April 23, 2012

Illustrator CS6 is 64bit: What does it mean?

With version CS6 (aka v.16) Adobe Illustrator is a 64bit application. But what exactly does that mean? Sometimes I think it's like that SNL spoof of Verizon's marketing around 4G LTE.

Truth be told, a 64bit version of Illustrator means a lot. Not necessarily because of what 64bit actually *IS*, but really because of what Adobe had to do in order to move Illustrator to 64bit.

Let's start with the basics. 

Your computer has two kinds of memory—hard drive space and something called RAM. The hard drive space is storage—like a drawer in your desk. The RAM is like your desktop. A computer can only process information using RAM (what's on your desktop). So for example, when you launch Illustrator, your computer goes to your hard drive and copies that information into RAM so that you can work with Illustrator (like pulling a file out of the drawer and placing it on your desktop so that you can work with it). As you create and open more documents, your desktop (RAM) becomes filled.  If you run out of RAM, your computer must "clear space" by temporarily copying stuff to your hard drive so that it can work on what you're asking for. This is why if you have a lot of applications and documents open at once, you could see your system slow to a crawl.

In theory, the more RAM you add to your computer, the larger of a desktop area you have, or the more capacity your computer has to work with documents and applications without having to shuffle information between your RAM and your hard drive. Here's the thing though: while your computer may have the capacity to install 8GB or 16GB (or more) of RAM, a 32bit application can only see (or "address") a maximum of 2GB or RAM (in some circumstances, 3GB of RAM). In contrast, a 64bit application has the ability to address as much RAM as you can squeeze into your computer (theoretically).

So as an example, say you have a computer with 16GB of RAM. And say you were using Illustrator CS5, which is a 32bit application. If you are working with complex files, Illustrator is only able to use a maximum of 3GB of your RAM. With Illustrator CS6, which is a 64bit application, on that same computer, Illustrator would be able to address all the available RAM that you have on your system. Depending on the situation, this could speed up processing time significantly. Of course, this is assuming you have a lot of RAM installed on your machine (at least 8GB), and also assuming that you're working with a lot of files or complex ones.

But as I mentioned earlier, the sheer fact that Illustrator is 64bit, doesn't actually make the application faster or better in any way. It simply means that Illustrator has a bigger playground to play in. The big difference is that in order to make Illustrator a 64bit application, Adobe had to do some work. Wait, let me rephrase that—Adobe had to do a significant amount of work. It's the result of this work that—in my opinion—makes Illustrator CS6 a must have upgrade. In other words, even if CS6 had no other additional features other than this work, I'd recommend the upgrade.

So what are the benefits of the work that went into making Illustrator a 64bit application?


Most crashes occur when a computer runs out of memory (RAM). In theory, a computer should never run out or RAM because when it sees that it doesn't have enough, it temporarily offloads some information to your hard drive to make space. A computer program usually keeps track of how much memory it uses so it knows how much is left when it's about to perform complex functions. If there isn't enough, and your computer can't make enough room with the RAM that you have, you might get an error (along the lines of "there's not enough RAM to complete this operation").

Adobe Illustrator just turned 25, and when I left the team back in 2004, the program contained over five million lines of computer code. Just like an old house is drafty, a computer program of that size can often "leak" memory. That is, the program may use memory to perform a function, but then "forget" to release that memory when the function is complete. So the computer system thinks the memory is available, but it really isn't. So when Illustrator later tries to calculate if there's enough RAM to perform a function, it runs out of memory during processing (kinda like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff before realizing there's nothing beneath his feet). This causes a crash.

In order to make Illustrator 64bit, Adobe had to rewrite a LOT of code. Tons of memory leaks were fixed, which results in a much more stable environment. This, coupled with the fact that Illustrator can use all of the memory in your computer, translates to a far more reliable experience. So in this case, a 64bit version of Illustrator will likely mean you'll no longer see random crashes or out of memory errors. So while it may not always be faster, it is stable and reliable.


While everyone will instantly notice the newer "dark" user interface in Illustrator CS6, few will appreciate what it really means. Illustrator's user interface was built upon a framework that was 32bit. So in order to get to 64bit, Adobe had to use a newer framework. This translates to two main benefits for us: the newer framework supports more things (i.e. the ability to edit text inline in a panel); and the fact that Adobe had to rewrite EVERY panel and EVERY dialog box in the application.

For example, if you're on a Mac and want to cycle through fonts, you previously had to choose a font from the popup font menu with your mouse each time. Now, you can simply highlight the Font field and tap the up and down arrows to cycle through (and preview) different typefaces. If you want to rename a layer, an artboard, a swatch—you can do that simply by double-clicking on the name in the panel itself—without having to bring up a separate dialog box.

Adobe also had the opportunity to modify panels and dialog boxes. So for example, the Preferences dialog box is much easier to navigate, and the Color panel has a much larger area to sample colors from. Overall, you'll see that the user interface isn't just a darker color (which can be adjusted to a lighter color of course), but that it is silky smooth and has that new car smell.


The Illustrator team has always wanted to add newer features, but was often held back by the older architecture. By laying the groundwork with a modern 64bit architecture in CS6, Adobe is paving the way for what they can do in the future. You can almost think of Illustrator CS6 as a foundation that Adobe can use to build more powerful features upon. For example, many are familiar with the crash-protection feature in InDesign. You can never lose your work in InDesign. Wouldn't it be awesome to have such a feature in Illustrator? I think it would. But Adobe couldn't even think about adding such a feature to Illustrator without first building a foundation for such a feature. So the work that was done in Illustrator CS6 means that in future version, Adobe has fewer roadblocks and more opportunities to build the features we are asking for, and the features that they are continuing to dream up.

Hopefully, this article gives you a better understanding of what a 64bit version of Illustrator means to you. Got questions? Leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer them.


David Ehlert aka redehlert said...

This was an enlightening read with the right amount of info to guide my team with the decision to make the leap to CS6. Thank you.

Aongus Collins said...

Thanks for that lucid explanation! One aspect of CS6 that struck me was the much increased system requirements: 2GB RAM, with 8GB recommended. This compares (unfavourably) with CS5's requirement of 1GB. It makes me wonder how much slower 64-bit Illustrator might be on an older system -- or even a fairly new one with "only" 4GB, as is standard with a MacBook Pro.

Mordy Golding said...

My standard setup is a MacBook AIR with 4GB of RAM and Illustrator CS6 runs wonderfully on it. In this article, I wrote specifically about the 64bit work that was done in Illustrator, but Adobe also rewrote some other functions (i.e. the Gaussian Blur filter) that is significantly faster than CS5.

I'm pretty sure you'll see better performance with CS6 on just about any machine, but as I mentioned in the article, no matter what machines you're using, you'll benefit from a much more stable version of Illustrator with little chance of crashes.

Aongus Collins said...

Thanks Mordy. My laptop is a MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM -- I'm looking forward to running CS6 on it!

Ted M said...

Thanks for the review Mordy. I am now waiting for your book, the Real World Illustrator CS6 to come out, any news?

Kuttyjoe said...

I'm not really seeing any general performance gains. So far, I'm finding bugs with the interface. Floating windows was broken at CS4 and remains broken with CS6. The touch pad on my laptop no longer works to control the "Hand" tool in Illustrator or Photoshop. That's a strange problem. And Photoshop used to work fine with a touchscreen tablet PC. Now touch is completely broken. If yo try to 2 finger pan the screen, it flings itself over to a corner off the screen. Illustrator has never had touch support. That is probably the one thing I really wanted to see with this update.

Randall Lee said...

This is a godsend. I have 16GB memory and sometimes I'll do a drawing with many different styles of brush strokes, then sometimes I'll randomly receive an error "program has run out of memory" and I'll lose ALL my strokes! No undo, no saving and returning, nothing!

Anonymous said...

I've got 8GB RAM and CS 6 does indeed seem more responsive. However, I often wonder just how much more physical RAM it gets to play with?? The system seems to eat up whatever you give it, leaving the apps to play with whatever they've had before.

Or is this just me being paranoid?

When OWC RAM prices go down, I can see myself getting a 16GB upgrade for my i7 quad-core macbook pro. Yeah... you heard right. It exists.

Cooki3Dude said...

It's about time, I use Illustrator a lot for Artworking and placing hi res images ALWAYS crashes it (using CS5)! Now just have to figure out some way to get the boss to sign off ANOTHER upgrade!! :)

Anonymous said...

I am shocked!
AI CS6 does not support opening Freehand files any more!!! ... this is killing

Doc Pixel said...

Please Gordy... saying that due to 64-bit, you can now for example, rename a layer "inline" is just silly. Freehand users have been able to do this for some 15 years using a 32-bit program.

Also, how about a consistent framework between programs within CS6. Small example: why, when scaling using Option-click... are the dialogs completely different between ID and AI?

Font Toolbar: nice that you can scroll through to view text, however, if you want to see the fonts "displayed", you have to go to the Menu or the Character palette to see them all?

Inconsistency between programs and even within them, overlapping of functions and features, and the worst problem using AI is the insistence to have 2 arrow pointers.

Someone at Adobe really should take a good look at the "killed" Freehand and see how they were able to create a VECTOR program, with minimal overhead or overlap, that to this day, still outperforms AI CS6 in day-to-day tasks... and don't get me started on the pathetic handling of text within AI!!!

Anonymous said...

Haven't tested AICS6 yet, still as far as I have read here and somewhere else, this "new" 64-bit functions kind of sound to me.

You can do that since version 8 of Freehand that is way too old to even remember.

Totally agree with DocPixel. And BTW, at least, let the engineers of the InDesign team put hands on Illustrator. Take that free advice. Yes.

Anonymous said...

Great breakdown on everything. I just upgraded to CS6 and went from 12 to 24GB RAM in anticipation of the 64-bit platform. Should be fun.

Fashion Lover said...

Great and informative article on this. Helped very much! Thank you!

Robert Bainbridge said...

will cs6 now proportionaltly increase/ decrease Gaussian Blur with object scaling?

Robert Bainbridge said...

I was told that cs6 would have a history panel.Has this been implemented?

Ray Acosta said...

Hi Mordy!

Thanks for your explanation on 64bits. That's the reason I waited to bougth my Mac with Snow Leopard, in order to take advantage on this new technology (now two years old).

On the other hand, I would like to make a question. I have Ai CS6 in a MacBook Pro 17". It's a Mid 2010's. I upgraded the RAM to 8 gb. The thing is that some times, Ai crashes at the begining. I don't know why. I had Lion and now White Lion. With 10.8 it seem to be more stable. The thing is, what it bothers me is that, some of those crashes were with nothing opened, just after I turned on the computer. Any thoughts?

More info:
I use external drives to store my files and leave my HD just with the OS, my programs and some libraries. I try to maintain my HD as clean as I can, so, to recap, I believe that it was Lion. After White Lion and the updates from Adobe, Ai crashes, but not that hard.

Anonymous said...

When can we have Scrubby Zoom and Rotate Canvas in Illustrator - (like whats in Photoshop?)

Bruce Bryson said...

Illustrator seems to crash more now since upgrading to CS6. It uses way more RAM and seems to have severe memory leaking. Don't agree with this article at all!

Avanti Sukma said...

I used a MacPro i7 and an 4GB RAM. Didn't realize CS6 needed so much RAM to work with (1GB ++ on the real mem), so my Mac started to slack off.

I just upgraded mine to 8GB though (today) hoping that this will help my school work easier, since they only used the 1GB on memory, but when I reopen my activity monitor, it's written that the Illustrator itself is using moe than 5GB of the memory @.@ is it normal for them to do this? or..., cause I'm still having a hard time with the loading and stuff. Though adding more RAM helps my Mac to process faster than it used to be

Mordy Golding said...

@Doc Pixel -- the ability to edit text inline in a panel has nothing to do with 64bit. I don't think I stated that in my post. What I did say was that since the UI was initially 32bit, and Adobe had to move it to 64bit, they were forced to revisit every panel. And once they were already rewriting the panels, they were able to add in some highly-requested features. The framework that Adobe moved to (Adobe developed their own UI framework for many of their apps) already supported this. So simply moving to the new framework meant the feature was available. It's like if you always drove an old car and now you bought a new one, you probably have anti-lock brakes now. You didn't specifically buy that feature, but just about all new cars automatically come with that feature.

@Robert Bainbridge -- Illustrator has always been able to scale Gaussian Blur proportionally. You just need to make sure the "Scale Strokes and Effects" option is checked in the Scale dialog box. Illustrator CS6 does not have a History panel.

@Anon -- scrubby zoom and rotate canvas are highly requested features. I don't know when Adobe is planning on adding those features, but I'm sure it's on their to-do lists :)

Chris said...

I just got it and am working with it currently. Love it. Except I can't find a way to get rid of the perspective grid that I accidentally opened, nor can I select and highlight several layers at a time in the palette.

Waiting for more RAM to be delivered.

Currently running quad core 3.2GHz with only 6GB ram. Using 10.6.8 bootable external because I didn't have time to set up everything with my new cpu. Deadlines haven't allowed it yet.

Mordy Golding said...

Cmd-Shift-I (Ctrl-Shift-I on Windows) will hide the Perspective Grid.

Joanna Culley said...

I didn't realise that CS5 couldn't use all of the RAM available. So switching to CS6 makes it faster and more stable, sounds like a no brainer. Has anyone tried Adobe's new software 'rental' option?

Anonymous said...

Illustrator CS6 crashes every day on my computer and to top it all has no file recovery system.

For this half-assed version of Illustrator I'd rather they'd left it in 32bit.

Bob Lee said...

Waste of time. Don't need a lecture on 64bit architecture. Looking for practical solution to crashing/quiting