Tag Archives: Illustration

Anime Studio Pro 9 Released

Anime Studio 9 Pro box

Today, SmithMicro announced the release of Anime Studio 9 for Mac and PC. Anime Studio is an animation application that emphasizes frame-based cartoon animation and illustration, 3D character and scene animation, and animating bone rigging. According to the press release, “Anime Studio 9 boasts a dramatically revamped timeline, 64-bit architecture and GPU acceleration for increased speed and memory, with new advanced features that make it easier than ever to create quality 2D animations.”

I think Anime Studio 9 fills the frame-based animation niche that used to be serviced by Adobe Flash until that application began to focus on its ActionScript programming language and developer community. Adobe Edge Animate and Anime Studio are the applications that now remind me most of the old Flash, but Anime Studio also emphasizes rigging, 3D animation on a 2D stage, and cartoon-style animation.

Version 9 of Anime Studio Pro has some welcome improvements:

  • Performance enhancements such as 64-bit architecture and acceleration through Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).
  • Motion graphs are now editable in the Timeline, which means animations can be tweaked with Bézier curves for precise control.
  • Multi-touch tablet support for the latest generation of Wacom multi-touch tablets like the Bamboo, Cintiq and the latest Intuos tablets.
  • Smart Bones, which is the most visible improvement of the bunch. Smart Bones maintain object forms while being manipulated, avoiding bizarre distortions around joints.
  • An updated Character Wizard for creating and customizing characters, including riggings and walk cycles.
  • A Smart Tool Palette for improved tool organization.
  • Enhanced Drawing Tools for smarter drawing and less need to draw precisely.
  • The Texture Budget memory management tool, which downsizes images if your computer runs out of resources.
  • You can now stop an animation on a specific keyframe for a specified time.
  • Built-in word balloons.

Motion paths

The Timeline’s Motion Graphs are editable with Bézier curves, making transitions and easing a lot more precise. This is a feature that has been in Flash for two or three versions now.

Smart Bones can also work as “master” objects that can animate other objects, which allows for intriguing possibilities. In the demo, my SmithMicro contact showed a character that was given multiple animated characteristics (blinking eyes, jumping legs, moving arms). Each animated element was paired with a Smart Bone off the stage, which itself could be animated to make the character elements animate. The end result was an off-stage user interface for animating the character, which can be a great time-saver in complex animations. It made me think how a future Anime Studio might weave this technology into an “animation wizard” in a future version.

Smart bones

New in version 9: Smart Bones can be rigged up with animated elements in other characters, producing a simple user interface for animating the object.

Anime Studio 9 also works pretty well with other applications. My contact at SmithMicro commented that many pro users bring their Anime Studio renders into Adobe’s After Effects or Premiere Pro for extra effects like motion blur. Conversely, Anime Studio Pro 9 also imports 3D scenes and characters from Poser, another SmithMicro app devoted to creating 3D elements, and layered Photoshop files. But even though Anime Studio Pro can use 3D assets, the application does not support depth (z-axis), lighting or shading. Drop shadows and other effects can mimic 3D effects.

Art

The quality of artwork coming out of Anime Studio Pro 9 projects is impressive.

As with previous versions, Anime Studio 9 is available in the entry-level Debut package or the Pro package for professionals. Debut users can open files created in Pro but won’t have some Pro features such as actions, Smart Bones and 3D capabilities. Debut also has a maximum render resolution of 720×720 pixels and a maximum video length of two minutes.

I received my copy of Anime Studio Pro 9 just recently so a review of the product will be published in a few weeks. In particular, I want to test how the Anime Studio works with the multi-touch Wacom Bamboo tablet. Keep reading for more news!

MotionArtist Announced, Beta Release for Producing Interactive Graphic Novels

Last week, Smith Micro announced the release of MotionArtist, an application designed for creating interative graphic novels and comic books for online, mobile and tablet readers. MotionArtist is available now as a beta release, and in about a year it will retail for approximately $50. The press release is below.


PRESS RELEASE

Introducing the Easiest Way to Create Digital Comics and Interactive Graphic Novels – MotionArtist by Smith Micro

  • For graphic novelists, comic creators, or anyone wishing to create animated presentations and photo shows
  • Offers truly simple animation, panel creation tools and HTML5 export
  • Download free Beta version at motionartist.smithmicro.com

SAN DIEGO, CA – July 11, 2012 – Smith Micro Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: SMSI) Productivity and Graphics Group today announced the beta release of MotionArtist®, a new version that bridges the gap between comic creators and their readers. With the MotionArtist version users can add motion to their comics, create interactive HTML5 presentations as well as uniquely styled photo-shows. International Comic-Con 2012 attendees will be the first to see MotionArtist’s new approach to layout, animation and adding interactivity at Smith Micro’s booth #5353.

MotionArtist is a composition and presentation application unlike anything that exists in the world of digital comic creation,” said Steve Yatson, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Smith Micro Software, Inc. “It’s a simple solution to a very complicated set of problems that introduces a new approach to animation. We provide the platform – from there, professional artists or everyday users can really let their creativity run wild.”

The MotionArtist version combines cutting-edge tools with a truly simple user experience, creating a highly versatile solution that appeals to a wide range of users, from hardcore comic creators to anyone who loves to share their favorite photos, including:

  • Graphic novelists – Create amazing interactive animated comics and presentations with state-of-the-art technology, such as GPU acceleration for a lightning fast work environment and 3D layering for that cool parallax effect
  • Traditional comic creators – Artists of any skill-level can quickly convert their work into digital comics with panel creation, layout tools and the ability to add motion
  • Web developers – Export projects to HTML5 and deploy on your favorite website or save as standard movie formats and share your comics and presentations directly to Facebook or YouTube
  • Photographers – Create fun, animated “photo shows” by dropping in a folder of images; MotionArtist will automatically place the images on the stage and animate the camera

Poser capture in MotionArtist

MotionArtist is an awesome animation and interactivity product that was clearly conceived with comic creators in mind,” said Brian Haberlin, co-artist and co-writer of the multi-media sci-fi adventure saga Anomaly. “With MotionArtist you can create panel-based comics, add animation and export in common file formats without being locked into a specific format or being required to use a particular service. You can even export as a common video format or, more importantly, HTML5.”

Key MotionArtist version Features:

  • HTML5 export – Save out as HTML5 with interactive navigation or export as standard video files and share on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Comic style panel creation – Create panels of just about any shape. Go back and resize, duplicate, rotate, align and cut at any time.
  • Word balloons & dynamic text – Vector based balloons, thought bubbles, dialogue boxes and text can easily be added and edited at any time
  • Arrange in 3D – add layered 3D depth to your panels and presentations for that cool parallax effect
  • Motion – A new approach to animation for non-animators. We’ve hidden the technical stuff and brought the animation process forward in an intuitive visual manner
  • Photo shows – Simple creation of photo presentations through automated object placement and camera movement
  • Working modes and views – Creation and animation workflow is laid out with comic creators in mind

Pricing and Availability:

Download MotionArtist for free during its beta availability direct from the Smith Micro online store at: motionartist.smithmicro.com.

Comic composition in MotionArtist

About Smith Micro Software, Inc. – Productivity and Graphics Group:

Based in Santa Cruz, Calif., the Smith Micro Software Productivity and Graphics Group produces award-winning software that inspires consumer creativity and enables efficiency. The group’s creative suite of programs provides artists of all skill levels – from novice to professional – with the tools to illustrate, animate and create 2D and 3D art. Some of the Productivity and Graphics Group’s award-winning creative and utilities products include Poser, Anime Studio, Manga Studio and StuffIt. For more information, please visit: www.smithmicro.com.

Safe Harbor Statement:

This release contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties, including without limitation, forward-looking statements relating to the company’s financial prospects and other projections of its performance, the existence of new market opportunities and interest in the company’s products and solutions, and the company’s ability to increase its revenue and regain profitability by capitalizing on these new market opportunities and interest and introducing new products and solutions. Among the important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements are changes in demand for the company’s products from its customers and their end-users, new and changing technologies, customer acceptance and timing of deployment of those technologies, new and continuing adverse economic conditions, and the company’s ability to compete effectively with other software companies. These and other factors discussed in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its filings on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements contained in this release are made on the basis of the views and assumptions of management regarding future events and business performance as of the date of this release, and the company does not undertake any obligation to update these statements to reflect events or circumstances occurring after the date of this release.

Smith Micro, the Smith Micro logo and MotionArtist are trademarks or registered trademarks of Smith Micro Software, Inc. All other trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

BOOK REVIEW: Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers

Abduzeedo Guide cover

The Internet is an amazing thing—there’s so much inspiration out there now for designers to reflect upon. Designers and illustrators from across the world can show their work to each other. And since it’s easy for anyone to write and publish online, there are many tutorials and articles out there from the best in the field. I’m sure many old-school designers who made their careers without the Internet wonder how much easier it would have been if they had had it.

The Internet is a significant factor in the success—and failure—of the Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers. The book was written by Fábio Sasso, founder of the design blog Abduzeedo.com, and several other illustrators. All of these artists have their own blogs and websites, full of illustrations and articles, and they are prolific online publishers. The book design is very nice—clean, colorful and easy to read. I enjoyed reading it very much.

However, the Inspiration Guide might be the first book I’ve read where some of the content was already familiar to me—because I had seen it on the Internet. In particular, Alex Varanese’s “Alt 1977″ series of illustrations was popular on Twitter and blogs not too long ago. I enjoyed seeing his work then and I still do, but it wasn’t new anymore. The Internet makes it so easy to find content that a book based on online content is at a disadvantage.

The Inspiration Guide is more than just images though, which is its redeeming grace. Many illustrators are interviewed in the Guide, and they are good reading for artists who are early in their careers. (I think they are good for experienced artists too, but they tend to focus on young careers because the artists are relatively young.) There are several tutorials available as well that combine Photoshop and digital tools with real artistry, which I really like. They were fun to do, not too hard or easy, and the results were excellent.

At $40, the Inspiration Guide might be a hard sell for illustrators. (NOTE: Amazon has it listed for $26.) After all, why buy the book when you can see the work online? But I think it’s a good book and it does have some fresh content that Abduzeedo regulars might not know already.

Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers
Fábio Sasso and others
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 8/10

Illustrator CS5 Review

ai_box

This review supplements Illustrator CS5 First Impressions, which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in Illustrator CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with Illustrator CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.

Much more useful

In “First Impressions” I said I wasn’t sure Illustrator CS5 was a necessary upgrade, but some of the new tools have impressed me more and more since then. One thing I’ve learned to do is simplify my illustrations with variable-width strokes, replacing shapes made with the Pathfinder panel or shapes drawn freehand with the Pen tool. It takes some practice and sometimes the controls aren’t refined enough to get the exact shapes I want, but variable-width strokes can usually achieve what I want.

One trick in particular that I tried was to build the Nike logo with a single stroke. It’s a perfect candidate—a simple shape with a clear line connecting the two endpoints—but even then it was tough to achieve. The sharp turn in the brand is very hard for the variable-width stroke control to get without bending the turn on top of itself, but I was able to do it and I hope to publish a tutorial on this when I can.

Even though I still use the Pathfinder panel for a few things, I am using the Shape Builder tool more and more to combine objects. It’s very intuitive, well-designed and effective. Another major improvement for usability is artboard alignment. There’s no way I could go back to moving my artboards around manually and aligning them by typing in measurements! I’m also labeling my artboards now for organizational purposes.

One more feature that has proven really useful is the Perspective Grid, which I am really grateful for every time I create the illusion of depth. Snapping objects to the grid and moving them along a z-axis has really simplified the process of creating depth, and everything remains live so ease of use is not compromised. It does require handling the two perspective tools added to Illustrator CS5, and I think Illustrator has a huge array of tools as it is, but the benefits outweigh the learning curve.

Some features not as useful

I haven’t found Drawing Modes to be useful—I still prefer to move objects forward and backward rather than interrupt my flow to change modes. I’m trying to get used to Draw Inside but I still fall back on opacity masks, which feel most comfortable to me.

The Bristle Brush has also turned out to be something I don’t use very often, which has surprised me. It makes some excellent painterly effects and brings Illustrator closer to Photoshop and Corel Painter, but perhaps due to force of habit I still go to those apps for those effects and use Illustrator mostly to create logos, graphics and other hard-edged products. The Bristle Brush just hasn’t been compelling enough to make me skip Photoshop for those painterly brushstrokes. I am also wary of throwing that much transparency and objects at a commercial print job: the Bristle Brush really does produce a lot of transparency and that can tax even the most professional hardware.

Conclusion

The more I use Illustrator CS5, the more I find I like its new features. It seems like a really useful upgrade, and anyone who works a lot in Illustrator should at least get the 30-day trial. Many designers use Illustrator only for a few specific tasks, but even they could get some use out of variable-width strokes, perspective grid and the Shape Builder. These three features make fundamental Illustrator work faster and more productive.

Illustrator CS5
Adobe Systems
US$599/$199 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

REVIEW: DrawPlus X3 Does Some Catching Up

drawplusThe UK-based developer Serif has released DrawPlus X3, the latest version of their drawing application that most closely resembles Adobe’s Illustrator and the defunct Freehand. Unlike those programs, DrawPlus X3 has also taken after Photoshop Elements and other applications that help users along with wizards, visual aids and step-by-step instructions built into the application, making this product a good selection for amateur and prosumer users who do not need the Adobe standard.

Working with EPS and other formats

The new version of DrawPlus X3 works with more image formats including Microsoft’s HD Photo format, EPS and Illustrator (AI). I have never used the HD Photo format and it surprises me given that DrawPlus X3 is a drawing application. The additions of EPS and AI are much more pleasing, since they are two of three of Adobe’s major vector image formats (the other being PDF). I imported an Illustrator CS3, Illustrator CS3 EPS, and PDF saved with the Illustrator Default preset and DrawPlus X3 did not have a problem importing the data. I was able to work with points (called “nodes” in DrawPlus X3) but one shape using a compound path could not be edited in any of the three formats. It’s handy to import Illustrator and EPS artwork but illustrators who want to import complex artwork should expect difficulties.

AutoTrace = Live Trace

DrawPlus X3 introduces AutoTrace, a module that will trace bitmap graphics and convert them to vectors. This technology has been in Illustrator for a few years, dubbed Live Trace; before that, Adobe produced an application called Streamline for this purpose. Converting bitmaps to vectors is a very helpful feature, so AutoTrace is a great addition to DrawPlus. The interface is straightforward and presets can be saved in one of three modes: logo, black/white and color.

autotrace
AutoTrace is similar to Illustrator's Live Trace and produces good results, but offers less control.

AutoTrace offers fewer controls than Live Trace and it seems harder to get great results. I missed the presets that ship with Illustrator and Live Trace: I often use them as a starting point and fine-tune the controls to perfect the trace, but with AutoTrace I was searching for the right sliders to achieve good results. Part of the problem might be the sliders’ labels and icons, which I didn’t always understand. I also wished AutoTrace would preview the trace on the full-sized image rather than a small preview thumbnail. Quick tip: you can preview on the large image by clicking the Trace button, though you have to click to re-render every time settings are changed.

Head to the Image Cutout Studio

Another major addition to DrawPlus X3 is the Image Cutout Studio, which most closely resembles Photoshop‘s Extract filter, which was actually retired when Photoshop CS4 was released. Image Cutout Studio is a simplified version of Extract that doesn’t require tedious highlighting of edges, but that is what made Extract such a precise extracting filter. Instead, Image Cutout Studio employs Keep and Discard Brush tools that are more like Photoshop’s Magic Eraser tool—click a background with the Discard Brush tool and it goes away. A Tolerance setting controls its sensitivity. Once everything is extracted, you can preview the results, fine-tune the edges with more brush tools and output as an alpha mask or vector mask.

cutout
Photoshop CS4 no longer has the Extract filter, but DrawPlus X3 offers a very similar feature that performs well.

I found that, even though previews within Image Cutout Studio suggest less than perfect results, extracted images look great in DrawPlus X3. Image Cutout Studio did have difficulty with images with fine details, such as hair, and subjects whose color was close to the background. However, Photoshop CS4’s eraser tools have the same problems. The old Extract filter is the only tool I’ve used that could handle such images well, other than third-party plug-ins such as Corel’s KnockOut 2.

DrawPlus.com

An interesting new addition is not in the application itself but online: DrawPlus.com has become a “community website” where DrawPlus users can upload their artwork, rate their and others’ art, make comments and search in various ways. I’m disappointed the website is built with Silverlight—it’s definitely not as ubiquitous as Flash, especially in the Macintosh market—but it doesn’t surprise me since DrawPlus uses several Microsoft technologies such as the Windows Metafile and HD Photo formats.

drawpluscom
This elephant was created with DrawPlus X3 and uploaded to DrawPlus.com, an online community for DrawPlus users.

If anyone doubts that professional results can be created with DrawPlus, visit DrawPlus.com and see the artwork that’s been posted: some of the artwork could be better, but there are also some excellent photorealistic illustrations and creative artwork!

New design additions

Serif has added some nice new spray brush strokes to DrawPlus X3, including airbrush, grungy and special effect strokes that look really good. I think the best application of these is to create textures with the Grunge family of brushes: a swirl of paint with these strokes will make a very nice texture for use in other applications or within DrawPlus. The Special Effects family is also fun to play with but the presets aren’t particularly useful for my daily work.

You can see the Grunge brushes creating a painterly effect on the edges of these shapes.
You can see the Grunge brushes creating a painterly effect on the edges of these shapes.

Some new overlays have also been added in order to aid the designer: a Rule of Thirds grid, which creates a simple 3×3 grid, and a Divine Proportions grid that creates a Fibonacci spiral, considered a harmonious basis for many designs and layouts. Experienced designers may not find these particularly useful but novices could find them very useful.

There are a variety of other new features for the designer, including:

  • A Crop Tool that allows position, rotation and shape changes in the middle of the cropping procedure. It even can apply a Rule of Thirds grid to the crop window so it’s easy to know the most harmonious places to crop.
  • Brush outlines can be stroked or textured.
  • New 2D and 3D filters that can apply blur, reflection maps and lighting effects. These have been around in Photoshop for many years.
  • Specific areas in a document can be exported with the Export Optimizer. Photoshop and Fireworks have better bitmap image optimizing interfaces but DrawPlus X3 has all the basic functions and the option of exporting a section of an image is appealing to me.
  • The new Arrange tab allows for basic arranging, rotation and reflection of elements. Again, this has been available in Adobe products for several years.

Conclusion

I keep coming back again and again to the fact that DrawPlus X3 has added features that are already familiar to Photoshop and Illustrator users. One could chide Serif for basically playing catch-up, but improvement is not a bad thing. DrawPlus is borrowing ideas from good products and has matured into a solid application for prosumers.

DrawPlus X3
Serif
US$99.99
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Corel Painter 11 Produces Beautiful Work, Makes Small Improvements

painter11box

Corel Painter is one of the few applications that is a gold standard in the design industry but is not produced by Adobe, which is refreshing to me. The new Corel Painter 11, produced two years after its previous version, arrives in a small environmentally-friendly package and comes with a batch of new features, both large and small, that together make Painter 11 an interesting upgrade.

New hard media variants

painter-markers

Painter has always boasted a huge number of brushes and media, but Painter 11 adds to the heap with 40 more hard media variants in a variety of media including acrylic, chalk, colored pencil, watercolor, pastels and pencils. Ten of these variants are in the new Markers category, which is worth exploring; I particularly enjoyed the Leaky Marker and Dry Chisel Tip Marker, and the Fine Tip Marker made some cool effects at larger sizes. The Markers are designed to emulate rendering markers.

painter-hardmedia

A Hard Media palette has also been added to the gob of Brush Control palettes, offering control over tip shape and behavior when given varying degrees of tilt and velocity. The palette performs perfectly and gives more control than most users will ever need; the one thing I wish it had is a reset function. I also wonder if 20 Brush Control palettes is too many. Corel should consider the usability difficulties inherent in such a large palette interface and perhaps streamline the group.

One more thing: I am so excited to see Painter 11 now organizes its brush category menu in alphabetical order!

Selecting and transforming

Painter 11 Transform tool
Painter 11’s Transform tool gives users the same transform functions found in Photoshop and other image editing apps.

The other two major features added to Painter are the Polygonal Selection and Transform tools. Painter is arriving late to the Polygonal Selection party: Photoshop and other graphics applications has had such a tool for years. Painter has traditionally focused on recreating the painting experience, but I think Corel has realized users also need the selection and transform features found in other applications. Thus, the Polygonal Selection tool makes its debut—along with the Transform tool, which functions a little differently than Photoshop’s Free Transform function but does all the same things. Here’s a tip: hold Option when you select the Transform tool from the toolbar, and Painter will create a copy of your selection or layer and transform that, leaving the original untouched.

A variety of productivity and compatibility enhancements

My reviews of Adobe’s CS4 applications grappled with the dilemma of whether an upgrade succeeds by its new killer features or its small improvements in efficiency. I have always expected upgrades to wow users with great new features, but CS4 focused more on productivity and Adobe has been promoting this as “the new killer feature.” Painter is a mature application and, if Painter 11 is any indication, Corel may be pursuing the same productivity goals. Many of Painter 11’s new and enhanced features are small tweaks designed to make things easier:

  • The Colors palette now includes the controls previously found in the Color Info palette, and it can be enlarged up to 800 pixels wide for easier color selection. I’m very glad they made this change, because the small color triangle made it hard to select an exact color. I’m also glad to see one palette do the job of two. However, Painter 11 also has new Color Variability and Color Expression palettes that creates a net gain for color palettes.
  • The Mixer palette has been similarly enhanced so it can be enlarged like the Colors palette. The Painter documentation also says users can add mixer swatches to the lineup of swatches on the Mixer palette, but I was only able to add mixer swatches to the Color Sets palette.
  • The keyboard has become a more useful tool in Painter 11. The arrow keys adjust the saturation of hues selected in the Colors palette.
  • The messy Color Managment dialog box from Painter X has been redesigned into something much simpler and effective. Painter 11 requires just an RGB and CMYK profile (Painter X managed five profiles for a variety of hardware and colorspaces) and the profile handling options are in plain view (in Painter X, users had to click an unmarked icon). Painter 11’s color management options are still no match for Photoshop’s, and there is no method to create custom settings, but it is an improvement. One more improvement: unlike Painter X, Painter 11 allows access to the Color Management dialog box without an active document open.

Color Management box comparison image
Comparing the Color Management dialog boxes from Painter X (top) and Painter 11 (bottom) shows a major change—from confusion to relative clarity.

Painter 11 is also compatible with more third-party technology and image formats:

  • Painter 11 understands color profiles in a variety of image formats, including PSD, TIFF and JPEG. It also open PNG files, which Painter X could not do.
  • Tablet pen tilt is better understood by Painter 11, adding realism to digital brushstrokes.
  • Painter 11 is optimized to run on Intel Mac, PowerPC Mac and Windows Vista PC computers.
  • According to the documentation, Painter 11 has improved its handling of Photoshop (PSD) files, with support for layer masks, alpha channels, layer merge modes and layer sets/groups. I tested this with a PSD file I used for a retractable banner project, and it seems both Painter X and Painter 11 understood the file perfectly except for layer styles, Smart Objects and text layers (which are rasterized).

Conclusion

Painter 11 is a solid upgrade, with a couple major new features and several smaller improvements designed to enhance efficiency and third-party compatibility. Those using Painter IX or older should consider the upgrade: for US$199, you’ll get a good assortment of new tools and compatibility improvements. Painter X users have a tougher choice because I don’t believe there is a big difference between Painter X and Painter 11, and in any case a $200 upgrade in today’s economic climate may be a harder sell for any user. A free trial of Painter 11 is available at www.corel.com so I would suggest you try before you buy.

If you have never used Painter before and are considering Painter 11, I would heartily recommend it if you enjoy painting and drawing. Painter has always offered the best painterly experience found on a computer, and Painter 11 is an improvement over its predecessor.

Painter 11
Corel
US$399/$199
Rating: 8/10

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.