I’ve had Mac OS X native products awaiting my attention for some time now. However, I wasn’t using Mac OS X as my main operating system until version 10.1 arrived. Now that it’s here, and since my sports life is temporarily suspended due to shoulder surgery, I’ve spent my “spare time” with some of the products tailored for Mac OS X, the first being FreeHand.
Macromedia has beaten Adobe to the punch in the Mac OS X sweepstakes.
Macromedia FreeHand — the venerable illustration program used by many artists and designers since 1988 — arrived in Carbonized form for Mac OS X in late spring. Adobe Illustrator for Mac OS X is still in beta testing, so it’s impossible to compare the two products, but FreeHand 10 will certainly give any competitor a good fight for bragging rights.
Naturally, being Carbonized for Mac OS X means it can take advantage of the next generation operating system’s features such as protected memory and preemptive multitasking. And the power of X means that the illustration program doesn’t have to redraw the screen image when a window is moved or when you switch apps.
The cornerstone of the FreeHand 10 is a professional set of vector illustration tools, such as breakthrough perspective grids, enveloping and auto-tracing features, and editable vector transparency. There are new features such as contour gradients, custom paint and brush strokes, editable symbols and selective printing.
Contour gradients — which allows you to easily and speedily apply a smooth, accurate gradient within an irregular shape — is one of my favorite features. Contour gradients can fill an object with a concentric blend that updates whenever you reshape the path. Shape gradients are nothing new. However, when you use them in tandem with FreeHand’s color-placement options, you can get some nifty results. And all this is so much easier to accomplish than in previous versions of the illustration program. The center point of the gradient can be moved too, helping create the illusion of highlights and shadows.
The Print Area command is also very nice. It lets you print even large design iterations so you can share them with others. You can print a portion of a page or the entire workspace. The Print Area command, combined with the Fit On Paper print option, stretches a selection to fit a single sheet of paper, making it easy to examine a teeny part of a complex graphic.
FreeHand has had a multiple page management workspace that uses the metaphor of moving papers on a desk for a long time. However, version 10 adds new Master Page functionality. Master pages provide template-like behavior for increasing productivity. You can share and preserve page attributes that can be shared by multiple pages in a document. You can edit master pages at any time, and edits are reflected in all “child” pages. As of version 10, you can purportedly modify and manage as many as 32,000 master pages in a single document. I haven’t actually tried this, but I’ll take Macromedia’s word for it.
While many publishing programs let you use one page as a template for others, FreeHand allows any page on the pasteboard to be a master page, eliminating the need to copy and paste elements onto “regular” master pages. Alas, one master page can’t be based on another, which would be very convenient.
What’s more, FreeHand 10 lets you export multiple-page PDF documents. In its present version, Illustrator only allows single-page exports. No word on whether that will change in the next rev.
Using master symbols, you can now move graphics across as many as 660 pages per document. A new page tool lets you resize, move and even duplicate multiple pages of any size without opening the Document Inspector.
The new symbol library facilitates editing a collection of spawned graphics. You can create a graphic (the parent symbol), store it in the Library, and then use it multiple times in a project. You can even edit all instances simultaneously with the parent symbol in the Symbol Library. And if you import FreeHand instances into Flash, the parent symbol follows, keeping the relationship between the symbol and its instances.
The new symbol-based brush and spray strokes mean that you can apply brush strokes to any FreeHand path to distribute a graphic symbol instance on a path, either repeating the strokes or stretching them along the length of the path. You can control the way instances behave, as well as stack multiple instances on a path. This feature takes advantage of the aforementioned reusable symbols to keep files small.
FreeHand now sports a common Macromedia user interface that’s based on the company’s Web publishing products. For instance, you can now color the same way in both FreeHand and Macromedia Flash. An updated Standard Pen tool looks and behaves identically in FreeHand, Flash or Fireworks. Plus, it’s more compatible with the pen tool in Illustrator. Consistent elements such as standard shortcuts, toolbars and customizable features make it easy to move between products.
With FreeHand 10, you can control docking and snapping in application panels to suit your workflow. You can even save and share layout states. Color selection models and interfaces look and behave identically in Flash, Fireworks, Dreamweaver and FreeHand, making for a more consistent user experience.
Along the same lines, customizable, common keyboard shortcuts mean that you can quickly move between apps without needing to remember different shortcuts for similar actions. Consistent tool layouts and groupings let you easily select tools across Macromedia products. On the other hand, FreeHand’s keyboard shortcuts don’t all conform to the shortcuts in other Macromedia applications, which is sort of weird considering the effort to make themm all more alike. And it’ll be even nicer when all those other products are Carbonized for Mac OS X.
FreeHand 10 users can publish Macromedia Flash files to the Web as static vector graphics or animations, with a wide range of export options. Flash 5 users can also import sophisticated FreeHand illustrations while preserving layer information and master pages. You can even enhance the illustrations with additional animation, interactivity and sound.
FreeHand also supports Web standards such as HTML, PGN, GIF and JPEG. There’s industry standard IPTC header file support for cataloging information. You can preserve IPTC header information within FreeHand, including copyright, credits, captions, search words and other information used to catalog image files.
WF export for preserving backgrounds when testing animations within FreeHand has been enhanced. When you export to Flash, background graphics and illustrations are saved once and used across multiple pages in FreeHand. This increases productivity and minimizes Flash movie file sizes.
A Flash Navigation panel lets you easily and quickly apply Flash Actions inside FreeHand. You can use the FreeHand 10 URL Editor to set up hyperlinks and hot spots to multiple pages within a document.
One thing that disappoints about FreeHand 10 is its inability to apply transparency to grouped objects with fills or gradients. This means you’ll have to plan ahead when considering transparency, instead of tackling it at the end of your work. Also, the Print Area is invisible in the antialiased preview mode, which is a pain.
One thing we would add to our wish list is the ability to define the size of your drawing board when you open a new file. You can redefine the page size in the Document Inspector after creating the page, but this isn’t very intuitive.
Despite some minor disappointments, FreeHand is a fine, and timely, enhancement to a long-time favorite piece of software.
Macromedia FreeHand 10, available for Mac OS X, Mac OS 8.6 and higher and Windows platforms. The product is priced at $399, with upgrades from previous versions available for $129. The Macromedia Flash 5 FreeHand 10 Studio is priced at $599 — upgrades to the studio from previous versions of Macromedia Flash for FreeHand are $199.