The freshly released Macromedia Fireworks 8 remains the tool of choice for designers who need to think like engineers and engineers who think like designers.
Fireworks 8 features subtle as well as obvious enhancements to optimization, workflow, and creativity. Its powerful editing capabilities allow changes in one Macromedia Studio application to be reflected in other programs in the suite. It is the fastest, most flexible raster, vector, Web image, and code creation application available, and it is well worth upgrading from MX 2004.
Even a mature product like Fireworks lacked certain elegant capabilities that users missed, and Macromedia has folded some of them into version 8.
For example, you can now reshape text on a path and save, restore, name, and delete multiple marquee selections within PNG files (Fireworks’ native file format).
The new Perspective Shadow command, an elegant addition to Fireworks’ Auto Shape technology, lets you add a perspective shadow to open paths and text objects. This makes it easy to create great graphics—you can make a two-dimensional object look three-dimensional—even if you can’t draw.
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Fireworks 8 has 25 new blend modes—some of which are supported in Flash—that let you alter the look of your colors, objects, and vector attributes (fills, strokes, filters, and blend modes).
You can now insert polygon slices when a selected object is a polygon path, and you can turn active selections into editable vector paths and back again, which is very convenient.
Macromedia is definitely on the right track in giving Fireworks 8 the ability to mock up mobile phone interfaces and the product ships with a library of graphics that can be mixed, matched, and edited, giving creative freedom to designers who have to work within these specific technical restraints.
Improved workflow and optimization
Fireworks 8 can now import additional file formats including, QuickTime Image, MacPaint, SGI, and JPEG 2000. Fireworks’ new ability to handle bitmap formats such as GIF, JPEG, and TIFF signals a greater integration with print file formats. A new Image Editing panel contains most tools and commands you need for working with bitmaps, expanding on MX 2004’s limited bitmap functionality.
Fireworks 8 incorporates some additional conveniences: text layers are automatically named by the text you type into them and a new Special Characters panel lets you insert non-Roman letters and symbols directly into text blocks. In previous versions, when you locked a layer, all the objects in that layer would lock; in Fireworks 8, you can lock on a per-object basis—a welcome feature.
Grid lines in Fireworks are now less intrusive and resemble those in Flash: They use a lighter default grid color and a dotted line. Another Flash goodie now in Fireworks is the ability to copy ActionScript (Flash’s scripting language) color values from Flash documents, and paste them directly into Fireworks color value fields. This enables you to ensure color consistency when working between the two apps.
The Fireworks batch processing features have been improved and are now catching up to Photoshop’s capabilities. Improvements include a more streamlined file renaming process, the ability to check file dimensions when scaling during a batch process, and a new status bar and log file.
Could stand improvement
Despite some very nice enhancements to its features and interface, some of the new aspects of Fireworks are not quite there yet. For example, clicking on the new Live Marquee checkbox in the Property Inspector before making a selection should allow you to change the edge settings for Bitmap selections while using the Marquee, Oval Marquee, and Lasso tools. But this did not behave consistently. For example, when I create a selection using any of these three tools, I can change the selection edge in the Property Inspector repeatedly. However, once I move or modify the selected area, the marquee is no longer live, and the control is disabled in the Property Inspector. Macromedia is aware of the issue and says it’s preparing a technical note about it.
Recognizing and sharing blend modes and vector styles between Fireworks and Flash (Professional version only) is very sweet, but maintaining the appearance of graphics with blend modes applied to them can be tricky. This is because Flash supports only modifiable filters and blends for objects imported as text and movie clips. If an effect or blend mode is not supported, Flash 8 will rasterize (make it uneditable) or ignore it when it is imported. And when you compare the list of Fireworks blend modes to the list of Flash blend modes, you will see that only about half are actually shared between the two apps. If you want to use this feature, stick to the limited list and stay away from the rest.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you are the type of designer who can hand over your layout to others to slice and code, than maybe you can afford not to use Fireworks. But if you are a designer who must code pages and sites, or an engineer who works extensively with Flash and graphically rich Web site content, there’s no substitute for Fireworks 8.
[ Abigail Rudner has produced four Macromedia Training titles for Lynda.com , including Fireworks 8 Essential Training . She teaches Macromedia Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks, and Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, among other creative software packages, at California State University East Bay, and the Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco. ]