Adobe Creative Suite 5 extends its graphic reach

CS5 offers a plethora of new features. We look at what's new in its five major applications.

One of the best new features of Dreamweaver isn't part of the program itself but is an integrated service: BrowserLab, a Flash-driven Adobe Web site that lets you examine a page as if it were being rendered by the most popular browser engines. "Useful" doesn't begin to describe it: You can perform side-by-side renderings of pages and even view them as onionskin layers, where the results of different browsers can be seen on top of each other and compared. If you want this function in a stand-alone application, Adobe Contribute (the suite's collaborative Web site editing tool) sports it as a native feature.

Flash Professional

Rumblings about HTML 5 knocking Flash out of the box aside, Flash has become -- love it or hate it -- a cornerstone for how rich Web content, especially video, is delivered. To that end, Flash CS5's stated mission is to allow people to package and deliver Flash (for content inside a browser) or Adobe Air (for content outside the browser) to any device that runs it. For people targeting more than one platform with Flash, this version is well worth the upgrade.

The new Flash not only adds development tools but tries to provide a more welcoming environment for newcomers as well. Adobe does this by offering not just blank templates but also customizable libraries of code ("snippets") that cover many common scenarios -- for example, drag-and-drop operations, or clicking an item to go to a Web page.

What's nice about these snippets is that they come documented -- they include inline comments that explain how to modify them and to what end. The blank Flash app templates that come with the program also cover many common scenarios (such as a video player), although they're often very minimal. None of this is a substitute for a full tutorial (there are links to basic tutorials on Adobe's site as part of the program's online documentation), but they're good ways to dive in and start swimming.

One area where Flash has not only been reworked but made much more consistent with other Adobe products is text handling. The text engine in Flash 10 has been totally rewritten to be more like the typography system for Photoshop or InDesign. It now has, among other things, proper support for Asian typography, right-to-left languages, and advanced font features like ligatures. To me, it looks like a sign that, in the future, content created in any one part of Creative Suite will be treated much more interchangeably between applications.

Testing a Flash movie for use in different devices is done through its sister application, Adobe Device Central. This program is used by other Creative Suite apps as well, but Flash makes the most use of it: You can simulate everything from screen sizes to accelerometer behavior to the ways different phones display different types of media (e.g., Flash embedded in HTML vs. Flash opened stand-alone).

Even better is the ability to publish a Flash project as a native iPhone app. The end result is a real iPhone app, not something running on top of an add-on Flash interpreter -- but you still need to be mindful of how the iPhone's attributes (such as screen size) will affect the behavior of your app. A blank iPhone app template is included to help you get started, although you do need to have a proper digital certificate from Apple to actually run the program on the phone.

(As of this writing, Apple had announced that it would ban developers from using rival programming tools. Adobe's official announcement just prior to CS5's introduction was: "We are aware of Apple's new SDK language and are looking into it. We continue to develop our Packager for iPhone OS technology, which we plan to debut in Flash CS5." )

Illustrator

The changes made to Illustrator CS5 are a lot like what's been done to Photoshop. Instead of reinventing the whole program (which would have helped no one), Adobe simply touched up a whole slew of features. Most of these changes are intriguing, a few spectacularly useful. Collectively, they make for a good reason to upgrade, if the majority of your work is intended to span more than one target medium.

Several of the new features in Illustrator are further evidence of how Adobe is trying to bring synchrony to a great many features across different product lines. The "bristle brush" feature in Illustrator, for instance, lets you paint with a brush defined by many real-world characteristics -- the stiffness of the brush, length/density/thickness of the bristles, and so on. (It works best with a drawing tablet.) Photoshop users will find that feature familiar, because the bristle brush has been added to Photoshop CS5 as well.

Another cool feature, symbol scaling, lets one part of a symbol object (essentially a piece of vector clipart) scale independently of another. For example, if you're using an icon on a colored field, the icon can be partitioned off from the rest of the field, so when the whole symbol is resized, the icon doesn't stretch. This is very handy if you're designing something that's going to be reproduced in variety of dimensions and aspect ratios -- for instance, a bus ad versus a Web banner -- and you don't want to waste time realigning things.

Other new features close the gap between vector and raster output, so you can design for the former without making compromises in the latter. The "Align to Pixel Grid" option ensures that vector objects are snapped to the nearest pixel edge. This way, you won't end up drawing horizontal and vertical lines that end up anti-aliased across pixel boundaries, and so rasterized versions of the drawing look much cleaner. Use this in conjunction with the "Pixel Preview" option, and you can see a pixel-accurate version of your drawing -- a little like you've copied it into Photoshop -- without having to export it.

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