Tag Archives: CS4

BOOK REVIEW: Deke McClelland’s Photoshop CS4 and InDesign CS4 one-on-one Books

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ps-oneonone

Deke McClelland is in my opinion one of the best instructors out there for Photoshop and other creative applications. He might also be the funniest (sorry, Scott Kelby). So I was glad to have the opportunity to read two recent books from his popular “one-on-one” series, Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one and Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one. I think both of them are excellent resources for novice designers who are learning these two applications.

Both for beginners only

I think the very best books in the industry (or any books for that matter) are great because they are essential for beginners and experts alike. The one-on-one books don’t quite qualify in this regard, because they really are for beginners and novices. Expert users of InDesign and Photoshop don’t necessarily need these books unless they haven’t trained in a long while and feel they need to improve their basic and advanced skills.

As books for beginner and intermediate users, the one-on-one books are excellent. I had heard there were errors in these books but I didn’t find any myself. The layouts are well-done and Deke’s writing style is as loose and fun as ever without ruining the learning experience. The same goes for the videos included in the CD-ROM with each book: you don’t get the face time with Deke that you do in his more extensive videos with Lynda.com, but you get over four hours of tutorial footage with each book and it’s all narrated by Deke. These one-on-one books are a great value even at $50 each.

Whither CS4?

A major complaint I have with both these books is the lack of focus on features new to the CS4 versions of InDesign and Photoshop. Many of these features are certainly covered in the books but there is little indication to readers that they’re new to CS4. I wouldn’t expect the one-on-one books to talk all about new CS4 features (for that I recommend Ben Willmore’s Up to Speed series, one of my favorites) but there’s not even an icon to draw attention to CS4 features or a page at the beginning of the books to outline what’s new. I think flagging the CS4-specific information would have been a big help to all readers.

Not comprehensive but close

One more thing: both books do a great job providing all the essential information about InDesign and Photoshop but it’s not complete. In the Photoshop CS4 book, things such as HDR, Camera Raw, Photo Filter adjustment layers and the Lens Distortion filter among others were all missed or provided relatively little coverage. The InDesign CS4 book seemed better but some of the really advanced material such as GREP was not covered much. For beginners’ books such as these, I am not bothered that such advanced stuff was glossed over in favor of more essential features and techniques. But buyers should know that some topics, such as Camera Raw, are much better served by other books (for that topic I would recommend Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3 by Jeff Schewe and the late Bruce Fraser).

Conclusion

Both Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one and Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one are excellent books for beginners learning the trade: the quality of training in the pages and on the CD-ROM is very good. Those who are very familiar with Adobe InDesign CS3 one-on-one and Adobe Photoshop CS3 one-on-one may not need to purchase these as well—other than the CS4-related material, the books are probably very similar.

Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one
Rating: 9/10
Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one
Rating: 8/10
Deke McClelland
Published by deke Press/O’Reilly
US$49.99

REVIEW: After Effects CS4 Tightens Things Up

aecs4-box

I’m an occasional user of After Effects, mostly for web design projects—I’ve restricted my daily work to design and illustration for print and the web, and advanced video projects are something I don’t do yet. However, I am running the CS4 Master Collection including After Effects CS4, and I figured a review from my perspective might help those looking at the application from a similar vantage point.

The After Effects CS4 upgrade is something of a mixed bag for me, though it’s clear the new version is superior to the version before it. Many of its improvements focus on integrating it with other CS4 applications and/or increasing efficiency and productivity. There is one new tool and several effects also new to CS4 but those who are looking for a lot of new technologies might be disappointed. Still, it’s an excellent application and a good buy.

First things first: performance

After Effects CS3 had difficulty managing system resources, especially multiple core processors, so I wanted to touch upon this first. After Effects CS4 is generally an improvement over CS3 when it comes to handling resources and handling multiple cores in particular. CS4 has a “Memory & Multiprocessing” preference pane that gives the user control over how much RAM and processing power is available to the application. It also allows rendering of multiple frames simultaneously, which is possible with multiple CPUs.

Unlike many video professionals working with dual quad-core monsters, I’m using a MacBook Pro running with two 2.33GHz processors and 3GB of RAM. To test performance I rendered a project I did a couple years ago that had a particularly tough time rendering with After Effects CS3. This time around the rendering finished with no problems. I rendered the same project with the multi-frame rendering available in Memory & Multiprocessing, but it actually increased the render time substantially (4:35 versus 3:24). After Effects CS4 does recognize and employ multiple cores, so users with four- or eight-core machines will enjoy radically improved performance.

One more performance feature is OpenGL adaptive resolution, which will subsample large images and scenes to speed things up on screen. It works well and reminds me of the various OpenGL-based improvements in Photoshop CS4. In fact, it comes into use when working with 3D layers brought in from that application: After Effects CS4 will use a lower resolution when working with the 3D layer and then increase resolution when the user is finished.

Increasing efficiency: The interface, CS4 integration and metadata

In After Effects CS4, you will find a lot more efficiency improvements than you’ll find new features and tools. The After Effects team has made it clear that this was a primary goal for this product cycle. There are several changes to the interface:

  • The Welcome screen gives easy access to the Tip of the Day, recent projects and several handy links. Ironically, I almost always turn these Welcome screens off because I usually need to do something not accessible in the Welcome screen.
  • After Effects CS4, like several CS4 apps, now have search capabilities—you’ll find the QuickSearch field in the Project panel. In After Effects’ case, one can search for elements, effects, properties, footage and more. This is really handy for large projects with a lot of assets, and I expect search to be further integrated with future versions of the Creative Suite.

aecs4-search
The QuickSearch field, found just below the “1.1 Search Timeline” tab in this image, allows for fast access to properties, effects, compositions and most any other element in After Effects CS4.

  • Flash users have long had a “breadcrumb trail” to help them navigate around the Stage and symbols in that application. After Effects CS4 now features a similar Composition Navigator at the top of the Composition panel. I’m very keen to keep my compositions organized and I use the Composition Navigator quite a bit to move up and down the asset trail. There is also a Mini-Flowchart accessible for each composition in the Composition Navigator: click the arrow and you’ll see how other compositions relate to the selected composition. However, I don’t use this feature as much.

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The Composition Navigator provides great detail about a composition and its various assets and outputs.

  • The 16:9 widescreen Title/Action Safe overlays now show the 4:3 TV-safe areas as well. This is a new feature for those who find themselves republishing video content for the two screen formats. Since I do most of my After Effects work for the web this has not been a concern, but video professionals should find it useful.
  • After Effects CS4 can now calculate resolution automatically based on the user’s zoom settings, basically making it smarter when it comes to choosing how to render things on screen for the user. This is another one of those efficiency improvements that is great for the user but doesn’t necessarily extend After Effects’ abilities. Still, I’m glad to see this improvement because resolution is the type of thing I never liked handling manually, and I use auto resolution nowadays.

Flash CS4 Professional can import projects exported from After Effects CS4, with transformations intact, and users don’t have to handle the transcoding of some file formats such as FLV, PNG and JPEG—After Effects CS4 takes care of the process. This is all possible with the new XFL file format that InDesign also uses to pass files over to Flash. I think the Flash/After Effects integration is exceptional, with support for embedded cue points, changing footage width within Flash CS4 Professional and editing transformations within Flash. This really helps me improve my workflow for using After Effects in my web design work, because now I can create footage in After Effects CS4 and move it directly to Flash CS4 Professional, without an intermediate step such as rendering to QuickTime and encoding the footage as FLV.

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After Effects CS4 and Flash CS4 Professional have come a long way with the CS4 upgrade, thanks to the new XFL file format and Flash Video (FLV).

There are also a lot of great After Effects/Flash integration features emerging that revolve around ActionScript. Michael Coleman, After Effects Product Manager, has an awesome tutorial here that shows how a Flash movie with ActionScript 3 can control the content in an After Effects CS4 project. This particular demonstration also employs Mocha, a new addition to After Effects CS4 that is covered later in this review. Flash and Flex developers will be particularly excited by these new features, and since the Flash runtime is now native to Acrobat 9 I see After Effects becoming more relevant to designers creating interactive PDFs and other PDF-based media.

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After Effects CS4 is fine-tuned to work with Device Central CS4 to create content for mobile devices.

After Effects CS4 ships with Adobe Device Central CS4, an application that aids development of content for mobile devices. Last year at Adobe’s headquarters I was given the opportunity to work with a composition in After Effects CS4 and test it for a variety of mobile devices within the application thanks to Device Central CS4. The workflow is similar to optimizing web graphics in Photoshop or Fireworks CS4.

The other major feature involving CS4 integration is new support for Photoshop’s 3D output, discussed in the next section.

The final component of After Effects CS4’s efficiency improvements come in the form of support for XMP metadata, which is awesome for larger shops with complex projects requiring project management support but may not be needed for small groups (and especially for sole proprietors like myself). But metadata support is important for anyone who demands organized assets and projects, and it converges with Speech Search (a speech-to-metadata conversion now possible in Premiere Pro CS4 and Soundbooth CS4) to allow something close to searchable video footage.

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After Effects CS4 does a lot more with XMP metadata than its predecessor. In the Output Module Settings, you can see how output can include source metadata.

Those who read my review of Soundbooth CS4 will know that I found it hard to get quality results with Speech Search, which of course will make it hard to get good speech metadata into After Effects CS4 projects. If metadata is important for your organization or work, then After Effects CS4 may be an essential upgrade for you; if not, then look at some of its other new features for a reason to buy.

Handling Photoshop Extended’s 3D output

Those who have Photoshop CS4 Extended and are looking to work its 3D features should consider purchasing After Effects CS4, because it’s become fairly easy to work with Photoshop’s 3D layers in that application. After Effects CS4 can work with cameras and such to create video with the 3D objects, though Photoshop can do similar things with its own Animation panel. But After Effects has Photoshop beat when it comes to special effects, and there’s obviously more flexibility when using After Effects to render footage to video.

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Photoshop CS4 has improved its 3D features, and After Effects CS4 handles Photoshop’s 3D layers natively so it makes sense to put the two together in one 3D workflow.

I still do not use Photoshop CS4 for 3D work, opting instead to use Strata 3D or another dedicated 3D application. The 3D features in Photoshop CS4 are fun to work with and can do some cool things but it’s still not a dedicated application for that purpose. Those who like the idea of an integrated workflow for working with 3D objects (such as painting them in Photoshop) and then adding special effects with After Effects CS4 should look at these two applications, especially if they will be purchasing a CS4 suite anyway.

The Unified Camera tool and independent axes

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The Unified Camera tool is fun to use and combines previous tool functions in one comprehensive feature.

After Effects CS4 has two other major improvements to its 3D compositing tools:

  • The Unified Camera tool, which basically will control camera orbit, x-y tracking and z-tracking with one tool. However, it’s somewhat complex and really designed for a three-button mouse. I use a Logitech MX Revolution and it has enough buttons, though I’ve never programmed one to be a middle-click button. Even though this is technically a new tool in After Effects’ arsenal, to me it seems like another efficiency aid: there are other (separate) tools to execute the same functions.
  • Independent x, y and z axes can be keyframed separately in After Effects CS4. This is a nice improvement that allows greater control over 3D animating. The independent axes can be combined again as needed.

New effects: Cartoon, Bilateral Blur and Turbulent Noise

For an effect-heavy application such as After Effects (it has more than 250 effects), I’m surprised Adobe found three new effects to add to it:

  • The Cartoon effect recreates an animated or painterly style, reminiscent of what I can get with Illustrator’s Live Trace feature or some of Photoshop’s artistic filters. I thought the effect worked well enough but made for some fairly rough artwork—those attempting to transform footage into perfect cel animation should probably lower their expectations. But other than that the Cartoon effect is slick and also GPU-accelerated which allows for fast rendering.
  • The Bilateral Blur effect is probably the most useful effect of this new bunch. Bilateral Blur will smooth a clip’s soft features while preserving sharp features—compare it with Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen filter. Users can create some nicely stylized video with this effect or clear up imperfections.
  • Fans of the Fractal Noise effect in After Effects will enjoy the new Turbulent Noise effect, which creates fractal-based noise useful for creating fog, clouds, fire and other natural effects. Turbulent Noise is basically an improved Fractal Noise effect, using GPU acceleration for smoother animation and rendering. While Bilateral Blur might be my most useful new effect, Turbulent Noise is definitely the coolest—natural effects come out really nice with this effect.

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The Bilateral Blur effect softens soft features and preserves sharp features—the results are shown in the lower-right of this image.

Delicious Mocha

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Perhaps the most eye-popping feature of After Effects CS4 is Mocha, which is actually third-party software. Here Mocha has mapped the text to the door window.

One of the most exciting new features of After Effects CS4 isn’t even in the application: it’s Mocha for After Effects CS4, produced by UK-based Imagineer Systems. Mocha is a standalone application shipping with After Effects CS4 that allows for planar motion tracking; with it you can apply flat artwork to a two-dimensional shape in footage and animate it easily within the 3D space the footage occupies. It works great for things such as words on a paper, lettering on an door or art on a cell phone display. It works exactly as advertised, has an easy learning curve and creates some very powerful special effects! It looks like the Imagineer site still sells Mocha for versions 5–CS3 for $199.99, but After Effects CS4 offers it as a free add-on.

Conclusion

After Effects CS4 is a difficult product to judge—it’s an improvement over its predecessor but I feel some users out there will find it underwhelming. A lot of its improvements are focused on efficiency and there’s not many slick new features—though some of the things happening with After Effects/Flash integration is groundbreaking in my opinion. My favorite feature is probably the addition of Mocha, but it’s really just a standalone product bundled with After Effects CS4. I would recommend the upgrade to hardcore professionals who need to stay up with the current technology and need specific features such as metadata support or CS4 integration. For other users, it’s a harder sell but the upgrade’s $299 price keeps it a competitive deal—consider it a purchase of Mocha at full price and the After Effects CS4 upgrade for just a hundred dollars more!

After Effects CS4
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10
US$999/$299 upgrade

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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers


Companion

Derrick Story’s The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is an interesting book, in that it strives to be a slim “companion” book for photographers out in the field but still aims to cram itself with all the information pertinent to a photographer using Photoshop. The end result is something in between, a book I enjoyed for its compact size and portability but ended up questioning whether it simply has too much information.

Great book for the studio

Don’t get me wrong—I’m the type to encourage information overload. And with that being the case, I’m impressed by the amount of information the Companion packs into its pages. Like many other books, this one focuses on workflow at the beginning and spends a chapter discussing importing images with the Photo Downloader, a component of Bridge that I’ve not found much use for until now. Derrick considers it a very powerful tool for importing photos, and I agree although there are other solutions (I personally use Photoshop Lightroom) and I would doubt most photographers are shooting in the field without an importing strategy already in place.

The book continues with a chapter on rating and keywording in Bridge (again, I use Lightroom for this—but Bridge is the next best thing) and two chapters on Camera Raw, and then the book moves into Photoshop territory with coverage of a variety of tools (Clone Stamp, Levels) and techniques (blemish removal, sharpening, hue/saturation, panorama stitching). The book ends with a small chapter on printing, which (like workflow) seems a little out of place because one would expect a photographer to worry about printing only after returning from the field.

Not enough Photoshop

Out of the eight chapters in Companion, only two cover Photoshop itself. This bothers me—I know Derrick wanted to avoid packing every Photoshop tip into this book, but I think more could have been done. Since this book is about Photoshop CS4, CS4-specific information would have been helpful: not much is said about the Adjustments and Masks panels, two of the most noticeable changes in Photoshop CS4. A photographer out in the field might want a comprehensive overview of these panels handy when he/she is working on images. There’s also plenty of other tips and tricks a photographer may want to reference in a companion like this book.

A lot of copy

When I think about companions, handbooks and pocket guides—whether they are travel guides or Photoshop books like this one—I hope to see the right mix of imagery, copy and information design. These small books get too jam-packed without white space and visual aids like headings and such. Companion does a pretty good job of mixing images in the right place but the copy is served in huge blocks that are rarely broken up with callouts, boxes or other aids. This makes the book somewhat difficult to use when looking up a particular bit of information, which is often the case out in the field. As I alluded to in my subheading above, this book works best in the studio—or reading room, where one can read the book cover-to-cover. A photographer in the field who has to find out fast how to apply a photo filter to an image for a client will be hard-pressed to find the information in Companion.

Conclusion

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is a good book, and I would recommend it for beginners or amateurs who could use a small, easy-to-digest guide to workflow, Camera Raw and a few Photoshop techniques for photographers. It is not a complete Photoshop guide or a full survey of new CS4 features, and I might stick it in my camera bag for “just in case” situations but the lack of Photoshop-specific information and ease of use out in the field might keep it unopened.

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers
Derrick Story
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 7/10
US$24.99