Price: 485 . 139 . 895 . 1249
Pros: Great workflow improvements; Blob brush adds intuitive painting options; gradients support transparency; vastly enhanced appearance panel.
Cons: No upgrade to graph-making tools; most live effects are still as they were in the first version of CS.
The biggest of the new features is the Blob brush, a dubiously named new tool that lets you paint as you would in Photoshop. The output of the painted area is a blob that’s a fully editable, closed vector path.
This, combined with the Blob eraser, makes Illustrator more accessible than ever before. Finally, you can paint intuitively and get exactly what you see without having to expand appearance or make compound shapes. There’s support for graphics tablets, too, allowing pressure sensitivity and brush dynamics.
Gradients have been overhauled, with support added for opacity on gradient stops. The Gradient tool now shows a live set of stops and positions over the selected object, and allows you to edit stops, positions and mid-points, colours and opacity directly over the selected object. Oval gradients are also now available.
Graphic Styles have been upgraded too. You can now append Graphic Styles to the current Object Styles rather than replacing all existing styles – which is useful for having a straightforward drop-shadow effect, pucker or stroke that you want to apply to differently styled objects.
Other changes include the removal of the Filter menu (most of its functions have found new homes elsewhere); Smart Guides are now far more useful – snapping applies to objects rather than the cursor; and the Alignment panel has been upgraded.
Illustrator CS4 offers the best user experience yet. Although it doesn’t ship with a huge set of new features, those it does add are incredibly useful. The real value, however, is found in the swathe of workflow improvements it offers – and for users of previous versions, these alone are worth the upgrade price.