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64-bit and GPU-accelerated performance
With a venerable program like Illustrator that already has a significant range of features, adding new tools isn't always the most important thing. In Illustrator CS6, Adobe has concentrated on improving performance with a 64-bit version of the application (important for dealing with large files that can have thousands of objects and layers). Even on older systems, the Mercury performance engine should speed up complex files, especially when you preview effects. This image has a large number of objects — the hair alone is made up of ten layers. Changing colour fills and blurring the effects isn't real time on an older PC like a first-generation Core i5, but it's fast enough for you to experiment until you get the effect you want.
Screenshots: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet UK
The other main area of improvement is the interface, from the overall look to customisation options. Acknowledging that Illustrator is used with both image editing in Photoshop and video work in After Effects and Premiere Pro, the interface is similar enough not to be jarring next to either of them. You can even change the interface colours, picking from the same four shades of grey and black as Photoshop CS6 or using the same custom slider to get the same brightness as After Effects. And if you want a white canvas you can now set that, whatever shade you chose for the interface.
Arrange and clean up panels
There are dozens of tools tucked away in different panels in Illustrator, only a few of which are available from the panel well down the right side of the screen, which stacks them neatly or shrinks them to icons. The fastest way to get the tools you need is by switching between the eight preset workspaces using the Essentials dropdown; you can also design your own custom workspace with the panels you need open on-screen and with the tools you need from the toolbar torn off and dragged out for quick use. If you close, open and move panels while you're working, the Reset Essentials command puts everything back where it belongs.