If you want to know everything about the 14th version of Illustrator— Illustrator CS4—you’ve come to the right place. As with any major upgrade, there’s a whole lot to talk about.
While I have my own opinions about each feature and about the entire release in general (and beyond that, the entire Adobe Creative Suite 4 offering), I’m going to hold those in check for now and serve you up with “just the facts, ma’am”. Why? Because I’d like to get some unbiased opinions from you on what you think of the release. In addition, I want to provide as much detail as you need—so your feedback will help me prioritize what features you want to know about first. (Don’t worry, my opinions will make their appearance in short order).
In essence, over the next several weeks, I’d like to open a dialog—a discussion if you will—about the new release. Rather than just provide a dump of information, your questions about features and details will allow me to provide you with the content you need and want.
So with that, I present a comprehensive list of what you’ll find in Illustrator CS4. I’ve broken the items down into several categories, making the list easier to digest. After you’ve read the list, take a moment to add a comment or drop me an email stating your initial reaction and a list of items you’d like more information on.
Each new version of Illustrator features the “big ones” – major features that add new functionality. In the case of CS4, multiple artboards and the Blob Brush tool fit into that category.
Multiple Artboards. The number one feature request of all time, multiple artboards have finally arrived in Illustrator. Notice the phrase is multiple artboards, not multiple pages. There’s a difference, and that’s something we’ll be talking a lot about. But the feature has just about everything you’d ever want. Really. Each artboard can be different in size and orientation. You can easily create multipage PDF documents. You can place multiple artboards easily into InDesign and Flash. There are no master pages (you can always use Symbols), and there’s a specific tool that you use to add, delete, and modify artboards.
Blob Brush. Illustrator sports a new brush, named “Blob”. Based on the Calligraphic brush, the Blob brush is pressure sensitive, allowing you to draw expressive artwork with variable thick and thins. So what’s so special about it? Well, the Calligraphic brush—and all other brushes for that matter—are applied as live “appearances” along a single path, making it difficult to perform edits to art until they are expanded and combined. The Blob brush draws with expanded paths. More so, the Blob brush “intelligently” merges with existing art, making drawing and editing a simple task. Since the paths are expanded, you can just “flip” your Wacom pen over and erase parts of paths as you draw them, using the Eraser tool that was added in CS3.
Here’s a new one. If you take a look back at previous versions of Illustrator, you’ll find that new features are added all the time, but rarely are features revisited, or refined (things like brushes, gradient mesh, 3D come immediately to mind). That changes in CS4, where you’ll find significant enhancements to core features like the user interface, gradients, clipping masks, graphic styles, and my favorite – the Appearance panel.
Common Adobe User Interface. Illustrator CS3 featured a new user interface, but apparently it was just a stepping stone to get to what is now truly a common user interface for Adobe applications. Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, InDesign, and Photoshop now all share the exact same user interface. Significant enhancements include tabbed windows and a unified application frame on the Mac.
Gradients. There are several major enhancements to gradients in this release. At the top of the list is a long-time request – transparency support. Each gradient stop now has an opacity slider (similar to the Alpha value in Flash). A redesigned and enhanced Gradient panel makes it easier to work with gradients, but why would you want to? Illustrator CS4 now has the ability to edit gradients in-context, directly on the artboard. Use the Gradient tool to click on any object filled with a gradient and an on-screen widget appears, giving you full control over the gradient. You can also scale radial gradients to create oval gradients as well.
Clipping Masks. One of the biggest complaints about the masking features in Illustrator has been that when artwork is clipped, you can still select that artwork—even if it isn’t visible. In Illustrator CS4, masked artwork is now truly hidden—from view and from your selection tool. However, this new functionality is only in place for clipping masks, not for layer clipping masks.
Appearance panel. A long-standing feature request has been to add eyeballs to the Appearance panel, to allow users to hide or show effects without having to necessarily delete them. Well, Illustrator CS4 has granted that wish and apparently, there were some extra wishes left because there’s a whole lot more in the Appearance panel now. So much so, in fact, that I might consider putting this “enhancement” at the top of my CS4 list, but more on that later. For now, know this: You can now edit and apply attributes and effects directly through the Appearance panel. That means you can change fill and stroke colors, change stroke weights and dashes, add and edit effects, and more, all directly from the Appearance panel.
Graphic Styles. Two key enhancements here: Graphic Styles can now be added, in a non-destructive way, to objects. Meaning you can now cumulatively apply multiple graphic styles, and each one is simply added to the graphic, rather than replacing the existing attributes. In addition, graphic styles can be created “headless”, meaning a style can contain just an effect and no fill or stroke attributes. To tie these two concepts together, think about how you might be able to create a graphic style that adds a drop shadow, and that you can now quickly add a drop shadow to an existing object, even if that object already has effects or attributes applied to it. If you aren’t already using graphic styles, this enhancement forces you to take another look.
THE “LITTLE THINGS”
While the big juicy features always take the center stage for any release, most people realize that at the end of the day, it’s the small enhancements that really make the biggest impact on the day-to-day use of any application. To me, this list is always the most exciting part of a release.
Smart Guides. Remember back when Smart Guides was introduced? Remember how quickly you turned them off? In the past, Smart Guides were more of a nuisance than otherwise. That’s changed now. Smart Guides are more refined (lines only appear where necessary, not across the entire page), and there are some additional options, including the ability to see measurements and values as you work (i.e., the rotation value is displayed as you rotate an object).
Snapping Behavior. This is a big little thing that no one will talk about. When Smart Guides are turned on, Illustrator has the ability to snap OBJECTS to each other. In the previous 13 versions of Illustrator, only the cursor position snapped, but now, the boundaries of paths also snap.
Isolation Mode. Adobe keeps making this functionality better. Introduced in CS2, Isolation Mode was enhanced in CS3, and now in CS4, it is even better. You can now isolate individual path objects. Isolation also takes on new meaning with the new clipping mask behavior, as you can double click to edit the contents of the mask, etc.
Alignment. Defining key objects is now simple and clear, and small modifications to the align functions make errors appear less frequently. Basically, the Align functions are now much easier to understand and use.
Bleed. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition to multiple artboard support, you can also specify bleed for your documents. The bleed translates perfectly to PDF documents and when you place art into InDesign. Bleed is applied at the document level, meaning that all artboards in a single document have the same bleed setting (you can’t have different bleed settings for different artboards within a single document).
Pathfinder. While nothing about the Pathfinder functions have changed in Illustrator CS4, their default behavior HAS changed. In previous versions of Illustrator, using a shape mode created a “live” compound shape. Many users are aware that you can press the Option (Alt on Windows) key while applying these functions to instantly expand the shape as you create it. Adobe apparently received many complaints about this behavior, so they reversed it. Now, in CS4, applying a shape mode with Pathfinder creates an expanded shape, and you need to use the Option (Alt) key to create a live compound shape.
Text on Path Issues. Cartographers complained bitterly since Illustrator CS was released that text on a path looked horrible. Kerning and typesetting along a path got a significant downgrade when the new text engine appeared. Now, in CS4, text on a path looks great. So much so that at a recent “sneak” at a cartographer’s show, this feature got a standing ovation.
Improved tablet support. Illustrator CS4 includes some important enhancements around the area of Wacom tablet support, most significantly in how pen rotation is processed. Paths drawn with the new Blob brush and the Calligraphic brushes are now more precise and respond to gestures better.
Drag Images from Web Browser directly into Document. If you’ve ever tried to drag an image directly from a web browser like Safari into Illustrator, you’ve experienced the frustration that many others face. Illustrator CS4 finally addresses this issue and you can now blissfully drag images directly into AI from your favorite browser.
Filter Menu. The Filter menu is now gone. Anything that used to be in that menu has either been moved out or relocated. The Crop Marks filter now appears in the Effect menu as a live effect.
Enhanced TIFF file format support. Illustrator CS4 now understands transparent layered TIFF files.
Offset path fixed. Illustrator CS3 “featured” a well-documented issue with the Offset Path command, where extra anchor points were unnecessarily added. This issue is fixed in CS4.
While not necessarily “significant”, these features add to an already impressive list, and rounds out the Illustrator CS4 release.
Separation Preview. As in both InDesign and Acrobat Pro, Illustrator now has a panel that allows you to preview color separations on screen. It’s a barebones implementation and doesn’t feature the all-powerful Ink Manager, or even the ability to calculate ink limits. But it does as advertised—for process colors and spot colors.
Color Blindness Proofing. Illustrator CS4 now features the ability to proof artwork on screen as a person with colorblindness might see it. This allows designers to design art with the right amount of contrast so that anyone could view it. Cool. Approximately 7 percent of Americans are color blind (that’s 10.5 million people), and I’m included in that group. The Japanese government has been particularly vigilant in taking steps to ensure that public signage is clearly visible to all.
FXG Support. I’ll talk a lot more about this in the coming days, but FXG (Flex Exchange Graphic) is a new file format that can be used with Adobe’s much-anticipated Thermo application.
Gesture Support. I haven’t been able to try this yet myself since I don’t have one of Apple’s newer computers, but Illustrator CS4 apparently has support for Gestures, a new feature that allows you to perform specific functions based on how you move your fingers across a touchpad.
New Templates and Content. As with any new release, Illustrator CS4 features new templates and content. But there are a few things that a different now. First, the templates have been updated to take advantage of multiple artboards. These templates are a great resource (one, for example, contains a variety of sizes of standard web banners). Also, Adobe has commissioned some GREAT artists who have not only created sample files, but who have also included PDF documents showing HOW they created the sample files.
Online Services. As we’ve seen with Acrobat.com and kuler, Adobe has been moving towards offering more online services and connectivity. Three specific things come to CS4: Connect Now is a service that allows you to share your screen with others, and is basically a Lite version of Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro. Kuler, Adobe’s community built around color, has some extended functionality and is accessible directly from within not just Illustrator, but Photoshop, InDesign, Fireworks, and Flash as well. Finally, each CS4 application now features a Search field directly in the user interface, allowing you to search Adobe’s help files, but more importantly, other articles on the web as well. Adobe actually licensed Google technology for this, and you can almost think of it as Google for Adobe products.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about Illustrator CS4. Of course, this is only the beginning—we’ve got lots to discuss in the coming hours, days, weeks, and months—so let me know your thought on the release, and more importantly, let me know what specific items you want more information on. Based on that feedback, I’ll find some creative ways to make it all happen!