As most of you have already heard, Adobe CS6 has been officially announced. It’s been just over two years since the last major Creative Suite release, so we are expecting big things this time round. Not just because a major release should have major improvements and additional functions but because over the past two years there has been a major shift in the way we work within the creative industry. Content creation has boomed because of two main reasons: mobility and ease of use. We no longer just create on our desktops, we create everywhere. When inspiration comes a knockin’ we need to be able to create as quickly as possible and sometimes a quick notebook sketch just isn’t enough. With the addition of mobile Adobe apps such as Photoshop Touch we can do exactly that, create on the go. So why does this update need to be everything the last one was and more? Because we need to have instant connectivity with every device we create on, and we need Adobe to be there.
I don’t think you can talk about CS6 without talking about the new Adobe ‘Creative Cloud’. It’s exactly what you think, a seamless connection between every Adobe program on every device you use. And by connection I mean complete connection, not only can you access files cross platform, you can store them, share them and even publish them using the Adobe Publishing Suite. I’m not going to review every new thing Adobe has recently announced, to keep it simple I’m just going to go though a few key programs in the Adobe Creative Suite 6 range. Over the next two weeks I’ll take you through Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, InDesign, After Effects and Premiere Pro. I’ll also quickly touch on Audition, Flash Professional and Prelude.
So lets get started on my favorite program, Adobe Illustrator CS6. I know not every one of you uses every Adobe program, so I’ll give you a quick heads up at the beginning of each review letting you know what the program does/is used for. Illustrator is a vector based ‘Illustration’ program. It is used for a variety of things such as, but not limited to, digital illustration, web layouts, application mockups and print design. Some designers spend 90% of their time in Illustrator, and for good reason! It’s a very robust vector based program allowing for, in some cases, complete project rollout. I have started and finished many projects within the walls of Illustrator, although I don’t recommend this every time… it’s almost always good to start a project off screen, and finish in the appropriate program.
Let’s start with the boring stuff… every update has minor UI tweaks and additions. Why? Because we ask for them I guess, that, and they figure out a better place to put things. Anyway there are a few this time around, some more interesting than others. Designers like lists so here is a list:
- Boom it’s black!
I remember when Autodesk did this with 3Ds Max. No better way to show that you have actually done something with a program then to change the UI colour… anyway they seem to think this is a big deal, you can change the ‘colour’, and by ‘colour’ I mean grey, in the preferences menu under the User Interface tab. Basically there is two shades of grey with a slight adjustment for both.
- Panels have a vertical extension tab
They didn’t talk about this one in the update notes, but for some reason I think this is a cool addition that should have been added a long time ago. Most panels have always had an extension tab in the bottom right corner but this seems more intuitive, and it’s on the colour penal, thats cool.
- Hex values in the colour panel
This one’s for you web designers, and about time, right? I can see myself using this addition quite often. No more double clicking the colour to see all of the colour values and then copying the hex code for other applications, now it’s right where you want it.
- Opacity mask (on/off)
This should sort out some confusion people have had in the past with opacity masks, now you can create them and release them with the click of a button.
- Scale Strokes & Effects
They have added a button to the Transform panel to toggle the scaling of strokes and effects, but you have to unhide the extra options first.
- Character panel quick buttons
There are a few new buttons toward the bottom of the Character panel that allow for quick access to type case settings, e.g. All Caps, Small Caps, Superscript and Subscript. They mention in the update notes, and I quote, “…the Character panel shows glyphs previously requiring multiple clicks to access.” I was disappointed to find out that this doesn’t exist… thanks for the shattered dreams Adobe.
- Ability to rename layers and artboards by double clicking the name
- Control Panel layout
They got rid of the old ‘drop down menu’ for tabs within the Control Panel (or Preferences) and replaced it with a list. Much simpler and easier to navigate within the menus this way.
Ok now we get to look at the cool stuff. The actual function addition and tools they have made for CS6. The first big addition is the ability to add a gradient to a stroke. I’ve been attempting to manually do this one for quite a while and it always seemed odd to me that it was never an option. The only reason I can think of is that perhaps it took a bit of processing power to perform? I’m not sure why it was never an option, but now it is. So go nuts.
To talk about the next feature I need to talk about performance first. Adobe has upped the performance rate and given it a name for some reason. They have called it the Mercury Performance System, basically it is now a native 64bit program on Mac OS and Windows allowing it to utilise all of the RAM on your computer. Don’t glaze over too soon because this is a bigger advancement then I first thought. At first glance Illustrator seems to run just that little bit quicker, that’s all well and good but what does it really do? How annoying is it when you’re working with a large vector file and everything goes sluggish, when you apply an intense pattern or a drop shadow and it takes 10 minutes to respond. The new performance means that most of these things happen much faster.
This leads me to the next big update, Image Trace. That’s right I said Image Trace not Live Trace, they changed the name. But they didn’t stop there. The Image Trace has had a facelift and a slightly different process to use. Its new look is much better for usability, it just plain makes sense. The new process isn’t too far removed from the previous ‘Live Trace’ process, it just makes starting out more understandable. You now select from six starting points, they are simply named and simple to use. Basically if you are working with a colour image you will select from the first three starting options, Auto-Colour, High Colour and Low Colour, if you are working without colour you choose from Grayscale or Black and White and if you are working simply with outlines you choose Outline and it will only apply a stroke. They really are just starting points that use some default settings, you don’t need to start with them but it does save a little time. Then you go on to adjust the settings like you would have done with Live Trace, this time round they just look a bit nicer and work a little better.
To demonstrate the power of the new Mercury Performance System I decided to use the default trace settings in both CS5 and CS6 on the same image and timed them. The image below was traced in 7.2 seconds in CS6 and 16.6 seconds in CS5. That’s more then twice as fast using the new processing system! Even the new tracing algorithm seems to produce a better result.
The last feature, the big one, the one that will save us all quite a bit of time. The new Pattern Creation feature. Holy crap this is going to be fun. You can now very easily create a pattern from anything and have total control over the way it works. So lets use the image we traced in the last example and create a pattern from it. It’s as easy as selecting the object you want to be a pattern and going Object>Pattern>Make.
This will bring up the pattern menu and put you inside the pattern editing view. From here you can adjust the menu settings to get the pattern acting the way you want, but more importantly you can edit the actual object. You can do what ever you want to the object and it will apply it to the pattern, obviously you might want to make a pattern based on another one – that’s fine, you can just save this edited version as a separate pattern. With a very quick amount of customisation you can easily create something like the image below in half the time it would have taken in CS5.
That’s about it, Adobe has added a few things and fixed a few things. All in all I’d say it’s a worthy update, it’s sure to save us all a little time to do some more creative work and has given us a few options to do what we have always wanted to do. As far as backwards compatibility goes it seems to be almost exactly the same as CS5… it works, it’s not perfect but it works. I did try opening a file with stroke gradient in CS5 and it just expanded the strokes but kept the gradient, so that was cool.
The only real problem I have is when it comes to Artboards… surely they could have added some functionality there, such as selecting objects by colour by artboard or better layout and arranging options specific to artboards. Guess we have something to look forward to in CS7 hey?