At a Glance
Somewhere between versions 9 and 10, Macromedia FreeHand went through an identity crisis -- the application wasn't sure whether it was a print-focused illustration tool, a multimedia program, or a cut-rate Macromedia Flash. But it has recovered, and it's now a stable and productive member of the MX family. Powerful new illustration tools and enhanced integration with other MX programs have earned FreeHand its MX moniker.
The interface differences between FreeHand 10 and FreeHand MX range from subtle to radical. Although the Tools panel is relatively consistent with earlier FreeHand versions, you'll see some new tools, such as Extrude and Bezigon (more about these later). Rolling over icons with your cursor reveals each tool's name, so if you find an unfamiliar icon, you can at least identify it.
Macromedia has redesigned its palettes as dockable panels, which help reduce clutter on screen. You can easily rename and customize panel groups, using the Group With panel submenu found in the upper right corner of each panel.
The look-and-feel of the panels is similar to that of panels in other MX applications, so it's easy to move from one program to another.
FreeHand MX's new Object panel is perhaps the most important and versatile of the dockable panels. It sets itself apart from earlier versions' tabbed palettes by letting you drill down through an object's various attributes and properties without leaving the panel window.
The Object panel's one-stop Stroke, Fill, and Effect variations make up the most intuitive interface to come along since the introduction of floating palettes; this panel's display changes to reflect any
fill, stroke, or effect attribute in any selected object. You can change these properties within the Object panel, or you can change the properties directly in the objects you've selected. For many users, the resulting time and mouse-movement savings alone may be worth the cost of the upgrade.
Multiple Choices of Multiple Attributes
FreeHand MX now allows multiple attributes or effects in a single object; the ability to quickly apply, separate, and manipulate multiple attributes -- and the increased integration with Flash -- will open up illustration techniques that could positively affect both print and Web work for years to come.
Using the Modify menu and selecting Separate Attributes, you can also separate objects with multiple attributes into several individual objects -- one object can essentially hold numerous styles. To us, being able to export complex objects and elements to Flash makes FreeHand more powerful than any rival illustration application.
FreeHand MX has some unique new tools. Its enhanced Pen tool accommodates on-the-fly stroke-style changes, and its multiple-attribute capabilities take variations in illustrations and styles to another level. FreeHand MX also has beefed-up gradient-fill control; you can edit your gradients directly within the object on screen, rather than through a combination of handles and palette controls.
The Bezigon tool might become a favorite for designers accustomed to manipulating Bézier curves. It lets you create polygons that combine curves and corners with precision and ease.
The new Extrude tool is an easy way to add simple 3-D effects to objects. Even after extruding an object, you can edit the original shape. Changes you make to the object are quickly -- though not instantly -- made to the extrusion as well.
The vector-based Eraser tool creates new shapes and cutouts from existing shapes by making separate vector paths from erased space. The Action tool allows click-through navigation from one page to another in multiple-page FreeHand documents. While the ActionScript tool is powerful, we wonder how many times we'll need to build navigation commands in FreeHand, rather than in a more Web-focused application, such as Flash, where ActionScripting is more comprehensive.
Welcome Back to the Family
FreeHand MX shares files with MX-mates Fireworks and Flash. For example, you can open FreeHand MX files directly within Fireworks, keeping the FreeHand MX files editable. This enhanced reciprocity will be appreciated by people who bounce from FreeHand to Fireworks to Dreamweaver to Flash.
FreeHand MX now has the same level of Flash import and export ease that it has with Fireworks. Flash-format files imported into FreeHand can be edited in Flash MX through the Object panel. The imported files are automatically updated.
FreeHand has always had extensive export options, and this version continues to offer myriad file formats. Unfortunately, it still doesn't import or export Adobe Illustrator files beyond version 7.X.
FreeHand MX's new feature set and interface innovations have not only expanded its users' potential repertoire, but also resolved stability issues in FreeHand 10. The workspace-viewing choices have been simplified to Preview, Fast Preview, Keyline, and Fast Keyline. Preview and Keyline are antialiased, and the lines and edges of objects are smoother. And the application doesn't crash while switching between views.
Macworld's Buying Advice
If you're using Dreamweaver, Flash, or Fireworks, then FreeHand MX is an essential piece of your Web-design puzzle. However, the real selling point is its more comprehensive integration with other MX products; this integration finally brings FreeHand MX up to a level where professionals can use it with confidence.
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