Previous versions of FreeHand stood toe-to-toe with the competition, often winning the best-of-class award. We had hoped that version 10 of this professional vector illustration program would add a generous assortment of Web graphics, illustration, and automation features, making it a contender for both Web and print power users. Unfortunately, the new release doesn't have enough additions to keep this program on top. Previous versions of FreeHand stood toe-to-toe with the competition, often winning the best-of-class award. We had hoped that version 10 of this professional vector illustration program would add a generous assortment of Web graphics, illustration, and automation features, making it a contender for both Web and print power users. Unfortunately, the new release doesn't have enough additions to keep this program on top.
Print and Web productivity
The new Master page functionality creates nonpasteboard pages to hold any object or graphic symbol (except page numbers), thus streamlining updates to complex, multipage graphics compositions. Edits made to master pages are automatically made to every child page. Designers can use the new Print Area feature to easily present large spreads and detailed zooms on regular-sized paper. You can define the Print Area by simply dragging the Print Area cursor into your workspace.
However, Macromedia is apparently so concerned that FreeHand might draw away buyers from Fireworks, its stellar Web graphics program, that it ignored all but the most rudimentary Web features. You won't find a rollover tool, Web compression preview window, image map tool, or any GIF/JPEG optimization features here; Flash received the most attention. You can now apply Flash Actions, such as assigning URLs and hotlinks to illustration elements or text, within FreeHand, using the new Flash Navigation panel. Freehand lets you preview these simple Flash creations internally before you decide to export to Flash.
The new Macromedia User Interface should make it easier to move from one of the company's products to another, but we were frustrated by the mix of compact and well-designed palettes with a hodgepodge of illogically organized toolbars. The main toolbar includes buttons for creating objects such as rectangles and circles, but you'll find the buttons for arcs and spirals in the Xtras palette. Macromedia named some palettes Inspectors and others Panels, and the HTML Warnings palette is listed separately as an Xtra, which shouldn't be confused with the Xtra Tools or Xtra operation toolbars. It drove us nuts trying to find what we needed. Fortunately, you can build your own toolbars and bypass Macromedia's default mishmash.
Few additions to the toolbox
We liked the new Contour Gradients, which blend colors according to the outline of an object--an excellent feature for adding realistic shading to objects. It's too bad that the mesh gradients found in both CorelDraw and Illustrator, defined by a grid of lines and points, outperform this feature. You can now apply brush strokes to any FreeHand path, and the new user-definable brushes help create unique and appealing outlines. We also like the Envelope tool, used for distorting objects. FreeHand lacks macros for task automation, but it now offers a Symbol library, similar to the one found in Flash, for storing any object for reuse. If you edit a symbol, all instances of it in your document will change accordingly.
Overall, we wish that the tools packed more punch; in particular, the Layers palette needs some muscle. It lacks thumbnail previews, and you can't group layers together--a necessity for organizing complex illustrations. In addition, you can't apply drop shadows to text objects or bitmapped images, techniques often used to give depth to flat artwork. In fact, many of the special effects tools--such as Roughen, Bend, and Smudge--don't work on text at all. You have to convert text to noneditable outlines to do any creative work. With CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator, you can apply fancy effects to editable text.
Worthy but weak upgrade
Current FreeHand users will want to spend the $129 to upgrade, but professionals looking for a new illustration program will find beefier packages in CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator. Less dedicated users should turn to more basic products such as Microsoft PhotoDraw or Xara for easy, inexpensive line drawing.