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An Adobe family likeness
Illustrator 10.0 sports the standard Adobe interface, in which creative tools (such as the Bezier pen), object attributes (such as color), and management functions (such as layers) reside on floating palettes. Anyone who has worked with Photoshop or InDesign will immediately feel comfortable with Illustrator.
Symbols do it faster
Illustrator 10.0's new support of symbols makes it easier to create and update complex drawings. Symbols in Illustrator behave much as they do in other drawing programs, including Macromedia FreeHand: You create an object (such as a six-pronged gear), define it as a symbol, store the symbol in a palette, then place multiple instances of the symbol throughout a document. When you modify the master symbol (the one in the palette), all other instances in the drawing automatically update as well.
Unlike other drawing programs, however, Illustrator 10.0 elevates symbols from having a strictly organizational function to a creative, artistic tool. The companion Symbolism tools let you create and manipulate multiple instances of symbols simultaneously. Using specialized brushes, you can spray numerous copies of a symbol and vary its size, rotation, tint, and transparency. The Symbolism brushes provide an easy way to create randomized or natural-looking effects.
Design once, publish many times
With version 10.0, Illustrator finally integrates an important technology: data-driven graphics, which let you create templates that link back to a database. Then, using the new Variables palette, you simply designate an element in a document as a placeholder object and update or replace it from an external data source. For example, a Web designer might create a single graphic for a banner heading. Web programmers can then generate all of the different headers needed for a site simply by writing the code that links placeholder elements in the header to a text database. However, Illustrator does not offer any easy-to-use commands to link placeholders to data sources. Instead, programmers must use Visual Basic or AppleScript to create live links to an ODBC-compliant database.
Web still wanting?
Thankfully, however, this release does deliver several important new tools targeted exclusively at Web developers. Illustrator now lets you create HTML tables by slicing a drawing into sections. And because Illustrator lets you mix raster images, vector drawings, and HTML text in a single composition, your Web graphics look good and download quickly.
Illustrator 10.0 lets you add live Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) effects, such as drop shadows or Gaussian blurs to your illustrations with a few lines of code. SVG is a relatively new standard for Web graphics, but, when viewed in an SVG-enabled browser (plug-ins are available from Adobe) SVG graphics download quickly and always display at the highest possible resolution.
Lots of cool tools
You'll find that Illustrator 10.0 packs a wealth of new and specialized drawing tools into its palettes. On the most basic level, you can use the new Arc, Rectangular Grid, and Polar Grid tools to create open curves and complex matrices as easily as you draw a straight line. The new Liquefy brushes, such as Pucker or Crystallize, are basically filter effects that transform simple paths or text into jittery lines and exaggerated shapes. This method gives you much more control over the amount and location of the distortion than the existing Distort and Transform effects. And, for pure drama, nothing beats the new Flare tool, which generates the component parts of a lens flare effect--including halos and secondary rings--as vector objects.
When you purchase Illustrator 10.0, you get access to Adobe's professional-level, person-to-person telephone tech support for 90 days (30 days if you've upgraded from a previous version). Telephone support is available Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., PT. Otherwise, you can access free help online in the form of comprehensive tech notes and user-to-user forums or via e-mail. Adobe also offers for-pay tech support options: toll numbers ($2 per minute for each call), a flat fee of $25 per incident, or the CustomerFirst yearly support contract.
If you're an amateur artist, you might find CorelDraw 10.0 (and the host of extra graphics programs bundled with it) easier to use. Flash developers will probably prefer FreeHand for its ability to work almost seamlessly with Flash. But if you're a professional designer or artist looking for a stable, powerful drawing program, look no further than Illustrator 10.0. Loyal Illustrator customers should consider upgrading for the symbols support alone.