Editors' note: Shortly after this review appeared, Adobe changed its technical support policy, and we have made the appropriate changes to our review. For details, please see our corrections page.
Although Adobe is trying to convince all Photoshop mavens to use Illustrator as their primary drawing tool, almost every graphics pro still uses Photoshop. That could change, thanks to Illustrator CS. Beyond Illustrator CS's ability to work in a check-in, check-out production environment, its new type capabilities alone make it worth the upgrade for most existing Illustrator users. Illustrator CS's 3D capabilities will lure many new users, too. Additional effects and fine-tuning of printing and PDF support will also please Web and print designers. Although its retail price is high--especially when paired with Adobe's very limited free technical support--Illustrator CS is nonetheless a worthwhile upgrade.
With this revision, Illustrator joins Photoshop, GoLive, and InDesign (but not Acrobat) in Adobe's new naming scheme: Creative Suite. Despite the supposed new moniker, our splash screen still carries the version 11.0.0 appellation. Illustrator CS runs on Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later or Macintosh OS X and, unlike Photoshop CS, does not require product activation.
Illustrator CS's 25 palettes and 7 subpalettes all dock to the sides of the window, leaving a clear work area in the middle.
The easy-to-use interface remains unchanged, which is good; it should be very familiar to both Illustrator and Photoshop users. The floating, tabbed palettes still dock to each other and to the sides of the window. With 25 possible palette windows and 7 subpalettes just for type options, it's questionable whether Adobe can fit any more into this interface.
Also, we're happy to say Illustrator CS adds a WYSIWYG font menu, so you can finally see the differences between, say, Humana Serif ITC and Humana Serif Md ITC.
The primary focus of Illustrator CS is work flow: Illustrator now links to the rest of the CS product family through Adobe Version Cue, which acts as a one-stop asset tracking system for multiple users. However, this feature is hidden in the File Handling & Clipboard section under Preferences in Illustrator and requires enabling before use in your system preferences.
Along with work flow, Illustrator CS offers 3D capabilities. You can now extrude and bevel, rotate, or revolve an item to generate a PostScript 3D object, which you can then manipulate in real time (with a live wire-frame preview). You can also set unlimited light sources with individual intensities, add a limited number of surface properties, and even create Flash animation. And you can map Illustrator or any rasterized artwork onto a 3D surface. The 3D items remain available for editing even after being placed within a complex document.
Illustrator CS shares (with Photoshop) a new type engine, so files can be opened by either application while at the same time preserving individual layers and the ability to edit text. Illustrator CS supports character and paragraph styles, OpenType, optical kerning, and optical margin alignment as well as multiple rows and columns in text areas. There's also a Scribble effect for imitating a hand-drawn look, more customizable print previews, independent bleed settings, and new separation options.
We tested Illustrator CS on a 700MHz iBook and a dual-2GHz Power Mac G5. On the iBook, which lacks the G5's processor speed and bandwidth, applying complex graphic styles to involved figures took up to a minute to process; on the G5, these took seconds. On the other hand, the integration of 3D and new type capabilities eliminates the need to switch to more specialized applications, thus speeding up your overall productivity.
Beginning in February 2004, Adobe will offer complimentary free tech support for Illustrator CS installation and product defect issues over the lifetime of the product. The call isn't toll-free, however, so you will have to pay for any long-distance charges. For all other issues, there's Expert Support available at $39 per call or $159 per year for unlimited support calls. Additional Expert Support programs are also available for various price options.
One free option is Adobe's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobeforums%2Ecom" target="_blank">online user-to-user forums, which are monitored by competent support staff and offer a good track record. Another is Adobe's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobe%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Ftechdocs%2F" target="_blank">technical documents, which are, as of this writing, kept well up-to-date.