Adobe Flash CS3 Professional review

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Price when reviewed

Under Macromedia’s development, Flash came to dominate the Macromedia Studio authoring suite, with each release pushing the boundaries of end-user web experience. Naturally then, we were anxious to see what new power the first Adobe version would unleash.

Adobe Flash CS3 Professional review

First impressions are encouraging, as Flash CS3 is the only one of the former Macromedia programs that’s been updated to share the new CS3 interface. By combining the absolute flexibility of floatable palettes and palette groups with the streamlined efficiency of collapsible docker windows and customisable workspaces, this provides an excellent, productive working environment. For existing Adobe users new to Flash, it makes life much easier but, for existing Macromedia users, the change clearly comes at the loss of some familiarity.

Drawing comparison

It isn’t just the interface that’s been reworked along new Adobe lines – the entire approach to drawing has been transformed. This is immediately apparent with the introduction of the familiar Bézier-based Pen tool that’s common to just about all Adobe design programs. In addition, two core new tools have been introduced for creating the most basic of shapes – rectangles and ovals – the difference being that the fill and outline of these new “primitives” are now inherently linked, so you can’t inadvertently select one without the other. The primitives also offer more editing options from the Properties panel, so you can quickly create and later fine-tune rounded rectangles, arcs and rings.

Again, such core changes might take some getting used to for existing users of Flash, although the old tools are still there as options (if this is confusing, you can quickly remove them from the current workspace). This time, however, the advantages aren’t in doubt. Flash’s old drawing system – where fills and outlines had a life of their own, and overlaps of the same colour automatically merged into a new shape – was wilfully idiosyncratic and a major obstacle to productivity. In fact, the main criticism must be that Adobe, with all its graphical expertise, hasn’t done more to update Flash’s drawing capabilities.

This criticism is partially answered by the new integration between Flash CS3 Professional and Illustrator CS3 (both of which are included in the Premium editions of the Web and Design bundles). You can now open AI files directly and, when you do so, you can see the full layer hierarchy and specify how individual layers should be handled. Symbols created in Illustrator CS3 are also fully supported, including instance names and intelligent nine-slice scaling, and the latter is now reflected directly on the stage. More powerfully, Flash Professional CS3 now shares Illustrator’s more accurate vector graphics engine, so that importing artwork is smoother. Even better, this means you can simply copy and paste objects directly from Illustrator, so you can quickly and conveniently take advantage of all its advanced features, such as DTP-style typography, brush strokes and transparency handling. Long-standing Macromedia users will miss FreeHand, which offered greater animation capabilities, but, once you’re used to it, Illustrator certainly offers greater creative power.

Vectors are key to Flash’s rich and efficient web delivery, but support for bitmaps is crucial too. Here the bundling of Bridge CS3 for image management is a major boon, as is the associated Device Central CS3. If you’re buying Flash via one of the CS3 bundles, the enhanced integration with Photoshop CS3 Extended and Fireworks CS3 is also very welcome. However, while importing Photoshop PSD files now offers advanced control over how each layer should be imported, the import control for Fireworks’ PNG is sadly more basic. This is especially disappointing, as the new support for Fireworks CS3’s multiple pages and nine-slice scaling would otherwise make it a natural design partner – maybe next time.

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