Adobe's Illustrator has long been the standard tool for creating crisp, cool vector graphics that can be scaled to any size. Over the years, it has incorporated many tools that make it much more than a simple illustration tool.
For instance, there's a bevy of webbased features, some great natural media-esque tools, excellent typography features and some truly revolutionary symbol tools. Adobe has always impressed with the effort put into the Illustrator upgrades, and the latest release, CS2, is set to be a winner as well.
If there's one thing that Illustrator has lacked over the years is a decent bitmap tracing tool. Sure, it had one, but it was fiddly and out of date. This all changes with CS2 and Live Trace - it's simple to use and produces excellent results. It also enables you to take a raster image and transform the contents of it into paths and fills (or Live Paint, which we'll get onto in a bit).
What makes Live Trace 'live' is the fact you can preview the effect of your trace before applying it, and go back and edit the parameters once you have applied it. On opening the dialog from the Object menu, you find a wide-range of tracing options, enabling you to specify how many paths, anchors, colours and areas your converted graphic has before applying the trace.
You can specify black and white, full colour or greyscale, adjusting the amount of colours in the latter two options. This approach makes experimentation easier and saves valuable processing time. To speed things up further, you can save your settings as Trace presets - meaning you can come back to them in an instant next time you want to trace something (or you could use one of the 13 Adobe supplies).
New for this season
The other major new feature is Live Paint. If you have had to colour a line drawing in Illustrator, you will know that it can be a pain, using a gaggle of fills and strokes. Live Paint aims to alleviate this. Once your paths and fills are turned into Live Paint objects (Object > Live Paint > Make), these become edges and regions rather than fills and paths/strokes.
Both edges and regions can be coloured using the Live Paint Bucket (like Photoshop's Fill tool) by selecting a colour and clicking on them. If paths overlap, Illustrator creates new edges and regions that can also be filled.
The 'live' part is that all edges and regions are not fixed - if you move overlapping shapes, the edges and regions automatically update to their new shape, retaining a dynamic relationship with one another and keeping their colour.
A gap detection feature is also nifty, meaning you can close any gaps that would cause colour to bleed into an adjacent region. In short, you can colour any space you see onscreen, without fiddling around with 'holding' layers. It's a lot simpler than it sounds, and shortens any colouring job time.
These two features are by far the biggest in Illustrator CS, but there are a few more worthy of mention. One is the new InDesign-like context-sensitive Control Palette. This makes it easier to control the appearance of paths, stokes, fills, text and so on and gives access to about 80 per cent of Illustrator's tools. The ability to place strokes along the inside, centre, or outside of a path is a long-awaited addition.
Photoshop integration has been improved, with Illustrator sporting new, Photoshop-like Filters and Effects galleries, as well as the ability to import individual Layer Comps.
Minor enhancements include applying spot colours to drop shadows and greyscale images, and better support for exporting to mobile devices and Flash. Custom workspaces enable you to tailor Illustrator to suit certain jobs (colouring, drawing, web design and so on).
Although this beta version isn't as fast as we'd like (Adobe still needs to optimise Illustrator for speed as we go to press), it's a great update that we thought couldn't get much better. Sure, Adobe could add multi-page support, but why bother when it has InDesign and the Creative Suite as a whole? Rob Carney