Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Flash remains the champ of professional vector software for the Web. However, creating Web pages, interactive games, and videos in Flash CS3 is no one-two punch; the complexity remains a barrier for new learners. That said, you won't find all of what Flash offers elsewhere. The strength of its many features as well as its convenient integration within the rich Creative Suite 3 make Flash an alluring and practical tool.
Most notable in this version of Flash is its improved integration with the other Adobe design tools, made possible by Adobe's merger with Macromedia. Macromedia Flash 8 introduced polished bitmap-handling and green-screen video capabilities that enhance the wow factor for viewers and users of the animation, videos, and games Flash creates, but the CS3 update focuses mostly on improvements for designers and developers.
We installed Adobe Flash CS3 as part of the Web suite on a Windows XP computer in about 40 minutes. (Unfortunately, some testers who had been running Flash CS3 beta software spent many frustrating hours unsuccessfully installing the final code.) Flash CS3 runs on Windows XP SP2 or Vista--and now both Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macs with at least 512MB of RAM and 2.5GB free.
Once you start Flash CS3, the interface is more customizable than in the past; you can choose where to dock the timeline and other panels, letting them float outside the main Flash window, while you can drag features to the toolbar.
As with most of the other CS3 applications, unfortunately, we don't find the interface intuitive at all unless you have prior knowledge of Flash. Some of the functions to achieve the simplest effects are frustratingly complex. For instance, if you're using Flash to create a banner ad with a surface area that will link to a Web site, why can't you quickly add that link, as you can in Dreamweaver's Properties box? Instead, Flash requires that you invoke ActionScript.
Flash CS3 introduces the time-saving capability of importing the layers of both Photoshop and Illustrator files. While importing a PSD file, you also can match the stage size and compression settings and turn layers into either movie clips or key frames. While you could bring in PSD and AI images in the past, now there's no more need to convert and name one layer at a time.
Rather than drawing from scratch, you can drag prebuilt components such as buttons directly onto the stage, and then customize them. If you are drawing from scratch, Flash adds tools that include a Pen like the one in Illustrator as well as Shape Primitives for rounding off the corners of rectangles and making other shape alterations on the stage. New filters and blends add more creative options. Plus, you can set up blend modes and shadows that render at runtime, making for a smaller file. Added integration with Adobe Bridge can help you manage assets shared by other CS3 programs.
In our tests, Flash CS3's compiler worked much faster than version CS2. And as Flash Player 9 is zippier than version 8 (100 times more so, says Adobe), your Flash videos and animation should load in less time than in the past. Video enhancements include improved import menus. You can embed cue points to a video that would enable, say, closed captioning in multiple languages. Adobe is pushing for its software to create work that can be repurposed in various media, so you don't have to start a project from scratch for video, the Web, or mobile gadgets. As with the other CS3 tools, Device Central previews how your work will appear on skins of the latest handhelds on the market.
Adobe attempted to close the gap between visually oriented designers and code-cobbling developers. The new Copy Motion as ActionScript 3 command lets you take animation and paste it into the Actions panel, where you can edit the code. This feature allows more flexibility for instance, when creating more natural-looking motion tweens or replicating parts of an animation. And you can save animation in XML for ActionScript or the Flex development environment.
In addition, there's a new, Java-based compiler and debugger. Rather than fishing through your work to find errors, clicking on a trouble spot in the Compile Errors panel takes you straight to the problematic code.
Nevertheless, Flash isn't perfect--particularly when it comes to some fine details. It's still hard to zoom into the center of the stage. We'd like more control over brushstrokes, too. And on that note, why can't you bring up the brushes palette by double-clicking the brushes icon? You can now output just one layer or character from Flash to AfterEffects and not publish the rest, but AfterEffects doesn't import Flash (yet).
We feel that there's still room to improve consistency throughout Creative Suite 3. For example, the Free Transform tool is located under the Edit menu of Photoshop, but in the Transform panel of Flash. And as done by other software makers, Adobe designs its applications to fade menu items to gray so you can't select them, but without explaining what you should do to access that feature. We had problems multitasking with Flash and other applications open, so be sure that you have a robust system. For instance, on our PC with a 3GHz processor and 1GB of RAM and with Firefox and Outlook open, Flash wasn't able to import a small, three-layer Photoshop file until we closed Photoshop.
As for support, Flash CS3's Welcome screen offers links to Adobe Web pages for information. The application has an extensive in-program Help feature that allows for browsing and searching topics on all applications in the CS3 suite, and Help links to animated tutorials as well. Adobe also offers LiveDocs, online documentation with all the in-application data plus updated information and user forums. You'll receive two incidents of free installation help within 90 days of buying Flash CS3, and double that many calls if you purchased one of the Creative Suite packages. Pricey CS3 support starts at the Bronze package charging $39 per call for one incident or $175 for live help with five questions. After that, personalized assistance hikes up to $1,200 and beyond for the Silver, Gold, and Platinum packages.
We believe this upgrade will be worthwhile for professionals who work with the other Creative Suite applications. The sticker price of Flash CS3 Professional costs only slightly less than the CS3 Web and Design packages. However, those who want to streamline the use of Flash with Adobe Premiere and After Effects should wait for the summer release of either the Production Premium or Master Collection suites.
|Price: full||Price: upgrade|
Creative Suite 3 Master Collection
|$2,499||$1,999 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$1,399 (from two older suites)
Creative Suite 3 Design Premium
|$1,799||$599 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$1,599 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Design Standard
|$1,199||$399 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$899 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Web Premium
|$1,599||$499 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$1,399 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Web Standard
|$999||$399 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$799 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Production Premium
|$1,699||$799 (from Studios, CS, or CS2);|
$1,199 (from individual apps)