Plug It In
FreeHand habitués will be glad to see that the program still packs the basic drawing tools, including geometric shape, line, curve, and spiral tools. In addition, though, FreeHand 9.0 throws in some oddballs: the Freeform tool, for example, pushes and pulls objects into any shape you desire, and a nimble Envelope function lets you warp and distort objects. Version 9.0 also offers some new goodies that let you add unusual touches to your illustrations. The graphics hose, for instance, lets you spray objects onto the page, and the Fractalizer makes the outline of your objects jagged.
We love the plug-ins, or Xtras (as they're called in the program). However, sometimes they're a pain in the neck to find because many of them are hidden within a bewildering array of toolbars and palettes. For instance, you'll find some Xtras in the Operations palette, some in the Xtras palette, and still others in the Xtras menu. Whew! Even more confusing, the spiral and eyedropper Xtras appear in both the standard toolbox and the Xtras palette. We'd like it better if the Xtras had a single, consistent home.
A Fresh Perspective
On the upside, FreeHand 9.0's new, customizable Perspective Grid makes it easy to alter the proportions of your two-dimensional drawings so that they look like you drew them on different planes. This tool is particularly handy for commercial artists who want to, say, create text that seems to recede back into the distance rather than lie flat on a page. For example, to make your drawing look like it's tilted backwards at a 45-degree angle, simply slant the grid 45 degrees, place your flat artwork onto the grid, and the program warps the art to achieve the effect.
Another boon, FreeHand makes it a breeze to import and export files. The powerful PDF import/export filters let you open, create, and edit multipage Acrobat files, which has become a popular standard file format among professional printers. Also, Web graphics creators will like FreeHand's improved GIF export filter, which automatically adjusts an object's color to the closest Web-safe equivalent, so that it looks its best on the Web. If FreeHand can't find an appropriate Web-safe color, it sticks with the object's original color. Unfortunately, though, when the application does change an object's colors, it doesn't indicate which ones it has changed, making it hard to know which colors you'll need to change manually.
More good news for the Web-bound illustrator: FreeHand 9.0's new Flash support lets you turn your illustrations into animation files. Simply create a drawing for each frame of the animation--for example a series of images that get larger and larger--and FreeHand will convert them into a Flash animation.
We love FreeHand for its slick Perspective Grid and Web savvy. It's definitely not for amateurs, but for the professional artist--when it comes time to create dynamite print and Web graphics--FreeHand is the champion.