At a Glance
If you're a type nerd, you're going to love the new version of Illustrator. Though Illustrator CS doesn't pack a lot of new drawing tools, Adobe's extensive reworking of the program's text tools makes this upgrade a typographic dream. Because Illustrator now incorporates InDesign's sophisticated text engine, designers no longer have to divide their time between the two programs to get superior text rendering in their illustrations. Add a smattering of new illustration tools and an improved printing interface, and you've got a valuable upgrade.
In the last few updates, Adobe changed keyboard shortcuts and other interface details to make Illustrator's interface more closely match that of Adobe's other products. Longtime Illustrator users will be pleased to find that, overall, Illustrator CS's interface is unchanged from version 10.
The new Font menu (still located under the Type menu) is the most obvious difference. It not only displays font names in their actual typeface, but also provides a PostScript, TrueType, or OpenType icon next to each font name. The distinction between these font formats becomes apparent as you dig into Illustrator CS's new typography controls. OpenType allows for as many as 65,000 separate characters in a font, including, most importantly, character variants. For example, a font might have swash characters -- fancier, more elaborate versions of letters.
The new OpenType palette's simple interface lets you activate or deactivate entire categories of optional characters. For example, you can select an individual character and activate its swash alternative by clicking on the Swash button in the OpenType palette. Clicking on other buttons replaces elements such as ligatures, fractions, and ordinals.
Obviously, these features work only with OpenType fonts, but Adobe has generously included a nice, varied assortment of 100 OpenType fonts with Illustrator.
Having such an easy way of accessing alternate characters means that you can employ the types of characters that professional typographers have used for centuries but that often get ignored in digital typography. And Illustrator CS has two other new features that provide further old-style typographical improvements. Selecting the new Optical Kerning option in the Characters palette automatically adjusts the inter-character spacing of the currently selected words, to produce more-attractive text. Optical Margin Alignment automatically adjusts the position of characters at the end of a line, to make text blocks look more even.
Finally, Adobe has also included InDesign's Every-Line composer option, which does an extraordinary job of adjusting word and character spacing to prevent rivers of white text, to eliminate the need for breaking words, and to generally make a more attractively composed block of text. As InDesign users already know, this feature will automatically make text layouts look much better.
Typing in Style
To make your formatting chores less tedious, Adobe has wisely included both Character and Paragraph styles in Illustrator CS.
Illustrator has had a type-on-a-path tool in several versions, but it has been greatly improved with the latest release. Using the new Path Text Options dialog boxes, you can control your path's text alignment, as well as the orientation of individual characters as they traverse your path.
Illustrator's controls for flowing text from one block to another have always been a little cumbersome, but with this version, Adobe has installed the same text-block management controls found in InDesign. All text blocks now have an In port and an Out port, a small square like the ones at the beginning and end of text blocks in a page-layout program. You can link text from one block to another by dragging lines between the relevant ports. And that means all text blocks: you can link text on a path to other text on a path, or to a regular rectangular text block.
All in all, Illustrator CS leaves little to want in the way of type control.
An Update with Depth
Though the bulk of Illustrator's changes are to its text facilities, it does include a few new drawing goodies. Users of Adobe's old Dimensions package will be pleased with Illustrator's new 3-D effects. These new effects provide extrusion and revolve commands that are good enough to build simple 3-D shapes.
To use them, first draw a profile using Illustrator's normal drawing tools, and then choose Extrude or Revolve from the Effects menu to translate that profile into a 3-D object. For example, you might draw a square and then use the Extrude command to turn it into a cube.
Changes are implemented as effects, so they remain live: you can go back at any time and adjust their parameters. You can rotate the object, add bevels or lighting effects, or change the perspective (as you'd change the focal length on a camera lens).
You can also map any symbol onto a 3-D object to create a textured surface.
Because they're vector-based, Illustrator's 3-D tools are no substitute for full-blown 3-D modeling software. But for creating interface elements or simple 3-D elements -- including logos -- Illustrator CS's 3-D features are well designed.
More and Less
The Print dialog box has been greatly improved. It contains many of the items that were previously spread between the main Print and Page Setup dialog boxes. You now also have much greater control of printer marks, and you can easily save custom print settings to use later.
Illustrator also provides excellent support for Adobe's latest PDF format. You can now save Illustrator files as layered PDF files. When a file is opened in Acrobat 6, layers can be turned on and off, so you can deliver multiple versions of a document in one file.
Despite all the improvements, there are still some annoying interface problems that should have been cleared up long ago. A major flaw is that you still can't drag an entire layer from one document to another, as you can in Photoshop. You can work around this by selecting all, copying, and pasting, but because Illustrator doesn't necessarily paste into the same position it copied from, this is a limited solution.
Also strange -- for a release that's supposed to be largely about cross-product integration -- is the lack of a Photoshop-like context-sensitive toolbar for accessing parameters of the current tool.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Though it doesn't support a lot of new drawing tools, Illustrator CS's wealth of new typography and text-formatting controls makes this upgrade a no-brainer. In this upgrade, you'll get a few new drawing tools and improvements, and nice 3-D features.
To determine whether the functionality -- and cost -- of the full Adobe Creative Suite is right for you, read " It Doesn't Always Add Up."
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