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New typographical features, pseudo-3D and improved print and PDF handling - worthy but comparatively uninspiring.

Throughout its fifteen-year history Illustrator's no-nonsense role has been to take care of the creation of PostScript-friendly, vector-based artwork destined for commercial print. Again that's the focus in this latest release, but Illustrator CS provides a few surprises along the way.

To begin with, there's Illustrator's slight nod in the direction of Microsoft and modern standards of user-friendliness in the form of the new Welcome screen providing access to tutorial-based help and content. Illustrator CS even comes with 200 professionally-designed templates for projects such as CD-covers and web site layouts, though these are better seen as inspiration rather than building-blocks. Disappointingly, palettes can't be docked or workspaces saved but a more practical boost to productivity comes from a general improvement in Illustrator's performance especially when opening, saving, printing and copying.

In terms of its functionality, much the most important new feature is the completely new text-handling engine which has been imported wholesale from InDesign and offers the same typographic excellence. To begin with, Illustrator now supports the most advanced features of OpenType fonts such as full Unicode support and contextual alternatives such as automatic ligatures, smart quotes and fractioning. To make the most of its OpenType capabilities, Illustrator CS adds a Glyphs palette from which you can quickly choose any character from any font (particularly useful with symbol typefaces) and comes with a range of 24 OpenType families to get you started.

InDesign's type handling engine has been imported wholesale.

Just as important is the new composition engine. With advanced features, such as improved control over hyphenation, optical alignment and kerning and the Every Line composer, which weighs up the ideal word and character spacing throughout a paragraph, you can be confident that your type will look as good as it possibly can. And to help your text stand out even more there are new controls over exactly how the type is handled when it is fitted to a path.

The type handling changes in Illustrator CS aren't just geared to improving type quality on design-intensive documents, they are also intended to boost productivity for text-heavy publications. The new Paragraph and Character Style palettes seriously enhance consistency and formatting efficiency. Likewise the new ability to set-up multiple columns and gutters or even tabular layouts within a single text box is much more efficient than linking separate text boxes, especially if you might want to redesign your layout. Perhaps the biggest differences are the simplest: Illustrator CS now indicates missing fonts onscreen and - finally - offers a wysiwg display of font names (though only from the Font menu).

The other major area of new functionality comes completely out of the blue: 3D. Using the new 3D effect you can give any shape or text a 3D appearance either by extruding it, say to turn a rectangle into a cube, or by revolving it, say to turn a path into a wine bottle. You can then rotate the shape in 3D space using the dialog's track cube and control advanced features such as bevels for extrusions and the effect's surface quality and lighting. Even more impressive is the ability to map other artwork, that you first convert into a symbol, onto the surface of your 3D objects, say to add a realistic label to your wine bottle.

Illustrator CS makes the quantum leap from 2D to 3D design.

It's important to realize that this isn't true 3D and is much better suited to producing a logo with a bit of depth or a semi-realistic product design rather than a complete 3D scene. However it certainly opens up whole new areas for creative illustration. What is most impressive about the Illustrator CS implementation is that the effect remains live and fully editable. You can even save a 3D effect as a graphic style so that you can easily and consistently apply it to multiple objects, say to generate web site buttons.

Most impressive of all, because the 3D effect is non-destructive you can blend two versions of a 3D object and then export the resulting animation, say of a tumbling dice, as a Macromedia SWF file. This blended animation approach is also very useful with another effect included in Illustrator CS, Scribble. This is designed to give objects a hand-drawn look-and-feel and works very well to make artwork less clinical and more human.

Producing Flash animations with Illustrator shows how far the program has moved in its 15 years. However the most important output option is still print and Adobe has finally updated the program's antiquated Print dialog, cramming in plenty of power as selectable panels. New options include fit-to-page, easier tiling, independent bleed and printer's mark settings, support for in-RIP separations and control over which layers are output. Most importantly, the new dialog lets you save all settings as re-usable printer styles and also provides a small thumbnail preview of the current page reflecting all settings. There's also a new Flattener Preview palette that shows up any potential problems when it comes to outputting transparency. Overall Illustrator's print capabilities aren't in the same league as the latest InDesign, but are still a huge improvement.

High-end print capabilities have been improved.

Illustrator CS's import and export options have also been revamped with improved support for SVG, WBMP, DXF and DWG.There's also a new Save for Microsoft Office command that helps you to choose the right format to get the best results (PNG in case you're wondering). Not surprisingly it's the support for Adobe's own file standards that sees the biggest improvement with better text and layer editability when moving files between Illustrator and Photoshop and the ability to convert 16-bit PSD files to 8-bit on import.

As with all the CS applications, PDF support is central. Illustrator has long been able to save files directly to PDF and the new version supports the latest 1.5 format with features such as JPEG2000 compression and permission-based security. The feature that really stands out though is the new support for PDF layers that can be displayed or hidden within Acrobat 6 to show different design options.

That's welcome, but it only papers over the glaring hole in Illustrator CS - the program still doesn't support multiple pages. It's a bizarre omission, especially as this latest version is heavily pushing its text and print credentials, and one that prevents Illustrator CS from reaching its full potential.

Tom Arah

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