Inside story: Adobe's next Illustrator

The next version of Adobe Systems's popular illustration application is set to rock and roll. Elvis, the code name for Illustrator 8.0, is reportedly booked for a fourth-quarter show with a band of new features.

Adobe will adapt several palettes from its Photoshop and PageMaker applications to speed production tasks in Illustrator. Sources said other new features will include a gradient mesh tool for painterly colour blends, as well as 'live' brush tools.

An Actions palette, borrowed from Photoshop 4.x, will offer several preset scripts for common tasks. Users will be able to record custom actions, such as fills and strokes, gradients, and object transformations, then apply them to an illustration.

A Navigator palette, borrowed from Photoshop and Premiere, will offer more controlled zooming and navigation. A Links palette, taken from PageMaker, will let users check the status of linked images as well as embed files or relink new images; the software will retain and apply edits to the new image.

According to sources, the new gradient mesh tool will let users create complex color gradients. Users create an array of anchor points that are assigned multiple colors, and the tool blends the colors in multiple directions. Unlike traditional Illustrator gradients, mesh gradients cannot be stored and reused.

Version 8.0 will reportedly feature "live" blends that can be edited on the fly. The software will generate blends along an editable path automatically, rather than having to be joined to the path. Any object in the blend can be moved, deleted, resized or transformed.

A revised pencil tool will reportedly let users reshape objects simply by drawing a new line near the area they are editing. In addition, a Free Transform tool similar to that in Photoshop will combine scaling, skewing and rotation into one tool. A Smooth tool will even out loosely sketched paths, and a new Erase tool will smoothly erase parts of paths.

According to sources, Version 8.0 will feature Art and Scatter bushes that will place small illustrations, such as a leaf, along an editable path. The revised Calligraphic brush will create paths, rather than filled shapes, to make for easier editing. The upgrade will debut a Photo Crosshatch filter that will convert photographs into textured sketches.

In addition, the enhanced eyedropper and paint-bucket tools will let users sample text attributes and apply them to other text, sources said. Illustrator 8.0 will borrow PageMaker's method for selecting, moving, resizing and adjusting objects and paths by using a bounding box that appears around the objects, sources said.

Features similar to 6.0's paint style palette. Other interface changes will include an option to make layers smaller in the Layers palette so more of them are visible. In addition, fill and stroke controls will be included on the Color palette. Sources said this feature is similar to Illustrator 6.0's Paint Style palette.

When a file is imported, Illustrator 8.0 will automatically add its new colors to the Swatches palette, and the software will merge identical spot colors.

Sources said Version 8.0 will also offer Smart Guides that will appear temporarily to assist with moving, aligning and transforming elements or creating shapes and paths.

According to sources, the software will import several new formats, including Macromedia FreeHand 5.0, 5.5 and 7.0 files; CorelDraw 5.0, 6.0 and 7.0 files; and DXF files. In addition, the upgrade will preserve layers when files are saved in Photoshop 4.x or 5.0 formats.

Adobe declined to comment.