The latest update to FreeHand reasserts Macromedia's challenge to the popular Adobe Illustrator with design aids and better support for publishing in the print and Web worlds.
Macromedia FreeHand creates illustrations, large print projects, and Web site storyboards. FreeHand 10, announced today, enhances user productivity with an editable symbol library for better asset management.
New illustration aids also help midrange and professional users easily add colour shading and save styles as symbol-based brush and spray strokes. FreeHand 10 includes the user interface now common across all Macromedia graphics tools, including Flash 5 and Fireworks 4. And improved Flash support makes FreeHand illustrations usable for both print and the Web.
While FreeHand 10 may look better to Macromedia fans, it still faces a tough battle to topple Adobe Illustrator's long-term reign among graphics professionals. The renewed battle begins soon: Macromedia expects to ship the product by the end of April for Windows and Macintosh (including OS X).
Besides the vector-based illustration tools it shares in common with Illustrator, FreeHand 10 adds new tools that make generating illustrations and repurposing components easier.
FreeHand 10's new free-form contour gradient fill lets you control color shading and add drop shadows, beveled edges, and highlights, says Keith Hutchinson, a FreeHand product manager.
"Using a fill rather than a blend technique avoids bad effects that can occur when you print; blending creates a series of lines which can result in a stair-stepping look to color," he adds.
Other design enhancements include symbol-based brush strokes, which let you save and reuse any style used in an illustration in the symbols library as a brush, Hutchinson says.
FreeHand also makes it easier to edit symbols or graphic elements without altering the rest of your design, he says. Double-click on a symbol, and a new window pops open where you can edit the graphic separately.
One of FreeHand's biggest claims to fame over Illustrator is its support for master pages in a multiple-page workspace. Because FreeHand 10 lets you work on multiple pages in one view, it also lets you assign some of those pages as master pages.
"Master pages let you instantly revise a large project through a global page exchange," Hutchinson says. In other words, when you change a master page, the change is implemented across all the pages that share its style.
"FreeHand is the first illustration tool with a multiple-page workspace to offer master pages," Hutchinson adds. "You can easily give many pages the attributes of a master page."
While FreeHand is traditionally a print illustration tool, new features make repurposing your vector designs for use on the Web easier.
Like Illustrator 9, which lets you export designs to the Web as Flash files and scalable vector graphics (Adobe's open-standard answer to Flash), FreeHand 10 takes illustrations beyond the printed page. But with FreeHand, Flash support goes further inside the application.
"FreeHand 10 has a Flash panel within the user interface that lets you apply Flash actions and test Flash animations within the FreeHand authoring environment," Hutchinson says.
And for Flash 5 users, FreeHand 10 even looks familiar thanks to its adoption of the common Macromedia user interface, the Flash navigation panel (for animating graphics), and the Flash pen tool. Adobe also uses a similar interface across its products, which has made PhotoShop users comfortable with Illustrator and vice versa.
FreeHand (like Illustrator) offers automatic Web page creation, Hutchinson says. "You can take any page in FreeHand and the tool resizes it, including the graphics for the Web." You can also import or export any FreeHand symbol to Flash, he adds.
Besides Web tricks, FreeHand 10 has a few new print tricks, too.
FreeHand rescales the workspace to the size of the page you're printing to, Hutchinson says.
You can also drop symbols not residing on a page onto a workspace and select an area to print, he adds. "In other words, you could show symbols not on a page, such as variations on a design, to a client."
FreeHand 10's design enhancements and Flash integration should please its professional users and make the print illustration tool familiar and friendly to Flash Web designers. But gaining ground on Illustrator among its print graphics fans may be tough, considering that Illustrator offers similar Web/print illustration tools.
An exclusive full preview of Freehand is available in the next issue of Digit, on sale April 4.