Adobe talks: Illustrator

After 18 years, Adobe Illustrator is still the preeminent vector graphics application on the market. With a loyal customer base—probably only second to Photoshop in the creative market—Illustrator has seen its share of changes. In addition to several new features in the Creative Suite 2 edition, Illustrator went through an overhaul to make it easier for users to access its power.

“Illustrator, being over 18 years old now, is obviously very feature rich, but it is a very difficult piece of software to master,” Illustrator Product Manager, Phil Guindi, told MacCentral. “We really felt like we needed to spend some time to make it easier for users to get the most out of it.”

Many of those changes led to the creation of the Control Palette, a context sensitive toolbar that gives the user access to the most popular functions. Being context sensitive, the toolbar will change as the user chooses different parts of an illustration.

“What we tried to do is expose about 80 percent of the functionality of Illustrator through one palette,” said Guindi. “The new features have been particularly integrated because they have been designed with the control palette in mind.”

Being a complex application, Adobe didn’t want to necessarily dumb down Illustrator’s experience, but rather make it easier to navigate for new users and pros alike. By clicking on links in the Control Palette, users also have access to the full palettes they are used to using.

“Longtime Illustrator users know where everything is and we didn‘t want to change everything around on them,” said Guindi. “What we did is make it easy for them if they want to do more.”

When work started on Illustrator CS2 the application had 25 separate palettes, adding one more to the mix could easily confuse users if its not done right. Guindi said, “the control palette was added with the hope that it would reduce the need for the other 25.”

Market trends and Illustrator features

Like the other products in CS2, feature additions and enhancements are not done in a vacuum. The Illustrator team looked at the market trends as well as the trends of its users to find out how to best implement changes that would help their workflow.

Guindi noted a couple of their findings. First, 90 percent of Illustrator users also use Photoshop, so tight integration with that application was a must. The new version offers support for Photoshop layer compositions and direct access to Filters and Effects. Illustrator CS2 enables you to open a Photoshop file containing layer comps, then preview and select which comps to import. You can choose which layer comps are visible whether the Photoshop file is opened, linked or embedded.

Market research also indicated that people want to be able to take their work with them everywhere they go. For designers the burgeoning mobile market and the ability to repurpose material for print and the Web also had to be taken into account.

“These trends are having an influence on our vision for Illustrator and where we think we can take it,” said Guindi. “We certainly have to adapt to the fact that people increasingly want to work on laptop computers.”

By studying the trends, Guindi said his team could continue to enhance the product in a way that makes sense for the users without overburdening the application with countless features.

“There is a lot for us to do and the challenge is how do we make new features in Illustrator simple, easy to use and make sure they add value,” said Guindi. “I think CS2 struck that balance quite well. Just blatantly adding features is certainly not the answer.”

Illustrator “Live”

In addition to tighter integration with Photoshop, new file formats and an enhanced interface, Illustrator has gained two new tools: Live Trace and Live Paint.

Live Trace converts scans of hand-drawn sketches, digital photos and bitmap images into fully editable and scaleable Illustrator artwork. Live Trace includes 13 sets of tracing options optimized for different types of raster art, such as color and grayscale images, hand-drawn sketches, detailed illustrations, comic art, inked drawings, technical drawings, black-and-white-logos and type.

“We need to strike a balance where we can help everyone get to the result they want,” said Guindi. “Live Trace is a very powerful feature, but if we do our jobs right we don’t have to expose all of it—we can do a lot of the work for the user.”

Live Paint enables users to color artwork without having to create and layer objects to carry color. To paint a piece of artwork, you just need to convert it to Live Paint objects and then use Live Paint to color whatever you want.

Live Paint uses two new object definitions—regions and edges. Regions and edges are like Illustrator fills and strokes, except that they exist in a single-layer world: where two edges intersect, additional edges are created; where two regions overlap, a third region is created. As a result, what looks like a paintable edge or region is a paintable edge or region—what you see on screen is what you get when you apply color.

Serving the creative pro

Even with Illustrator’s dominance in the market, Guindi said his team is still driven to enhance the product. Whether it’s friendly competition with the other Creative Suite teams at Adobe, enhancing features or innovating the industry, Adobe says there is still more to be done.

“We all want to serve the creative pro,” said Guindi. “We are competing against previous versions of Illustrator and that is a driver for a lot of the innovation. We have to keep making the product compelling and interesting if we expect our users to upgrade. Illustrator is in a very unique position in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for growth.”

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