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Wonder what your graphic would look like in metallic colors? Illustrator CS3 knows.
Graphic artists who rely on Adobe Illustrator for their daily bread will be pleased with Illustrator CS3 (also known as version 13.0.0), which adds numerous small features throughout the application and a few whiz-bang winners. As with other members of the CS3 family, Illustrator also changes the appearance of palettes, now called "panels," in ways that are sure to be controversial. But overall, it's an excellent update to the last professional vector-based drawing application left standing.
Illustrator is aimed primarily at working graphics-arts professionals and has never been terribly friendly to new users. Even after you learn how to control Bézier curves, Illustrator's dizzying jargon and panoply of options can send a neophyte running from the room - or at least toward a simpler drawing application, such as Lineform or Intaglio. However, several improvements ease the way: Document setup is simplified in a templatelike system, Internet-based instructional videos are a couple of clicks away (by way of Adobe Bridge), and hints from online experts appear in a floating palette - er, we mean panel. Selecting anchor points in complex documents used to require a microscope and the dexterity of a surgeon. Now they light up when you mouse over them - or not, if you change that setting in the new Selection and Anchor Display preferences. Also new is an Eraser tool borrowed from Photoshop and Flash, giving bitmaplike control over your vector graphics. Finally, some frequently used features have been brought to the fore, such as the Select Similar Objects tool in the Control panel, which was formerly just called Same and hidden under the Select menu.
Illustrator's changes go beyond usability, and the most eye-catching new feature is Live Color. In the Live Color window, all the colors used in a document are charted on a color wheel. You can alter each color individually, or (here's the amazing part) move them all at once in a way that maintains their harmonic relationship to one another. In either case, Illustrator updates your artwork while you muck around, giving you new, kaleidoscopic views of your creation. The end result is color combinations that automatically make sense and look good, even after radical changes. For those with poor color sense, Live Color can also suggest color-theory-based configurations and provides color-wheel models ranging from the straightforward (Bright) to the whimsical (Ice Cream).
Illustrator also has important changes in how it interacts with other applications in Creative Suite 3 - the most notable being its interaction with Flash, which Adobe acquired when it bought Macromedia in 2005. In truth, many of these improvements - such as the ability to reliably preserve gradients, Symbol properties, and characteristics of interactive text - would be considered bug fixes if the two apps had a common lineage. But they don't, and so getting them to work together so well in CS3 represents an impressive feat of engineering.
Now for the controversy. The new Illustrator has minimized the size of all the palettes - d'oh, we mean panels - and stuck them in a dock to reveal significantly more of the artboard. That's good. And enhancements to the Control panel (formerly the Control Bar) further clear the way. But these panels and their controls seem to be getting smaller and smaller with every new release, presenting difficulties for the new or vision-impaired user. Fortunately, you can save multiple workspaces once you've figured out what's best for you, and the old-school CS2 workspace is one of the preprogrammed choices.
The bottom line. In a sense, Adobe shot itself in the foot by producing such good recent versions of Illustrator: Most users won't have a pressing need to upgrade unless they design for mobile devices or use Flash. But nearly everyone will enjoy Live Color, the improved interface, and numerous other small improvements that make Illustrator CS3 a skilled performer.
PRICE: $599 à la carte, $199 upgrade, available in five CS3 bundles ($1,199 to $2,499)
REQUIREMENTS: G4 or faster or Intel processor, Mac OS 10.4.8 or later, 512MB RAM, 2.5GB disk space
Color exploration easy with Live Color. Usability improvements. Flash integration greatly improved. Universal binary.
Interface can be overwhelming and obscure.