Adobe Illustrator CS4 brings those two huge features and a whole lot of existing feature enhancements to Illustrator users who’ve been patiently waiting. Multiple Artboards: Think of multiple Artboards as essentially multi-page documents, much like a page layout program, except that it allows you to have different size artboards within your document. So what’s the big deal you ask? Read on… Let’s look at an example of why this is so great. Before Illustrator CS4, you probably had an Illustrator version of client X’s logo in full color, another file for the logo in Pantone colors, another version for solid black, yet another version solid white (for placing on dark backgrounds), and finally, another version in grayscale (for placing in B&W ads, etc.). That’s a minimum of five .ai or .eps files for a single logo. The most minor of changes to the logo would require you to edit five files, and then update five different files in every InDesign document they were used in. With Illustrator CS4, you have a single logo file containing all five versions of the logo. And when you place the logo file into InDesign, you choose which artboard (via InDesign’s Place options) you wish to have in your document. If you choose the artboard with the black only version of the logo, the Pantone colors used in the logo on another artboard are not brought into your document, keeping your swatches panel free of the clutter of unused colors. Illustrator CS4 allows up to 100 artboards in each document, and you can even create an artboard inside another artboard, allowing you to easily export just a piece of a composition. Also included as part of the new artboard feature is the ability to set bleed amounts to your Illustrator documents, much like you can in InDesign documents. While not a huge feature, it’s nice to be able to work in Illustrator with a completely accurate artboard and not have to “fake” a bleed area. When exporting your artwork from Illustrator, you have the option of saving each artboard as a single mutli-page PDF file, or as single page files in a numbered sequence. Gradient Transparency: The second big feature request from Illustrator users for years has been the ability to use transparency in gradients. Previously, you had to use a complicated method of setting up masks to simulate transparency. Even then, it rarely yielded the results you wanted. With Illustrator CS4, you can set the colors of your gradient, the use the gradient slider to use adjust one or both color stops to a custom level of opacity to show objects beneath the gradient. Along with the ability to use transparency in gradients, Adobe has added the ability to adjust your gradients right on the object, rather than being forced to make a trip to the gradient panel every time you want to adjust your gradient. With the gradient controls right on your object, you get immediate visual feedback, allowing you to focus on your design without interruption. Radial gradients have also seen an upgrade, with the new ability to set dimensions independently. You can now create radial gradients of any proportion or shape. User Interface: Adobe Illustrator CS4 shares the new GUI with it’s Creative Suite counterparts. Tabbed documents are spring-loaded, making it easy to transfer objects between documents. Simply by dragging your object over another document tab, that document pops open so you can drop your objects right where you want it placed. The application frame keeps your document and all the panels in a single, resizable window, and features spring-loaded panels which allow you to expand the panel of your choice simply by dragging an object on top of the panel icon. Feature Enhancements: Another feature shared between Creative Suite applications are Smart Guides. Objects can be aligned to the artboard rather than the cursor. The guides are more intuitive in CS4 with on-object readouts, allowing you to stay focused on your work, rather than on the alignment panel. Isolation mode has also seen advancements. I can’t say enough how useful Isolation mode is. By double-clicking a group of objects, you can visually isolate those objects on the artboard, having all other objects grayed out. Once in Isolation mode, you can adjust objects such as clipping masks, images, gradient mesh objects and compound paths. It’s also much easier to adjust the stacking order of objects in Isolation mode, greatly reducing the need to use Paste In Front/Back and Arrange commands. Once you’re finished editing, simply hit the Escape key to exit Isolation mode. The Appearance panel has added the ability to turn on and off individual effects, much like you can show/hide layer effects in Photoshop. But it doesn’t stop there. You can also apply and edit individual effects right in the Appearance panel. In the past, if you tried to apply a Graphic Style to an object that already had another Graphic Style applied to it, the new style would replace the original. With CS4, the new style is applied on top of the original, meaning you can apply multiple styles to the same object. So if you have a style to add a custom stroke, you can apply that, then apply a second style that would include a drop shadow or gradient. Very handy! Text on Path has been greatly improved, which is to say that it’s actually usable now. Adobe has adjusted kerning methods in the type engine so that type on a path truly looks great right out of the box. Performance: Illustrator CS4 doesn’t really perform much faster than CS3 overall, but specific features do, making the whole application feel faster in the end. The usability enhancements to gradients, guides and various other tools all contribute to a much more productive Illustrator experience. Should you upgrade?: This depends on just how much you use Illustrator. Designers who use Illustrator primarily for occasional logo creation and nothing more may find that the feature additions just aren’t enough. However, if you spend any amount of time every day in Illustrator, you’re probably going to be quite pleased with Illustrator CS4. As for me, the unified interface with the rest of the Creative Suite applications, multi-artboard support, tabbed windows, and feature enhancements more than justify the cost. Pricing: Adobe Illustrator will ship in October with the rest of the Creative Suite applications, and will be available for $599. Owners of Illustrator CS, CS2 or CS3 can upgrade to CS4 for $199. Owners of Freehand 9, 10 or MX, and CorelDRAW users can switch to Illustrator CS4 for $199 as well. See Adobe’s Web site for more Illustrator purchase information.
That is, unless you want two of the most sought-after features that Illustrator users have been begging for since at least version 8.