capsule review

Adobe Illustrator 8.0

At a Glance
  • Adobe Illustrator 8.0

    Macworld Rating

Adobe Illustrator 8.0


Vector-Drawing Leader Finally Delivers

By Deke McClelland

Ask longtime Macintosh artists when Adobe Illustrator started to go downhill, and you'll get a lot of different answers. Many point to Illustrator 7.0, which omitted new features in favor of cross-application harmony. Others considered Illustrator 7.0 a structural recovery from the slipshod additions made to versions 5.0 and 6.0. But most will agree that Illustrator 7.0 amounted to damaged goods.

Refreshingly, Illustrator 8.0 achieves a nearly full recovery. Live blends, enhanced distortion controls, Smart Guides, new Actions and Links palettes, easier navigation, and natural-media brushes make this one of the most feature-rich upgrades to Illustrator in years. Version 7.0 users will delight in the new features and gentle learning curve. Those who stuck with version 6.0 now have reason to grapple with the Photoshop-inspired interface. Illustrator 8.0 is every bit as streamlined as its predecessor, and it's nearly as powerful as Macromedia FreeHand. Together, these two factors make it the best Mac drawing program.


Illustrator 88 was the first program to let you blend between two paths to create custom gradations, transitional objects, and morphing effects. In the years since, Adobe has ignored the feature. Version 8.0 finally brings blends into the 1990s.

As in FreeHand, CorelDraw, and Deneba Canvas, the blends in Illustrator 8.0 are dynamic: if you change the shape, fill, or stroke of one of the anchor paths in a blend, the intermediate paths update automatically. For more diverse color transitions, you can blend among three or more shapes at a time and even blend among shapes that contain predefined gradients. If you begin with two groups of paths, Illustrator can blend between equivalent pairs in the groups (based on stacking order), which is great for creating complex morphs.

Illustrator 8.0 also lets you blend along a curve, which the program calls a spine. You can use the standard path tools to edit the straight spine that Illustrator gives you by default. Or more simply, you can align the blend to a predefined path. After you establish the spine, Illustrator lets you change the orientation of the in-between steps.

Illustrator 8.0's best new features give adept users extra control over object editing. The new Free Transform tool lets you scale, rotate, and slant selected objects all at once. You can also distort objects and achieve perspective effects using the same keyboard toggles available in Photoshop.

Illustrator 8.0 makes good on a promise to FreeHand users by letting you select up and down a stack of overlapping paths without having to lock and hide objects. And while you still can't paste one path inside another to get a mask (another common request from FreeHand users), you can now apply fills and strokes directly to masks. To expedite path drawing, you can add and delete points without switching from the pen tool, delete segments with a new eraser tool, and redirect paths just by drawing with the pencil.

My favorite editing feature hails not from FreeHand but from Canvas. Like the Smart Mouse function that Canvas introduced eight years ago, Illustrator 8.0's Smart Guides notify you when your cursor aligns with the center, edge, or anchor point in a stationary object. Although many artists will find the sheer quantity of on-screen notifications overwhelming, those with a penchant for schematic illustrations will take to Smart Guides immediately. The function enables you to select, align, and transform objects with dead-on accuracy.


If you spend a lot of time trading pixels between Illustrator and Photoshop, then Illustrator 8.0 is indispensable. For the first time ever, you can get a piece of artwork to look the same in Illustrator as it will when rasterized in Photoshop. Inexplicably, Illustrator 8.0 and Photoshop 5.0 approach color management from different directions, but both programs take their cues from ColorSync. If you go to the trouble of saving RGB and CMYK settings as ICC profiles from Photoshop, you can apply them to Illustrator with appropriately harmonious results.

Do you cry every time Photoshop flattens your vector artwork? Version 8.0 provides more cause to rejoice. You can export a layered Illustrator file in Photoshop format with all layers intact.

Like Photoshop, Illustrator 8.0 lets you record actions. You can't record mouse-driven operations such as selecting and moving objects, nor can you swap actions between Illustrator and Photoshop, but the interface is identical between the two programs. If you spend much time importing images or rasterizing artwork inside Illustrator, the Links palette is a godsend. Not only does it show every imported graphic in your illustration, but it also lets you update an image file from disk, center the image in the illustration window, and automatically open the image in Photoshop.

To make you feel more at home, Illustrator 8.0 borrows Photoshop's Navigator palette for quick zooms and scrolls. Even better, you can zoom in and out with 0.01 percent accuracy (although scrolling with the hand tool still lurches the page in 20-pixel chunks).


The two new features that are likely to attract the most attention are unlikely to have a profound effect on the way you work. First is the Gradient Mesh tool, which lets you add points of color inside a shape. The result is a multipoint gradation, unlike anything available in competing drawing programs. While undoubtedly innovative, the Gradient Mesh tool might inspire as much frustration as creativity. The feature is designed specifically to work with PostScript 3. If you print to a PostScript 1 or 2 device, Illustrator rasterizes the gradient as a 150-dpi JPEG bitmap.

The second new feature is the Brushes palette, which lets you stroke paths with one of four different kinds of effects. The most interesting of these, the Artistic Brush, stretches a collection of objects over the course of a path. Sounds dull, but the effects can be spectacular, from natural-media brushstrokes to swaying graphics. If you have ever used MetaCreations' groundbreaking Expression, you've seen artistic brushes in action (see Reviews, March 1997 ).

The Scatter Brush sprays a stream of graphics. But unlike FreeHand's equivalent Graphic Hose, the Scatter Brush doesn't allow you to cycle through different objects or vary colors as you paint. The last two brushes-Pattern and Calligraphic-are merely repackaged functions that date back to Illustrator 6.0.




At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Live blends and blends on a curve
    • Paths can be transformed and distorted in one operation
    • On-the-fly Smart Guides
    • Layered Photoshop files can be exported
    • Naturalistic brush effects

    Cons

    • Gradient Mesh tool is more sizzle than substance
    • Color-management functions differ from Photoshop's
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