Adobe Illustrator 9

by Joe Gillespie — Jul 1, 2000

I've used Illustrator since version 1.0 and every upgrade since. Previous versions have been pretty much aimed at print designers and although it has made the occasional nod in the direction of Web designers, it has never been quite so useful in that department as its stablemates, Photoshop and ImageReady.

Photoshop has never been great for setting type though. Its clumsy text editing box and poor kerning have always made me revert to Illustrator for that particular task and then I drag and drop the Illustrator type into Photoshop to produce the final GIF files. Illustrator could export to GIF, but you never knew quite what you were going to get until you opened the file in Photoshop or in a browser, and the optimisation was not all that hot.

There are lots of new features in Illustrator 9, but the most significant one for Web designers is the inclusion of the Photoshop/ImageReady ‘Save for Web’ window with its one, two or four-up optimised views and settings pop-ups. Coupled with the new ‘Pixel Preview’, which shows exactly what elements will look like when converted to (relatively) low resolution Web graphics, there’s no more guesswork - a huge improvement.

And, at long last, Illustrator now properly supports transparency. Illustrator 8 needed a third party plug-in to make objects transparent and its main competitor, Macromedia Freehand, has had this ability for a long time. Of course, where transparency is concerned, GIFs only support all or nothing and JPEGs don’t support transparency at all, but PNG-24s allow 256 levels of transparency so you can have a gradation running from a solid colour into clear so that the background gradually shows through. PNG-24 files don’t have a lot of support in browsers yet, and they tend to have larger file sizes than GIF or JPEG.

Illustrator is a vector graphic program and it’s only natural that it should be able to handle vector-based Web graphics formats. It can export in both Flash (SWF) and Scaleable Vector Graphics (SVG) formats. Not only can it export individual Flash frames, but just like ImageReady's ability to convert Photoshop layers into an animated GIF, Illustrator layers can be exported to animated Flash files. One good trick is to morph shapes using the shape blending tool, ‘Release to Layers’ to put each individual blend on a separate layer and then export the layers to a Flash file where the objects will transform before your eyes.

SVG is similar to Flash in some ways, it is also vector-based, but the method of working with SVG files is quite different. Where Flash embeds the scripting and interaction into the SWF file, SVG animation and interaction is controlled by scripts on the page itself, so you could use JavaScript, for instance, to make things happen - rollovers, click actions etc. and you can define these within the ‘SVG Interactivity’ palette in Illustrator. It supplies the appropriate coding for the page automatically.

Other new features in Illustrator 9 include ‘live object and layer effects’ - drop shadows, glows etc, which can be applied to the objects without changing the underlying paths or text, and new linked layers, which lets any layer have sub-layers that all stay together when moved or manipulated.

Where Illustrator use to be ‘nice to have’ for Web designers, it is now ‘imperative to have’. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities yet still retains its intuitive interface, excellent drawing and type tools and family relationship to Photoshop and ImageReady.

Adobe Illustrator 9

Features
  95%

Ease of Use
  90%

Value for Money
  90%

'Must Have' factor
  95%

Manufacturer
Adobe

Price
$399 Windows or Mac. $149 Upgrade.

Summary
Web friendly - at last!

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