Honeymoon Suite

December 1st, 2005 DG, Software, Tech

Why ‘honeymoon’? Because the honeymoon period of Creative Suite 1 is barely over. Taking a leaf out of the Apple marketing manual, Adobe is in full steam ahead mode, barely letting us catch our breath over one sweeping upgrade before they roll out the next. Drew Turney discovers all the secrets of stuff we shouldn’t have been able to live without.

A widely affecting and (to some) scary development was the recent takeover of Macromedia by Adobe. In the past, Adobe has used innovation rather than size to beat out the competition, chipping steadily away at Quark Xpress’ former ubiquity in page layout by making InDesign more indispensable with each version.

With GoLive traditionally occupying only a small segment of the HTML design market, buying Macromedia was a masterstroke of monopolisation. Dreamweaver was the final obstacle between Adobe and market ownership, and if they can ever effectively kill Quark off, they’ll own the entire creative workflow in print and web, from concept to publishing.

If that happens, the absence of competition might mean the end of the sort of improvements Creative Suite 2 offers. We can only hope Adobe has a strong product ethic as well as their (now obvious) drive for world domination.

The Adobe Finder

The improvements to Creative Suite 2 fall into two major areas; timesaving and creative bells and whistles, and serious file management grunt.

Version Cue was a great idea, but mostly it suited people who a) can’t file properly or b) don’t have a big enough disk for multiple versions of everything. If you were in business (even a freelancer) and you didn’t have an iron clad file-versioning system already, you were in trouble.

Where Version Cue CS2 really finds it feet however is with the new Adobe Bridge. A portal to anything and everything across the whole Suite of products as well as online content and tools, Bridge is the first complete solution with tools, file versioning and resources that are truly workable.

The first page is the Bridge Centre, which looks like a web page, complete with panes for RSS feeds and tips, your most recently accessed folders and files and a browser much like the Photoshop File Browser. In fact, that’s what it is. Photoshop’s ‘mini Finder’ was so cool and easy to use Adobe have expanded it to cover every application across the suite, beefed it up to an astonishing degree and made it a standalone file management application. For example, you can select a standard colour set for use across the whole project without having to worry about reconfiguring colours or taking care of colour conflicts between applications.

Bridge lists all your files like Photoshop’s File Browser did, opening them in the correct application — even Microsoft Office files (and if you open another CS2 application first, they all have shortcuts to Bridge). The search capabilities (across metadata, not just filenames) have been broadly expanded as well, but the big news for some is Adobe Stock Photos, where you can search, view, download comps and purchase stock photography from several online sources.

If you never gave Version Cue a go last time around (or decided you didn’t like it), give it a second chance. Accessed through Bridge, it gives you one click access to all your projects and the assets within them, be they layouts, logos, photos or text files.

The Save menu in each application gives you the standard Mac or Windows Save Dialog Box, but clicking on the Adobe Dialog instead gives you more refined options particular to your file and its location. Version Cue CS2 still uses the Save As Version in the File menu, and previous versions (along with their comments), are easy to browse through in Bridge.

Bridge and Version Cue are more or less suited to smaller operations — bigger workflows are more likely to have existing traffic systems that will only cause conflicts. But as an out-of-the-box traffic manager, there’s a lot worse than Bridge and Version Cue.

The Elastic Workflow

Remember the old way? You’d have to create a picture, save it as a .tif, place it in Quark Xpress, print the Xpress file to a postscript file, distil it and then you’d have your PDF proof. If you then realised a colour was wrong in your raster image, it was back to the beginning and do it all again.

InDesign represented a giant leap forward by letting you place native Photoshop or Illustrator files into your layout; just one change to the native file updates everything. Each new release of Adobe software usually means another repetitive step removed from the process, and the new Acrobat — while it hasn’t changed much from the last version — completes the picture. The Print Production Toolbar is your starting point to correct common errors right in your PDF without having to go backwards to the layout, from trapping settings to hairline width.

One thing to remember though; the more you can make changes along the chain, the more you have to remember you have to go back and edit so you don’t make the same mistake again along different workflow (the old way of retracing your steps forcibly had its advantages).

All for One

Creative Suite has always been about seamless integration. A term often bandied around by PR hacks trying to flog technology, it’s hard to take it seriously, and cynics can justifiably view Creative Suite as a way of making more people use Adobe products, with a few cross-application tricks thrown in so it doesn’t look like a market consolidation ploy.

But if you still need proof of the legitimacy of bundling all their application together, look no further than Smart Objects. A new choice when you paste or open a vector object in Photoshop, a Smart Object is one that references the vector whenever you resize it. It means the end of not being able to upsize objects for fear of losing resolution — it redraws from the vector shape on the fly as you resize. It’s just one example of the kind of future-proofing Adobe have worked in all across the workflow and highlights how each application works hand in hand.

The Big Sell

Of course, no software release would be complete without the Next Big Things, those four or five completely new tools we all wonder how we lived without, and Illustrator and Photoshop are leading the charge with Live Trace, Live Paint and Vanishing Point.

If most of your clients have one-hour budgets but ten-hour expectations, Live Trace will be your best friend. How many times have wished you had a complicated, line-based pixel image as a vector? Live trace does away with placing it in a locked back layer in Illustrator to painstakingly retrace it. Using drawing style presets (which you can edit and add to), it literally changes a pixel drawing into a fully editable vector object before your very eyes.

Live Paint is a little harder to describe until you’ve played with it and seen the potential, but in simple terms it manages the colours of shapes that overlap. If you have to move a point of one shape away from the other object, you’ll end up with a white gap. Live paint identifies two or more overlapping objects and as you move them relative to each other, the fill and outline colours shift according to their new positions without you having to move points on each object with manual precision.

Photoshop’s Vanishing Point is one of those tools that will start a small revolution for its own sake. Remember when Flash first hit the streets and every website had it (necessary or not)? Expect an explosion of photos in print and on the web with strong perspective in them any day.

First, you open an image in the Vanishing Point area — similar to Save for Web and Liquify. It works by defining one or more grids (based on four-point marquees drawn on screen by you) that set the perspectives you’re working with — they might be train tracks stretching off into the distance or a building rising into the sky. Then, in only a few clicks, you can make the sort of run of the mill changes we’re all used to — all in 3D according to the perspective of the image. Use the clone tool to extend an object in perspective, paste rasterised text to follow the direction of the perspective, it does all the work that would take hours the old way.

In many respects, Photoshop seems to have come out in front of the new features race. Some are tiny but no less welcome, such as the collection of several layer edits and attributes (like rasterising type) under a contextual menu when you right/control click on the layer, or shortcuts for image and canvas size — finally!

Some tools or methods are completely new. For the first time you can select more than one layer in order to move or edit them as one group (no need to link them first). Even if you select objects on different layers by dragging a marquee around them, you’ll be selecting each layer the objects belong to.

And if you do a lot of packaging mock-ups or even need a bit more depth to your digital artistry, Image Warp is for you. It divides your object into a grid, and you can use a number of preset warps to apply to it, wrapping your image around a cylinder, ball, vase — whatever the considerable tweaking power of Image Warp will allow. Just grab the handles of the grid — or individual squares within it — and go crazy.

Illustrator has its share of cool additions as well. One long-needed feature is stroke alignment either centred on, inside or outside the path. No more edging the object one pixel at a time until it lines up with the one beside it; just set the stroke of both objects to align inside the objects and they’ll but up perfectly against each other.

On the Page

Many of InDesign’s new features are small scale but desperately needed. It’s always been good with copying text attributes across documents (the eyedropper tool has always been InDesign’s handiest and best kept secret); now the same standardisation support is afforded to anything in your layout. Simply create object styles, and no matter what the attributes — drop shows, colours, sizes, shapes, transparency or contents, you can update or create identical objects with a single click.

Keeping in the mindset of not making us go backwards is the new ability to turn layers of a Photoshop file on and off right there in InDesign when you place the file, and Adobe have given InDesign at least one world beater in Snippets (not a new idea — it’s essentially the old library you used in Quark Xpress using Bridge as its home base).

But it’s the little things you won’t notice until you get right into that will win you over. If you are (or work with) a messy filer and the links palette says all the pics are accounted for, it doesn’t help if you need to access the native file to make a change — even if you use ‘Edit Original’ to open it it’s not telling you where it is. Right/control+click on an object and the contextual menu has new choices to reveal the location in both the finder and Bridge.

But the big one is backwards compatibility. How many of us created a file in CS1 and tried to open it in InDesign 2.0 on deadline day only to be told it couldn’t open it because of something called Content Manager? Our days of wishing we could take Content Manager out and strangle it are over — just save your InDesign CS2 file as a .inx file for use in InDesign CS1. Of course you won’t have all the same feature support, but it’s better than upgrading every version in the office just so they can read a single file.

Off the Page

Not a lot of extra work has gone into GoLive’s core features, but it’s been bought very much into the 21st century. Besides the inclusion of intuitive CSS based design and programming tools, it’s the first major web design package to incorporate a design environment specifically for mobile phone content.

Cute little tricks like favicon creation signify Adobe’s previous efforts to overtake Dreamweaver in usability win some of the latter’s user base, but as explained, it’ll be interesting to see what they do with GoLive now that they have the world’s most used web design tool under their belt.

Conclusion

Like its predecessor before it, Creative Suite 2 has more new features than you can shake a stick at. The applications get better (and work together better) each time, and the systems and methods to manage their interoperability have matured to a comfortable stage in Bridge, rather than the old tools that were disparate from each other and hadn’t realised their own potential (like the Photoshop file browser and Version Cue CS1).

If there’s anything at all wrong with it, it’s an extremely fat, heavy program. Crammed with workings, Creative Suite 2 (Bridge and Version Cue in particular) hog a lot of RAM, and on anything but a brand new system you’ll feel the struggle to keep up with CS2’s demands.

Availability;
Price: $1849 RRP
Adobe Australia
Ph: 1300 550 205
http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/


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