Adobe Illustrator CS2 review

£435
Price when reviewed

Illustrator, Adobe’s vector-drawing application, was first launched in 1987 and its antiquated interface has been crying out for an overhaul for years. Illustrator CS2 finally obliges with support for saving palette arrangements (although not menus or shortcuts) as named workspaces. More significant is the introduction of a context-sensitive Control palette.

Adobe Illustrator CS2 review

It’s difficult to overstate what a difference this makes. Previously, just the basic setting up of an object involved multiple trips to a whole host of palettes – Colour, Swatches, Stroke, Transparency and so on. Now, you can simply work your way along the Control palette setting fill and stroke colour, outline width, brush style, opacity, graphic style, position and size. Even better, you can click on the names of many of the Control palette parameters and the relevant palette opens up immediately below offering finer control. Adobe says that the Control palette offers direct access to 80 per cent of Illustrator CS2’s power, and that feels about right. It’s even possible to work with all other palettes hidden.

In terms of new power, Adobe is making much of two innovations, the first of which is its Live Trace capability. Whereas Illustrator previously offered a basic AutoTrace tool for creating a single shape at a time, it has now fully integrated the powerful raster-to-vector conversion power of its standalone Streamline application. Place a bitmap, hit the new Live Trace command, and a few seconds later the entire bitmap image is replaced by an astonishingly high-quality vector equivalent.

Since the link to the original bitmap is maintained, the tracing is ‘live’, which means that if you resize or externally edit the source, or change settings, it will automatically update. Using the Control palette drop-down, you can select from 13 presets ranging from Comic Art through to High Fidelity Photo, Technical Drawing and Hand Drawn Sketch. Alternatively, you can call up the Tracing Options dialog to take control over advanced settings such as path fitting and minimum area, then preview the effect as you make changes. Powerful creative options include the ability to base the tracing on a swatch library that you select, or to add generated colours to the current selection.

Live Trace is an excellent way for illustrators to sketch naturally on paper and then convert the scan to high-quality vectors. But in previous versions, editing the resulting sketch was by no means simple – in particular, simply adding coloured fills to your work could be a nightmare. The problem is that humans think about drawings in a different way to computers. We might draw four intersecting lines, for example, and then expect to be able to colour the resulting square. To the computer, though, there is no square, just four separate lines. The only way to colour the apparent object was to laboriously recreate it from scratch.

Well, not any more, thanks to Illustrator CS2’s new Live Paint capability. This treats all lines and objects as if they’re on a single layer, so that overlapping objects create new regions and intersecting lines create new edges. Turn a selection of lines and shapes into a Live Paint Group and you can then use the Live Paint Bucket tool to interactively fill apparent regions, or the Live Paint Selection tool to select any combination of apparent regions or edges ready for formatting. Adobe has even thought of those occasions where lines don’t quite intersect but still look like shapes to the human eye, and offers the ability to automatically close gaps in the Live Paint Group.

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