- New Symbol support makes it easy to draw and edit frequently used images
- offers powerful slicing options for Web graphics
- renders live SVG effects at best resolution for browsers.
- requires extra software or programming know-how to create final data-driven graphics
- sheer number of tools is overwhelming.
For many years, Adobe's Illustrator has set the standard for drawing programs in the print production environment, and with good reason. This professional graphics program offers powerful vector drawing tools, clean PostScript output and tight integration with Photoshop.
Version 10.0 offers powerful new drawing and automation tools, such as editable warping effects and Symbols (adaptable masters of objects or images). Macromedia's Freehand still remains a better choice if you are looking for synergy with Flash, the leading authoring program for Web animation. And if you're new to illustration tools, check out CorelDRAW instead. But for an all-around drawing program that's suitable for print and Web output, nothing beats Illustrator.
Illustrator 10.0 sports the standard Adobe interface, in which creative tools (such as the Bezier pen), object attributes (such as colour), and management functions (such as layers) reside on floating palettes. Anyone who has worked with Photoshop or InDesign will immediately feel comfortable with Illustrator.
Illustrator 10.0's new support of Symbols (adaptable objects or images) makes it easier to create and update complex drawings. Symbols in Illustrator behave much as they do in other drawing programs (including Freehand): You create an object (such as a six-pronged gear), define it as a symbol, store the symbol in a palette, then place multiple instances of the symbol throughout a document. When you modify the master Symbol (the one in the palette), all other instances in the drawing automatically update as well.
Unlike other drawing programs, however, Illustrator 10.0 elevates Symbols from having a strictly organisational function to a creative, artistic tool. The companion Symbolism tools let you create and manipulate multiple instances of symbols simultaneously. Using specialised brushes, you can spray numerous copies of a symbol and vary its size, rotation, tint and transparency. The Symbolism brushes provide an easy way to create randomised or natural-looking effects.
Illustrator 10.0 also offers a brand-new technology: data-driven graphics, which let you create templates that link back to a database. Then, using the new Variables palette, you simply designate an element in a document as a placeholder object and update or replace it from an external data source. For example, a Web designer might create a single graphic for a banner heading. Web programmers can then generate all of the different headers needed for a site simply by writing the code that links placeholder elements in the header to a text database. However, Illustrator does not offer any easy-to-use commands to link placeholders to data sources. Instead, programmers must use Visual Basic or AppleScript to create live links to an ODBC-compliant database.
Thankfully, however, this release does deliver several important new tools targeted exclusively at Web developers. Illustrator now lets you create HTML tables by slicing a drawing into sections. And because Illustrator lets you mix raster images, vector drawings and HTML text in a single composition, your Web graphics look good and download quickly.
Illustrator 10.0 lets you add live SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) effects, such as drop shadows or Gaussian blurs to your illustrations with a few lines of code. SVG is a relatively new standard for Web graphics, but, when viewed in an SVG-enabled browser (plug-ins available from Adobe), SVG graphics download quickly and always display at the highest possible resolution.
You'll find that Illustrator 10.0 packs a wealth of new and specialised drawing tools into its palettes. On the most basic level, you can use the new Arc, Rectangular Grid and Polar Grid tools to create open curves and complex matrices as easily as you draw a straight line. The new Liquefy brushes, such as Pucker or Crystallize, are basically filter effects that transform simple paths or text into jittery lines and exaggerated shapes. This method gives you much more control over the amount and location of the distortion than the existing Distort and Transform effects. And, for pure drama, nothing beats the new Flare tool, which generates the component parts of a lens flare effect -- including halos and secondary rings -- as vector objects.
If you're an amateur artist, you might find CorelDraw 10.0 (and the host of extra graphics programs bundled with it) easier to use. Flash developers will probably prefer Freehand for its ability to work almost seamlessly with Flash. But if you're a professional designer or artist looking for a stable, powerful drawing program, look no further than Illustrator 10.0. Loyal Illustrator customers should consider upgrading for the Symbols support alone.