Adobe Illustrator CS5 Review
Company: Adobe

Price: $599.00 Buy Software Now

Ok I’ll admit it. I used to really dislike Illustrator. Previous versions of Illustrator used to bog down my computer and constantly quit all by itself. I felt like Illustrator was the tortoise and Photoshop was the hare. I was hesitant to use Illustrator unless absolutely necessary. I would reluctantly open Illustrator to complete text based graphics or logo work, and grind my teeth through the process. Yes, Illustrator is imperative for vector based graphics, but I tried to get around that as much as I could. Alas, there are not many other programs compatible in quality and efficiency when it comes to vector graphics. When Illustrator CS5 was released in 2010, I figured I’d give it a chance. Well, after installing Illustrator CS5, my Illustrator program has become an absolute necessity. Although there was not an overwhelming addition of new features to version CS5, the enrichment and tweaking of existent tools made this upgrade worthwhile. And, the new features are pretty cool too.

Tweaking of Artboards

In CS4 you had the option to create more than one artboard, but that option did not allow you to effortlessly manage them. When you open a new document, you get the same menu as CS4. (ok, they changed the word “Rows” to “Columns”.

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However, when the actual document appears there is a handy-dandy little menu which allows you to manage the art boards. You can rename them and move them up and down in the artboard panel. Very helpful in organization.

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Different Strokes

What choo talkin’ bout Willis??? I’m talking about the new features added to design with different strokes.

Variable widths and profiles: CS5 added control to variable-width strokes, arrowheads, dashes, and art brush scaling along a path.

Old menu in CS4
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New menu in CS5
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There are 6 different profiles you can add to a stroke:

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This menu also gives you the options for arrowheads. The two dropdowns give you several different arrowheads (or tails) to apply to a path or stroke. This menu also gives you more control over dashing and dotted lines.

You also have the ability to draw and add brush strokes to a path simultaneously. Just use the paint brush and drag. You’ll get a little dotted line as you drag, and when you release the mouse your brush stroke appears.

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Perspective Drawing

Illustrator introduced the following features to reinforce the perspective drawing tool:

  • Utilities to define or edit one, two, and three vanishing point perspectives in a document.
  • Control different perspective-defining parameters interactively.
  • Create objects directly in perspective.
  • Bring existing objects in perspective.
  • Transform objects in perspective (move and scale objects).
  • Move or duplicate objects toward a perpendicular plane (perpendicular movement).
  • Define real work objects and draw objects with the specified real world measurements in perspective.

Perspective drawing gives you the ability to define a perspective grid in a document, and then draw artwork based on perspective. To do this, you open a document in Illustrator and click on the perspective grid tool in the tools panel. This is what you get:

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There are several setting to adjust perspective. You can use the little round circles and diamonds to adjust perspectives. The different planes are in different colors. You can snap your artwork to any of these planes. The grid acts as guides for your artwork as well. You can also change settings in the perspective grid menu:

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When you draw inside the grid, it snaps to the perspective.

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This tool is a little tricky if you are just learning and playing around with it. I suggest viewing some tutorials or reading materials to better hone in on the capabilities. I believe this new feature is great when creating landscape, skyscape, cityscape and any other “scape” as it controls the horizon and the ground line. It guides you through creating a perspective, so you don’t sit and stare at it second guessing or compare to other perspectives as you may have done before. Unfortunately the perspective grid does not work with 3d objects, only with flat surfaces. Also, when you adjust the grid it does not apply those adjustments to the artwork. Whomp Whomp Whomp. Even with the shortcomings, this is definitely a great addition to Illustrator.

Bristle Brushes

Just like in Photoshop CS5, Illustrator CS5 has given us the use of natural bristle brushes. Oh great, more brushes. Illustrator brushes and I have a love/hate relationship. Sometimes they are wonderful and useful, other times I’d like to throw them out and never give them a second glance. These particular brushes give the look of real paint brush strokes, and have the stability of vector based graphics. That is pretty incredible. Being able to “paint” without the mess is awesome. These brush stokes are scalable, without losing any resolution. I played around with some of these bristle brushes for a minute and really liked the effects I got.

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This took me about 2 minutes with these brushes, and the result was fantastic. For a look like this, I usually would have played with gradients and strokes and other kinds of brushes to make something similar. This cut my time by more than half. The use of these brushes are limitless. These brushes and I have developed a friendly relationship.

Most of the other new features added were more of just enhancements to existing tools. There were some drawing enhancements made that probably should’ve been developed 3 versions ago. These included the ability to draw or place an image inside an element instantly creating a clipping mask and draw behind elements while disregarding a stacking order. Seriously, this is something we as designers should have been able to do from the get go. But, C’est la vie. What they did was add a cute little area at the bottom of the tools panel, so you can access these features with just a click. Thanks, Illustrator.

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Something else that should’ve been introduced some time ago…

Shape Builder Tool

This tool allows you to fill, edit and combine shapes on your art board without having to use multiple tools. FINALLY. To be completely honest, I used to just select the shapes, go to the pathfinder and unite together to avoid having to go through all the steps to combine shapes and what not. Ok, so what this little slice of heaven does is allows you to select points on shapes you want to combine and it intuitively puts them together.

Draw some different colored shapes, select the points you would like to combine with a selection tool (do not select the entire shape, it won’t do anything for you) and click this tool:

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You will get a grid looking pattern on the shape you want to combine with the other, drag the mouse and drop on the other shape.

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Viola! Siamese twins.

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I would consider this tool an asset in creating logos, apparel design, backgrounds and well, a significant amount of other design.

Other features added to CS5 from CS4 are:

  • Web-ready text anti-aliasing
  • Support for roundtrip editing with Adobe Flash® Catalyst®
  • Blob Brush Tool
  • Resolution-independent effects
  • Integration with Adobe CS Review, part of Adobe CS Live online services

When I first starting using Illustrator I couldn’t seem to fully commit to the program. Adobe Illustrator CS5 has finally started catching up with designers in reality of productivity. Some of the highlights of Illustrator CS5 are the manageable art boards, the perspective grid, the bristle brushes, the web read anti-aliasing text and the faster processing speed. I believe Illustrator still has a long way to go in terms of functionality and tools, but CS5 is a good start.