Tag Archives: Adobe

REVIEW: Fireworks CS4


Fireworks CS4 box

In 2007, when I reviewed the Adobe Creative Suite 3 applications, probably my most controversial was the Fireworks CS3 review, which got decent marks but I questioned its interface design, which had seemed left behind while the other apps got facelifts, and also its function in a suite of products that included Photoshop, Adobe’s main bitmap graphics application.

Even then, the Fireworks team was positioning Fireworks CS3 as a web prototyping tool—and now, with Fireworks CS4, the transition into a niche product has been completed. Fireworks CS4 is designed to be a rapid prototyping tool for creating web designs quickly. It also has some interesting new features that make it a unique application in the Adobe Creative Suite 4.

Interface evolution

I complained about Fireworks CS3’s lack of development of its interface, which had not changed much at all from Fireworks 8, the last version of that product produced by Macromedia. The problem was the Fireworks team did not have the time and resources to make such changes before the product’s launch. I expected Fireworks CS4 to be much more in line with Adobe’s interface for its other applications, and by and large it has delivered. The CS4 interface design has been incorporated into Fireworks CS4 so goodies like tabbed documents, workspace switching, the Application frame and more are available.

However, what I was really hoping for was alignment of Fireworks’ features to look like and act like identical features in other CS4 applications. In this regard Fireworks CS4 still has not changed much from versions 8 or CS3. Fireworks shares many panels with other CS4 apps (Align, Layers, Color) but Fireworks’ panels do not look or behave the same way. The Path panel, comparable to Illustrator’s Pathfinder panel, is actually much more robust than the Pathfinder panel but because it’s so unique it requires study to master it. Likewise, Fireworks CS4’s Color Palette panel is unique in that it has a Mixer and Blender mode that I’ve not seen in any other CS4 application.


Fireworks CS4 Path panel

Have you seen this panel anywhere else in CS4? Neither have I. Fireworks’ Path panel is unique, even when compared to the Pathfinder panel in Illustrator.

Fireworks CS4 sometimes improves on other apps’ features but sometimes it doesn’t. In particular, the method for adding filters to elements has not changed and I would rather work with Photoshop’s method (layer styles) or InDesign’s (using the Effects panel) than the small drop-down menu in Fireworks’ Properties panel. Also, Fireworks CS4 has implemented Smart Guides, which I applaud and work quite well, but it does not look like they will auto-space multiple elements like InDesign CS4’s Smart Guides will do.


Fireworks CS4 Smart Guides

Fireworks’ Smart Guides don’t seem as robust as InDesign CS4’s, but they are a real benefit nonetheless.

I am starting to wonder if Fireworks’ interface should not be changed, because it will throw off current users. The Photoshop team made some radical changes to its application’s interface in CS4, which has bothered a lot of users including myself. I personally think there’s still room for improvement, and it drives me crazy to use a unique set of panels and commands in Fireworks, but maybe the current user base doesn’t agree. Comments on this topic would be most welcome.

Importing Photoshop designs


Fireworks CS4 PSD open

Importing Photoshop files is a snap in Fireworks CS4, but some care is required to make it match what one sees in Photoshop.

One of the new features of Fireworks CS4 is the ability to import complex Photoshop documents. I tested this with a Photoshop comp of a website I will be designing in the next couple months, and it worked pretty well but there were a few problems:

  • Fireworks CS4 interprets all Photoshop layers as having 100% Fill, no matter the actual Fill amount
  • Layers can shift during import; use “Maintain Photoshop Layer Appearance” to resolve this, though this can reduce editability in Fireworks CS4
  • Fireworks CS4 applies fonts with slightly different spacing, causing some overlap with nearby elements
  • A Photoshop layer with a layer mask (a simple gradient mask in this case) was not masked in Fireworks CS4, even though Fireworks can do the same thing with a layer mask

This is when I really wish the Fireworks team would revise the application so it does things the same way as Photoshop and other CS4 applications, because I suspect these little errors occur when Photoshop features have no comparable Fireworks feature (or similar but not quite the same).

REVIEW: Soundbooth CS4


Soundbooth CS4 box

There are two applications I think of when I think of Adobe Labs: Lightroom and Soundbooth. These were the two applications I played with the most back when they were mere beta versions; now Soundbooth and Lightroom both are version 2, though Soundbooth is known as Soundbooth CS4. Both applications are quality products even though they are only in their second major release, and I think it’s because of all the mileage put upon them by users during the beta testing periods.

Multitrack support is here


Soundbooth CS4 multitrack

Multiple tracks are in Soundbooth CS4—’nuff said. Click the image for a better view.

I use Soundbooth mostly for cleaning up audio and editing for Flash multimedia, but there’s more to it than that—especially with some of Soundbooth CS4’s newest features such as multiple track support. Soundbooth CS4 users can add multiple audio and video tracks, making the program a lot more flexible and useful.

Volume correction

I love this feature: Soundbooth CS4 can correct volume across multiple files so they are the same volume. It’s a comparable thing to Photoshop’s Match Color command. Depending upon microphone setup, sometimes you can get some excessive loudness or softness in a clip—or maybe you have clips for speech, background music and sound effects. With Match Volume, it’s an easy process to synchronize their volume.


Soundbooth CS4 match volume

Clips’ volumes can be matched in Soundbooth CS4.

You can either match volume to synchronize the peak volumes, average volumes or sync to one of the selected files. This is the setting I use the most if one of my clips has good volume. It works very well and doesn’t take long—maybe 15 seconds or so to match one clip to another.

Along with Volume Correction’s Match Volume option, you’ll find a tab for equalizing volume. This process is designed to equalize volume in a single clip.

Searching for speech

Soundbooth CS4 has new “Speech Search technology” that allows the application to process sound clips and transcribe speech as metadata text. This is a wonderful new feature if you handle a lot of speech clips and need to transcribe them! It takes some time to process and transcribe speech but not an excessive amount—it took me 2–3 minutes to transcribe a 6:40 clip at the medium setting and 2 minutes to transcribe a 0:20 clip at the high setting.


Soundbooth CS4 speech search

The Speech Search capabilities in Soundbooth CS4 are impressive but they require a clean clip—no noise or music—and even then it’s designed to pick up just enough metadata for the main points.

I tested Speech Search on three clips: a song with lyrics, a 40-year-old British radiocast with good quality and a present-day movie clip of two men talking in a quiet room. The Soundbooth team tells me Speech Search is designed to capture enough keywords to identify points on the timeline, and it isn’t optimized to capture keywords in lyrics or poor quality clips. This was my experience with the first two clips, though the second (the British radiocast) did capture some quality keywords. The third clip had the best results but it was not good enough to get a fairly complete transcription. The Soundbooth team said they are continuing to develop Speech Search, and currently the best way to optimize its effectiveness is to work with high-quality voice clips and/or clean the noise with Soundbooth’s tools.

Better looping


Soundbooth CS4 beats

The beat indicators are shown in orange.

Since I often design sounds for Flash, loops and looping are very important to my work. Soundbooth CS4 has improved its looping capabilities with automatic beat detection—beats show up in the Editor as orange lines, and it helps when finding good in and out points. There were two aspects of the beat indicator feature that bothered me, but there are workarounds:

  • “Show Beat Indicators” is off by default, because it takes some processor power to have it on all the time. If you enable beat indicators in the View menu, the setting will remain even if you end the current session and begin a new one.
  • In and out points normally do not snap to a beat indicator. This can be changed with View > Snapping > Snap to Beats.

Adobe Sound Documents and Adobe Dynamic Link

Adobe has positioned Soundbooth CS4 to be a more integral part of the CS4 Production Premium suite with two new technologies: the non-destructive Adobe Sound Document (ASND) file format and the Adobe Dynamic Link, which links assets like sound files with larger projects in other CS4 applications. Dynamic Link is particularly helpful because sound and other supporting files can be linked directly to Premiere Pro CS4 and After Effects CS4 project files, and a change in a sound file with Soundbooth CS4 will show up in the other projects linked to it. ASND works with Premiere, After Effects and also Flash CS4 Professional, making round-trip editing easier.


Soundbooth CS4 dynamic link

Right-click on the movie clip and you can either Render And Replace or, thanks to the new Dynamic Link, Edit Source File and work with the clip in its native application.

MP3 compression preview

One more small change has been made to Soundbooth CS4, but it’s quite a time-saver so I’ll elaborate: the MP3 output dialog box now has a compression preview button so you can hear the sound quality before actually exporting. I am always fiddling with various exports and trying them out to check quality, so being able to do this before actually processing the export is a big benefit. The Flash development team should consider doing something similar in the Flash Media Encoder CS4!

Conclusion

Now that Soundbooth is in the Creative Suite 4, it has become my go-to application for audio work. Other applications can do similar things and some do it better, but since Soundbooth CS4 is tied into the other CS4 apps including Flash CS4 Professional I have an easier time working with it. The failure of Speech Search to catch the speech is a glaring problem, and I hope it will be improved upon in the next version.

Soundbooth CS4
Adobe Systems
Rating: 8/10
US$199/$79 upgrade

REVIEW: InDesign CS4 and InCopy CS4


InDesign CS4 box

Some of the CS4 applications I’ve reviewed have been somewhat disappointing (Photoshop) while others have turned out to be radical upgrades with varying degrees of success (Dreamweaver, Flash). InDesign CS4 is, in my opinion, one of the best upgrades in CS4 suite: none of its new features really miss the mark, and most of them are quite useful (and a few are excellent advances in InDesign’s evolution). In my daily work I use InDesign CS4 more than probably any other Adobe application, and it has been a treat to use.

The new preflight paradigm

I have to begin my review with Live Preflight, InDesign CS4’s new method for preflighting documents. For twenty years, designers have put together their print layouts only to preflight at the very end, looking for RGB images, missing fonts and other errors that would ruin the final output. We used to use a third-party program like Markzware’s Flightcheck to preflight files before output, and then a few years ago InDesign incorporated native preflight technology. However, both these preflight options were manually run by the designer after the work was done.


InDesign CS4 Preflight panel

Live Preflight alone makes InDesign CS4 an upgrade worth considering—catching one printing error can practically pay for itself.

Live Preflight checks documents for output problems constantly, while the designer is laying out pages. There’s a simple display at the bottom of the document window listing the number of errors (unfortunately, InDesign CS4 does not highlight the actual page element causing the error) and from here one can also set or revise the profile InDesign CS4 uses to analyze the document. It’s an easy process to revise profiles with the Preflight Profiles dialog box—just check what InDesign needs to look for, and set the numbers accordingly. I use preflight profiles to check my layouts going to the web, newsprint or magazines. Live Preflighting has changed the way I work and all I can think is, “Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?”

Advances in the user interface


InDesign CS4 Links panel

The Links panel has seen major changes in InDesign CS4. Some new features haven’t been too useful for me, but on average it is a welcome improvement.

Adobe made news with the major revisions in the CS4 interface, but InDesign CS4 went quite a bit further with its own additions to its user interface:

  • A Smart Cursor heads-up display shows your X-Y coordinates as you move and transform items with the selection tools.
  • Smart Guides appear when dragging elements around and allow for extremely simple alignment, spacing and resizing moves in relation to other elements. Smart Guides will show you when objects are evenly spaced, aligned or other attributes usually controlled by the Align panel. I hardly use the Align panel anymore, thanks to Smart Guides. However, I’ve found that in layouts with many elements Smart Guides will snap you to align with things you don’t want to align to. The workaround to this is to zoom in so all you see on screen are the elements that need to be aligned: Smart Guides only pay attention to elements in the current view. However, sometimes I am aligning objects across a large cross-section of the layout and other elements hamper my efforts—in this case I just turn off Smart Guides and use the Align panel to make it work.
  • The Links panel has been redesigned to show a lot more information, such as the page where the link instances resides, attributes (scale, resolution, layer and others), metadata and more. Link thumbnails are particularly effective, as is the ability to show only one instances of the link in the Links panel—if you have 50 instances of a logo, listing it once rather than 50 times saves a lot of space. The new Links panel, by default, has more detail than I usually need, but it’s customizable through the panel’s flyout menu (look for Panel Options) so it’s a good improvement overall.


InDesign CS4 Smart Guides align

Smart Guides can align elements…


InDesign CS4 Smart Guides spacing

…and space them uniformly. Check out the green arrows.

I really like these UI improvements—the InDesign development team was really thinking when they put this batch of features together.

Conditional text and cross-references

The conditional text and cross-referencing features are all about streamlining multiple elements and versioning of InDesign documents, and though my clients and I have not yet found a need for this I do think it’s a good duo of features for the right designers.


InDesign CS4 conditional text

The Conditional Text panel allows designers to make different document versions in one file.

Conditional text in InDesign CS4 allows designers to tag text so it appears if a certain condition is met. This replaces the common practice of placing text blocks on different layers and showing/hiding them to create different versions on the fly. The new Conditional Text panel looks similar to the Layers panel, and it’s from here that you apply a condition (or conditions) to selected text. This is a wonderful feature for those creating multiple versions of the same document, whether for release in multiple countries and states or for multiple audiences.

Cross-referencing basically makes selected text into a symbol (to borrow Flash lingo) that can be applied as instances elsewhere in the document—change the original symbol and all the instances change along with it. I get more use out of cross-referencing because publication design almost always uses multiple instances of titles, headings, chapter titles and so on. However, I find that cross-references (and hyperlinks, which share the same panel) are difficult to use. One can’t simply select text and make it a cross-reference: it has to be a text anchor (created in the Hyperlinks panel) or styled with a particular paragraph style, and even then it’s a difficult process to master. If you revise all the text in a cross-reference, for example, the cross-reference will not update automatically—but the cross-reference itself is maintained. This is actually by design—cross-referenced text can be formatted and edited, and still retain its cross-reference—but it is a complex function that requires some study.

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.