Virtual Mirror Vector Studio 2

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A comprehensive third-party upgrade for Adobe Illustrator - but only for expert users.

It's not just Adobe Photoshop that benefits from a thriving range of third-party add-ons; Adobe Illustrator can be similarly extended and arguably benefits even more. The first release of Virtual Mirror's plug-in set was particularly impressive and won a recommended award (see issue ). In fact you could argue that Vector Studio 1 was too impressive for its own good as Illustrator promptly incorporated most of the functionality it had pioneered. So what has Virtual Mirror come up with for version 2?

Many of the new features are designed to boost productivity. A simple but effective example is the new Palette Shepherd feature which lets you save and load different palette set-ups for example for working with text or working with colour. Convenient keyboard shortcuts let you cycle between layouts or arrange all currently open palettes.

Regular users will also appreciate Vector Studio 2's new path editing tools. Four new Direction Handler tools let you select multiple anchor and direction points from anywhere on an object and edit them simultaneously. You can also set up an axis of symmetry so that edits on nodes on one side of the axis are automatically reflected on the other - a very common requirement. The new Wrinkle Remover tool works much like Illustrator's existing Simplify Path command but it's both interactive and more intelligent so that the underlying path is more faithfully followed - ideal for cleaning up traced artwork.

In terms of creative power, two palettes have survived from Vector Studio 1, both concerned with enhancing Illustrator's gradient handling. The first, Gradient Factory, takes an existing gradient and automatically creates variations for you to choose from based on the colour range that you specify. The second, Gradient Texture, provides a choice of 20 eye-catching and beautiful textures some of which look like clouds, sun spots and marble and some of which look like nothing on earth. Each texture is based on a gradient so that you can recolour the effect at any time and you can also change its size, positioning, detail and so on and save the results.

My favourite feature has to be the Zoom Lens command. Draw and select a path over the area that you are interested in and hit the command and a copy of the object complete with contents is automatically recreated at a distance, angle and magnification setting that you specify. The effect is live so that if you move or resize the source object, the destination object's contents automatically update. This is obviously useful for pulling out details, say of maps, but what I particularly like is the lens' styling capability. Set the offset to 0 and zoom to 100% and you can apply Effects menu commands, such as Illustrator's bundled Photoshop filters, as a non-destructive lens!

Close behind are Vector Studio's Retouch tools. These work like paintbrushes allowing you to simply drag over objects to change their colour, brightness or saturation. This is particularly useful for working with large groups of objects and paths and with gradient meshes. Open Illustrator's sample Flower image, for example, and you can interactively paint on the rose's colour and highlighting just as you might in a bitmap editor!

Vector Studio's Sampler tools and commands work in a similar way but with a new twist. The basic idea is to set up simple rules for editing multiple objects. Select your objects and double-click on the Color tool and you can set a colour to replace or adjust existing colours by and add a degree of randomness to the effect. More powerful is the ability to base the effect on an existing colour, gradient or image that you sample. Working like this you can apply a gradient across multiple objects or, most impressively, recolour multiple objects or gradient mesh nodes using the colours in a bitmap image. Import a picture, say of an apple or banana, set up a gradient mesh and then sample the image and a realistic vector version is produced!

The developers at Virtual Mirror have pulled it off again providing a wide range of at times amazing new power. The effects are more complex and less mainstream than those in version 1 but that means that Illustrator is less likely to incorporate them. If you're looking to give your Illustrator work an expert edge, here's the perfect solution.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

March 2003

requirements Pentium II or higher, 64MB of RAM, 10MB of hard disk space, Windows 95, 98, NT4, Me, 2000 or XP, Adobe Illustrator 10


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