Adobe Illustrator Version 4.0 for Windows. (computer graphics software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Steven Anzovin
Adobe Illustrator has long been the big kahuna among Macintosh illustration programs. So it was eagerly awaited by early Windows users hoping to put the power of PostScript-based drawing into their PCs. However, the first release of Illustrator for Windows was, to put it bluntly, a dog--not as elegant or powerful as the Mac version, and buggy, too.
But don't let the bad rep of that earlier release put you off from the new Adobe Illustrator Version 4.0 for Windows. If you need what it can do, this Illustrator is now the best thing going for highend PC illustration.
Illustrator is, as I said, a PostScript drawing program; that is, it creates drawings in the PostScript page description language invented by Adobe and native to most high-end laser printers and imagesetters. The advantage of drawing with PostScript is that your drawings can be accurately printed on any PostScript printer or imagesetter at the highest resolution of which the device is capable.
In Illustrator, you draw by manipulating control points along paths, a skill that takes some time to master but that gives you greater control of the look of every curve and line. You can start sketching with the free-form drawing tool and then edit the sketch, or you can import scanned images and have Illustrator turn them into editable line drawings. (The package comes with Adobe Streamline, which converts scans to PostScript art more effectively than Illustrator's own scan-tracing tools.) You can edit in a fast wireframe mode or show all colors (up to 16.7 million), lines, and templates. Illustrator also allows you to open and work on many drawings at once. The included Adobe Separator utility then turns your finished color art into a file ready for 4-color separation by any service bureau that accepts files from other versions of Illustrator.
Font handling is one of Illustrator's strong points, as you might expect from an Adobe application. Within Illustrator itself you can enter and edit text directly on your drawing, without having to work within a special text box as in some other programs. Text can be wrapped outside or fit inside any shape and run along a curved path; you can import any Adobe font as an editable outline and create your own typefaces, as well. There are complete tracking and kerning controls, too. Included with Illustrator is the latest version of Adobe Type Manager, an indispensable Windows font-display utility; Adobe TypeAlign, a font manipulation program; and 40 Type 1 Adobe fonts.
A feature new to this version of Illustrator is the ability to create instant charts and graphs. Set up the general parameters for your graph in a dialog box, enter the graph data in Illustrator's simple built-in spreadsheet, and click the graph tool. Viola! Instant graph. No other high-end drawing program can do this. If you mainly create and embellish data graphics for corporate reports, this one feature alone may justify Illustrator's price.
As good as it is, the program does have a few short-comings. There's no onscreen color palette, so you can't just click on a color block to change colors. The color picking, specification, and naming features are complete and easy to use, but there's no substitute for seeing all the colors of your drawing in one palette. Also, I wished for a layer feature like the one in Illustrator's archrival, Aldus FreeHand. The complexity of an Illustrator drawing can get confusing, especially if you're working in wireframe (Artwork Only) mode. Complex drawings are easier to organize if you can put related elements on separate layers and edit each layer while hiding or dimming the others. These are relatively minor drawbacks, however.
Should you chuck your copy of CorelDRAW!, Designer, or Arts & Letters for Illustrator? If you do light-duty Illustration and never print on PostScript imagesetters, then probably not; scaling the learning curve for Illustrator may not be worth the time. If you already work in a PostScript environment (with Aldus PageMaker, for example), have to share files with users of the Mac or Next versions of Illustrator, or are sending out work to desktop publishing service bureaus, then you'd do well to look into Illustrator. Adobe offers a competitive upgrade for owners of other popular PC drawing programs.
Illustrator is now the premier Windows drawing program. Its rich feature set and smooth interface, coupled with the fact that service bureaus everywhere can handle Illustrator files with minimal fuss, make it the first choice for professional illustrators and desktop publishers. Adobe has done it right this time.