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Fast image tracing
If you want to start an illustration with a photograph, Illustrator has always been able to convert it to a vector version by 'tracing' the edges, but the results have generally been slow and of poor quality. The new Image Trace panel is both faster and more effective than Live Trace. Select a bitmap and use the range of preset tracing options to get quick results that make the photo look like a photo (even though it's now vector art), make it look like a sketch or a greyscale drawing and similar effects.
Advanced tracing options
You can still go in and work with the full range of tracing options. You can drag the slider to control how many of the colours from the original image are reproduced, or click Advanced and choose how closely the validation paths fit the original shapes in the photo, how pronounced the angles of the curves are, whether paths overlap or not, whether to keep curved lines curved or straighten them and whether to simplify the image by ignoring very small shapes. This gives you fine control when you want something more stylised than photorealistic; click the eye icon next to the View drop-down to see the original photo for comparison.
Patterns made easy
If you're using Illustrator to draw or for commercial illustration, you need to be able to create patterns — for wallpaper, for fabric or for effects like grass where you want to have the same element repeating over and over again. In previous versions you had to do this by laboriously grouping, duplicating and arranging multiple objects. In Illustrator CS6 you select the objects and choose Object / Pattern / Make and you have a new pattern on the Swatches panel to use as a fill. You can choose how to lay out the tiles of your pattern; in rows and columns, overlapping like bricks or in a hexagon arrangement. And the objects in the pattern are always live and editable if you need to make changes later on.