In the past, Illustrator upgrades included major changes to the interface, or as in the CS upgrade, a complete reworking of the program’s typographic features. For Illustrator CS2, Adobe’s engineers addressed the program’s core drawing functions. The result is an application that has some exceptional new tools, as well as a few welcome interface changes.
Because Illustrator’s interface was beginning to sag under the weight of its expanding array of palettes, Adobe has wisely added a new Control palette, which spans the top of the screen, sitting just below the menu bar. This new palette provides immediate access to brush shape, opacity, and style, as well as drop-down menus for fill and stroke. But it also serves as an object inspector, providing quick access to all the properties of a selected object.
To access additional properties, you can click on special hyperlinks in the Control palette to open Illustrator’s full palettes, from which you can easily change just about any object property.
Another new welcome interface change is the ability to create and save workspaces for easily switching among different palette configurations and organizations.
Illustrator CS2 still has some annoying interface elements, though. The Color Picker is cumbersome, and odd behaviors are scattered about the program. But the Control palette is a great addition to the package.
Painting and Tracing
When it comes to actual illustrating, the upgrade provides two great new drawing tools called Live Paint and Live Trace.
The Live Paint tool is basically an intelligent paint bucket. Click in your illustration with the Live Paint tool, and Illustrator will automatically fill the enclosed area with the current color, just like the paint bucket tool in a bitmapped painting program. Because of its Gap-Detection feature, you can use the Live Paint tool to fill areas that aren’t completely closed, while modifier keys allow you to fill edges or quickly delete unwanted strokes and regions.
In the past, organizing your document to get the fills that you wanted could be very confusing. The Live Paint tool makes working in Illustrator more like working in Photoshop, and it’s a great tool for users of all skill levels.
Illustrator has had an autotracing tool for years, but it’s never been particularly useful. Because the company never ported Streamline, its stand-alone tracing tool, OS X users who like to create hand-drawn illustrations and convert them to vectors have been left out in the cold. The new Live Trace tool should warm up those users considerably.
You can apply Live Trace to any placed bitmap image. The “live” part stems from the fact that after you trace, Illustrator creates a Trace Object. You can adjust the object’s parameters, including tracing methods, tolerances, thresholds, and color options, and then save those configurations as presets. You can even edit the original linked bitmapped image, and Illustrator will automatically retrace it. Tracing objects remain live and editable, even across sessions, until you tell Illustrator to expand the object into normal paths and fills. The Live Paint and Live Trace combo is the best solution yet for users who like to start on paper and finish in vectors.
Better Filtering than Photoshop
Illustrator’s Appearance palette gets some improvements in the new version. In addition to support for Live Paint and Live Trace parameters, Illustrator CS2 includes all of Photoshop’s standard filters. These filters can be applied to any bitmapped elements in your image, and any applied filters appear in the Appearance stack for that object as an applied effect. This means that you can go back at any time and change the filter’s parameters. Photoshop has needed this feature for years, and still doesn’t have it. In Illustrator CS2, it’s quick and easy.
Illustrator CS2 has many other great additions including the ability to change a stroke to the center, the inside, or the outside of a path; a facility for tinting gray-scale images with spot colors; and improved controls for outputting tiled images.
But all is not perfect. Most annoying is Illustrator’s lack of multipage support, something that Macromedia FreeHand has had for years.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
I may rant sometimes about Illustrator, but I always stick with it because every competitor that’s come along can’t compare. Yes, there are little annoyances, but it’s a great program. The new Live Paint and Live Trace features and new filter capabilities are well worth the upgrade.
[ Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography (Charles River Media, 2004), now in its third edition. ]Illustrator CS2’s Live Paint and Live Trace features make short work of converting hand-drawn sketches into colored vector artwork.