As its name suggests,
Illustrator is a vector drawing package for producing 2-D illustrations. Despite
its high quality and huge feature capability, it is specialized to illustration and
so it doesn't readily support organization charts, software engineering diagrams,
or scale drawings.
Since the end result of using Illustrator, a vector drawing program, and Photoshop,
a bitmap editing program, is in both cases a piece of visual art, how do you choose
one or the other? The key is that anything you draw in a vector graphics program
can be resized or reshaped non-destructively, whereas in a bitmap editing program,
if you draw something and don't like it, you have to erase it and draw it again.
Illustrator was installed as a component of the Adobe Creative Suite 2 package. Installing
from the CDs took around an hour, including running software updates and permission
repairs. With CS2, it is now also necessary to activate the software. This involves
contacting Adobe via the web or phone and entering an activation code. Activation
seems to have added an extra layer of difficulty to owning software. Your capability
to use the software depends on an external entity - a web contact or phone call -
without which you may be unable to use your software. This can be especially frustrating
after you recover from a hard disk crash or move to a new machine.
This was a particular issue for our review team's multiple activations. There are
two activations allowed per product, and so with a team of 3 reviewers, we needed
an exception. Initially, our activations were sorted out on the phone with minimal
effort. However after one of us had a hard disk failure, this necessitated a reinstallation.
The re-install required another phone call to Adobe, but this time, after spending
nearly 30 minutes on the phone attempting to explain the situation, the activation
was refused. Heated and frustrated, we called back awhile later, talked to a different
person, and got the activation number. This demonstrates two problems.
One is the inconsistency of the activation policy. After the first two activations,
the third person was able to explain the situation and get the 3rd activation. After
the hard drive crash, the first person who activated the software was refused in
the first phone call to Adobe. If there was consistency, the 3rd person would have
been refused, thereby protecting the first two activations in cases of hard drive
crashes. Now there is a worry that the next one who suffers a hard drive crash is
going to risk losing their activation, thereby losing access to the software. It's
all dependent upon who they talk to on the phone. There is no flexibility in terms
of altering the number of activations per software license.
The other problem is simply the idea that you may purchase software (and in this
case, very expensive software), and you may have to fight to gain access to it in
the event of system failures or hard disk crashes. When dealing with crashes and
failures, you are already going through the pain of trying to recover and reinstall
everything, as well as the stress of trying to recover lost data. The last thing
you want to have to deal with is having to call someone on the phone to use your
After installation and activation, I fired up Illustrator. It's worth noting that
this application takes a non-trivial amount of time to start up as it loads every
font and plugin it can find. I was disappointed to be confronted with an error message
box which literally said "error in line 1". Illustrator seemed to work
just fine, but I soon discovered that the help was unavailable. The second time I
ran Illustrator, it started up without the error message and gave access to the help
system. Over the years, going back to Photoshop 6 on Mac OS 9, I have had similar
problems with the Adobe help system becoming unavailable or permissions issues on
installation. It's disappointing to find this sort of thing still happening.
Illustrator's Help function is comprehensive and contains some "getting
started" tutorials as well as reference material on each function. For people
who already know Illustrator and just want to know what's new for CS2, there is a
wonderful Demonstrator feature which takes over Illustrator and draws for you while
a voice explains what's going on.
Anyone who is already familiar with Photoshop or Adobe Elements will be right at
home with the tool palettes and layering capabilities.
Illustrator offers all the usual drawing package functions for lines, curves, rectangles
and ellipses - and also less usual functions such as spirals, grids and stars of
up to 1000 points. In each case, once you have selected the tool, you can either
click and drag to draw the default shape or click to fill in a dialog with exact
dimensions and parameters for the shape.
Every object that you draw is named and appears in the layer palette, which you can
use to assign objects to layers and hide and show objects and layers.
Illustrator allows you to work at a high level of accuracy - for example you can
set the drawing grid to snap to a fortieth of a millimeter or less. Practically,
at maximum magnification, snapping at less than this amount isn't very different
from turning off grid snap. Illustrator's default units are the printing units of
picas and points but you can also use inches, centimeters or millimeters. One small
disappointment is of course that you can't set Illustrator's grid so that 1 inch
= 1 foot and then read off sizes in feet for room plans. You can draw room plans
if you like but all scale conversions have to be done elsewhere.
You can not only vary the line thickness of the lines that you draw but also select
different brush shapes and transparency to give effects more like paint as shown
Illustrator's concept of path has many ramifications. You can adjust the path that
defines an object, convert points on the path to be corners or smooth, join objects
together so that a new path bounds them all or cut the path with a scissors tool.
Here is an example of a square with four circles added (on the left) and then subtracted
(on the right).
Playing with Shapes in Illustrator
In most drawing packages you can define the order of objects so that one object is
on top of or underneath another. However, suppose you want to draw interlinked objects
like a chain or Celtic Knotwork? Illustrator allows you to
do this by selecting part of a closed path, copying it and pasting it on top, as
Interlinked objects in Illustrator
Illustrator gives precise control over text including kerning and tracking and aligning
to paths. Here's an example with a drop shadow:
Typing on a Path
Illustrator allows you to define gradient fills in great detail. Below is the gradient
palette set up for a multicolored radial gradient, followed by an example of applying
that gradient to a star with 100 points on a black bacground.
Illustrator Gradient palette
Applying gradient to a 100-point star
Illustrator CS2's Live Paint function allows you to pour paint not just into closed
objects, but into the shapes formed when objects intersect. This is familiar in paint
programs, but groundbreaking in a draw program, since the paint flows as you move
the objects relative to each other.
Demonstrated below are 3 overlapping circles which were created empty, and then the
intersections filled with colors using Live Paint. As the circles are dragged into
different positions, the areas of the intersections change in size, and the paint
color attributed to those areas automatically adjusts for the new sizes.
Paint colors adjust to intersection changes
Getting to know Illustrator is a heady mixture of awe, delight, frustration and complexity.
It's delightful to be able to align objects using the mouse and smart guides without
resorting to alignment dialogs (which are also available). Another neat feature is
to be able to save different views of your work that you can then pick from a menu,
allowing you to toggle between zoomed in and zoomed out.
Frustration sets in when Illustrator won't do what you know it ought to, simply because
you haven't wielded the mouse in exactly the way it demands. For example, you can
use the direct selection tool to reshape an object's path by clicking on the anchor
points in the path, but if the object is already selected when you start, this won't
Complexity starts with having 3 mouse pointers and a Free Transform tool where many
programs get away with one mouse pointer. In the real world, we don't have to use
one hand to pick up a lump of clay and a different hand to squish it and yet another
hand to pull a corner of it, but that's life with Illustrator. Another example is
the big list of Photoshop filters in the Filters menu which is duplicated in the
Effects menu. In the Effects menu, the filters operate in a live fashion allowing
you to change settings or remove the filters after you apply them. In the Filters
menu, the same filters operate in a permanent fashion, allowing you to manipulate
the resulting object's new anchor points.
is an industry standard package specialized to creating illustrations for creative
media using vector graphics and text. In addition to its awesome power and accuracy,
it offers a familiar interface to users of other Adobe products, such as Photoshop
and Elements and a help system which can get you productive with a moderately steep
learning curve. It comes with amazing type support, a lot of brushes, filters and
effects, and a very impressive live paint feature. I enjoyed becoming acquainted
with the software, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good vector graphics
- Type features
- Brushes, filters
- Live Paint
- Demonstrator for
- Activation Process
- Installation issues
- Long startup time
- No scale drawing
- Quirks with mouse
4 1/2 out of 5 Mice