FreeHand 10, by Macromedia
Posted: 15-Feb-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Macromedia Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert Hanno Class: MULTIMEDIA
FreeHand
Macromedia FreeHand 10 is an OS X-native vector-based application for coupling of print and web graphic illustration production. New tools and an enhanced feature set add to an already impressive toolset. Flash integration allows the conversion of drawings into animations and the export of FreeHand objects directly to Flash.

FreeHand 10 Price: $399.00 US (full) $129.00 US (upgrade).
Flash 5 FreeHand 10 Studio: $499.00

The Macromedia Flash 5 FreeHand 10 Studio bundle is a complete multi-publishing solution, providing both the full version of FreeHand 10 along with the full version of Flash 5 at a savings of $299.

Test Environment:

  • B&W G3, 350mHz, 896 MB of memory
  • Mac OS 10.1.2 (9.2.2)
  • WACOM Graphire 1 tablet
  • Epson Stylus 740 printer

FreeHand 10 is a tool for graphics illustrators, designers and web artists. If you used older versions of FreeHand, the new tools and capabilities will allow you to become a true multi-publishing professional, allowing you to create sophisticated designs and illustrations that can be repurposed across multiple mediums quickly and efficiently. With Macromedia FreeHand and Adobe Illustrator competing for the desktops of graphics professionals, FreeHand 10 is the first of its class to go native on Mac OS X.

The advantage of working with vectors rather than bitmapped graphics is due to the vector graphic's smaller size and ability to be scaled and printed at any resolution without loss of detail. The vector graphic document contains instructions for drawing lines and how to fill the shapes these lines create rather than a complete pixel map. From
Mike's Sketchpad: "An ILLUSTRATION is composed of vector OBJECTS each having one or more PATHS which are composed of LINE SEGMENTS having ANCHOR POINTS at each end" which may contain one or two control handles.

After an initial stint running FreeHand in OS 9.2.2, I found performance fairly unbearable: page re-drawing was not crisp, artifacts from drop-downs would cover panel buttons, pop-up menus contained artifacts, viewing hidden drop-down menu items involved an intermediate selection, and opening a document (or a Save) required a trip to the Finder before the activity would complete. In fairness, a 350-mHz machine is a tad under-powered for a graphics program of this sophistication.

The remainder of my testing was performed under OS 10.1.2. FreeHand 10 now was humming along with the power and beauty of the new OS. Re-drawing of layers and other processor-intensive activities still reflected the G3's speed handicaps, but the anomalies seen in 9.2.2 were no longer evident.

Given that FreeHand 10 was my first dive into an illustration program, I can attest to FreeHand's steep learning curve. With seven standard toolbars comprised of over 100 toolbar icons, a Tools panel, Inspectors, pallettes, etc., a thorough understanding of FreeHand only comes with frequent use and perhaps a knowledgeable teacher to help the novice along the way. I scoured the Using FreeHand manual (included as a 500-page PDF or HTML), various websites and newsgroups to facilitate an acquaintance.

The lessons were hampered by sloppy case usage, wherein URLs for the "UsingFreeHand/" directory were mislabled as "UsingFreehand/" (note the lower case "h"). This can become more than an annoyance if you try to use the HTML help and receive the "File not found" error.

Installation was fairly simple, although the OS X version contains special instructions to relax the privileges on a number of directories to allow multiple users update access to a dozen folders. It would have been better to have delivered as a single shell script with which to make the alterations.

Printing from FreeHand 10 was difficult since I don't own a PostScript Level 2 printer. I was only able to get the Stylus 740 up and running under OS X after fiddling with it for a couple of weeks. You are able to use a non-PostScript printer by choosing Preview and then printing from there or by saving (in FreeHand or Preview) as a PDF and then printing the resulting file. However, the Graphire 1 graphics tablet was a different story as this tool worked without a hitch.

As the flagship of Macromedia's fleet, Flash has now become an integrated part of FreeHand. This enables the designer to assign Flash actions to objects and to export these as SWF's. Animations can be previewed by using the new Navigation Panel and the new Flash Player Test Window. FreeHand files can be directly imported into Macromedia Flash 5. URLs may also be attached to text or objects. The actual amount of Flash work that can be done in FreeHand is still rather limited. You can create objects and FreeHand will apportion those to layers and the animation will be based upon layers or you can set up the layers themselves. The Controller contains Test Movie, Export Movie and Movie Settings buttons along with the navigation buttons. This may be sufficient for those wishing to add a small animation or to assign a URL or a Flash action using the Navigation panel. The good news is that you can get the full version of Flash as part of the Flash/FreeHand package (and save $299).

The "Publish as HTML..." option saves an HTML page containing a layer for some objects in the original file. This seems to be somewhat random as during one publishing session, objects are bundled into several files and the next into a single file. An HTML Output Assistant allows you to choose positioning with tables rather than layers for pre-4.x browsers. These may be saved in an images directory as Flash format (SWF), GIF, JPEG or PNG. Some features (fills, strokes or images) are not supported in the Flash format.

Print area allows you to define a rectangular area of a document or an entire work area for printing. This is saved as a part of the document and can be re-sized or deleted. The example below shows the results of a Print Preview of a two-page FreeHand document.

Print Area

The new Pen tool is now the typical pen nib rather than the cross-hair, reflecting the "standardization" of the Macromedia pen tool between Flash, FreeHand and Fireworks (and other illustration tools.)

The Brush Stroke feature allows you to arrange a graphic symbol along a path as a repeating stroke or a single stretched instance. Brushes can be created and saved from all manner of FreeHand objects including gradients. The notion of brush use takes a bit of thought since the application of a brush "fill" to an object seems counter-intuitive to the sable brush user. It did work nicely once I stopped expecting each path to display my chosen brush until I applied it.

Master Pages are template pages that can be used for any object or symbol other than page numbers. These may be shared by multiple children within a document. Changes to the master page are reflected throughout the child pages. These may be imported and exported.

Contour gradients have been enhanced to allow objects to be filled based upon an adjustable center point (see figure below).

gradient example
Using Gradients

A new File Info dialog allows the user to enter the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) header information for your files which may be used by the news media. Third-party applications (or the Perl freeware IPTC Info Extractor) can access these meta tags such as copyright, credits and search words. These will assist even the casual user with a way to create a database to allow easy search and recovery of graphic files.

IPTC Information
The File Info dialog

Summary
This version might be a bit long in the tooth, overdue for some bug fixes or minor enhancements before 11. The early port to native OS X is to be commended along with the covergence of the various Macromedia tools. I enjoyed working with the elegant OS X version despite the steep learning curve. The virtual world is full of willing tips and tricksters and I'm ready to invest in a good book (e.g., FreeHand 10 f/x & Design by Ron Rockwell). For illustrators, designers and web artists looking for the most advanced illustration solution, I strongly recommend FreeHand 10. It's a powerhouse of a graphics tool, especially when running native on OS X.

Import File Formats

  • EPS
  • Illustrator 1.1, 88, 3, 4, 5.5, 6, 7
  • Photoshop 2.5, 3, 4, 5
  • Acrobat PDF 4
  • FreeHand 5, 5.5, 7, 8, 9
  • DCS 1, DCS 2, DXF, PICT, PICT2, RTF, ASCII, TIFF, GIF, JPEG, PNG, Targa, BMP
  • FreeHand 10 template


System Requirements

  • Power Macintosh with Mac OS 8.6, 9.x or OS X
  • 32 MB of free available system RAM
  • 40 MB of available disk space
  • 256-color monitor capable of 800x600 resolution
  • CD-ROM drive

Pros

  • Flash integration
  • Macromedia tool convergence
  • OS X Native
  • Extensive new features list
  • Excellent bundle pricing for FreeHand 10 and Flash 5


Cons

  • Inconsistent performance and GUI under OS 9.x
  • $399 is still a lot of money for just FreeHand
  • Printing requires a PostScript level 2 printer
  • Steep learning curve


Rating

Ease of Use 3.5 mice
Effectiveness 4.0 mice
Functionality 4.0 mice

Overall Rating = 4 out of 5 Mice