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Software Review: Adobe Master Collection – Illustrator CS4 from Adobe Systems

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This is the second of a series of reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) Master Collection. When Adobe released CS4 this fall, they not only released single version products, but also six separate suites of products. They are Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium, and Master Collection. You can go online to compare what is contained in each version. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table.

What do you need to run Adobe Illustrator CS4? On Windows you need an 2GHz or faster processor, Windows XP SP2 or Vista; on Mac, PowerPC® G4 or G5 or multicore Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11 – 10.5.4 (Leopard), 512 MB RAM, 1024×768 display (1280×800 recommended) with a 16-bit video card, 2GB of hard drive space and DVD-ROM drive.

Illustrator CS4 is the vector-based graphics editor that is developed and published by Adobe Systems. It was first developed for the Apple Macintosh in 1986 and it is the companion product of Adobe Photoshop. It wasn't until Illustrator 7 released in 1997 with ports for both Windows and Mac that Illustrator became a standard for designers. Illustrator CS4 is technically version 14.

Illustrator CS4 is a vector graphics editor. That is, it is an editor that allows users to create sharp-edged artistic illustrations such as cartoons, clip-art, and complex geometric patterns. The other popular image editing format is a bitmap format. Adobe Photoshop is a raster image editor.

Illustrator CS4So what is new with Illustrator CS4?

• Multiple Artboards — allows you to create up to 100 artboards of varying sizes and then lets you display them any way you want. This means that if you have a project where you need to create a letterhead, business card, poster, Web graphics, etc., you can store them all in one file. This also makes it easier to copy and use elements between designs. You can also use common styles and attributes so that when you update one, you update them all.

• Blob Brush Tool — will let you experience that feel of finger painting that you did when you were a child. It will allow you to sketch naturally with strokes that flow together. Used along with the Eraser and Smooth tools, you can experiment and perfect new shapes without having to open a panel.

• In-panel appearance editing — now gives you the ability to edit characteristics directly in the Appearance panel. This eliminates the need to open fill, stroke, or effects panels. You can now work with shared attributes and control display for faster rendering.

• Separations preview — will help you avoid color output surprises such as unexpected spot colors, unwanted overprinting, overprints that don't overprint correctly, white overprinting, and CMYK blacks in text and placed files.

• Transparency in Gradients — this lets you get more creative with layered gradients that include transparent colors. No longer do you have to use the Gradient panel to apply and edit gradient fills. Now you can see exactly what is happing on your object as you add colors, change angles, and make other adjustments.

Illustrator CS4• Refined graphic styles — now has added new thumbnail previews and expanded library of pre-built styles. You can combine styles for unique effects and increased efficiency, and apply styles without disturbing an object's existing appearance.

• Clipping masks — will now let you work with masks more easily by viewing only the clipped area of your objects during editing. You can take advantage of Isolation Mode, and use Edit Clipping Path for even more control

The artboard feature is something that has been needed for a long time in Illustrator. This makes it much easier to work with multiple documents, and having them on one artboard makes it really nice. Add to that the fact that it has been such a glaring omission; this is the one that will have many upgrading for sure.

The Blob brush really makes it easy to draw filled paths and works really well with using a Wacom tablet. Then there is the Gradients tool and panel. This takes the guesswork out of getting gradients just right. These, along with all of the other enhancements really make Illustrator CS4 a must-have upgrade.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.