why it is different from that interface (now called Print PDF). I thought a exporting preset for interactive PDFs would have been less confusing. As for the export to FLA, the new text engine in Flash Professional CS5 makes it easier to work with FLAs produced in InDesign CS5. I haven’t tested this feature extensively so I can’t report on any difficulties or benefits, but I will do so in my full review.

id_flashA layout shown (left to right) in InDesign CS5’s Preview panel, layout view and in Flash Player. Click the image for a better view.

As with Word, track your changes

Oddly enough, the feature I use most in Microsoft Word is for tracking changes. InDesign CS5 now does the same thing, tracking changes and giving the user a way to accept or reject changes later. The Story Editor and the new Track Changes panel facilitate this new feature. This is a very useful addition and I’m already experimenting with adding it to my workflow. The major problem is Track Changes cannot be turned on by default and it works on a per-story basis, so it doesn’t seem efficient to use it on all stories in all publications. The other downside is changes are tracked and shown only in the Story Editor, a text-based editor that InDesign has had for a long time. Changes aren’t shown in InDesign CS5’s Layout View, unlike Word.

Improve your organization with Layers and Mini Bridge

There are two major additions to InDesign CS5 designed to assist with organizing assets both inside and outside the InDesign file:

  • The Layers panel has been rebuilt and now functions much like Illustrator’s Layers panel. Elements can be individually selected from the panel and layers can be nested and drilled down all the way to individual objects. This is an example of one Adobe product looking to another for ways to improve.
  • Photoshop CS5 may have Mini Bridge as an extension, but it was developed by the InDesign team and InDesign CS5 sports it as well. In InDesign CS5, Mini Bridge can not only navigate external files but can also show linked files for a particular document, making it something of an internal “File Browser.”

id_layersThe new Layers panel.

One more new feature indirectly related to organizing assets will appeal to users who hate to handle all the fonts associated with projects. Document-Installed Fonts is a feature new to InDesign CS5 that makes the application basically serve as a font management program for the fonts in a particular project—the user manually creates a font folder and InDesign CS5 will move the needed fonts to that folder and install and uninstall them on demand. Printers won’t have to copy and install designers’ fonts anymore—InDesign CS5 will do all the work without a need for other font management applications. The InDesign CS5 press documentation says the Fonts folder generated during packaging will also work as Document-Installed Fonts, but I’ve not tested this particular method yet. In any case, this is a novel way to attack the problem of moving fonts from client to vendor without fouling up typography or copying fonts.

My favorite: multiple page sizes and column spanning/splitting

A new Page tool now lets you resize and modify individual pages in a document, something that previously required a third-party plug-in to accomplish. Magazine designers who often work with gatefolds and other folded pages are going to be thrilled. The tool works great and settings can be changed in the tool’s Options bar. Unfortunately you can’t do the same modifications from the Pages panel, which would have been a smart place to also include this feature.

My favorite feature in InDesign CS5 is something very radical and at the same time very simple: modifying column layouts for text selections. For example, a bulleted list of several items can split into two columns without requiring a two-column text box like before. Conversely, a headline can span two or more columns and break through the column bounds. I love this feature because it really makes multi-column layouts easier to work with and the improvement in typography is beautiful. I used to do this work by nesting text frames into other text, but it’s all unnecessary now.

id_splitspanA bulleted list (left) split into two columns and a subheading (right) spanning two columns. Click the image for a better view.

My other favorite: object grids and the Gap tool

The InDesign team must have had grids and frame boundaries on their minds in the last year because, along with breaking column frames with text spanning, InDesign CS5 has two beautiful features for creating and spacing objects. When dragging the mouse to create a text frame or object, you can use the keyboard’s arrows to build grids of multiple objects. For example, you can use File > Place and select six images, then drag a single image box and use the Up and Right arrows to make the one box into a 2×3 grid of six boxes. The images will then place into all the boxes and your work is done. Frame Fitting Options and the new Auto Fit feature will let you fill all the frames as you like and keep them that way even if you resize your boxes.

The other new feature is the Gap tool, which lets you adjust the gaps between objects and page boundaries. Position the Gap tool between any two objects and you can then “position” the gap itself by dragging. Aligned gaps—such as those found in large grids as described above—can be moved as a group or independently. If you have Auto Fit turned on for your boxes, images within the frames will resize to fit or fill as directed. This feature doesn’t excite me too much because I don’t often build large grids of images, but I know many publication designers do and the productivity improvements possible with this set of new tools is worth trying out.

My first impression

There are more features in InDesign CS5 that I am saving for my full review, such as the Content Grabber and live captions, but I wanted to convey the out-of-the-box thinking that went behind some of InDesign CS5’s new features. I never would have expected to see text flow right out of its box or such a large suite of multimedia tools in what is really a page layout tool. Industry changes are making InDesign a very different product than what it was ten years ago, and I will be very curious to see how the print community welcomes it.

Illustrator CS5 First Impressions

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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.