Review: Ink makes comeback in Illustrator 10

At the Adobe Illustrator 10 launch, the first thing the presenter did was hand around a set of printer plates. Evidence.

At the Adobe Illustrator 10 launch, the first thing the presenter did was hand around a set of printer plates. Evidence.

There has been a recent trend, in graphics products, to add web features, new effects and transparency, at the expense of reliable printed output. This brings about reluctance among production-oriented graphics professionals to upgrade. The last version of Illustrator, revolutionary in its use of transparency and layering, fell to some extent into this category.

So seeing the new web features in Illustrator 10, I start thinking, “Here we go again”. Even though the new slicing tools for web export, and reusable symbols for Flash and SVG, are extremely useful.

And I became more concerned, seeing the host of new tools and effects. (My favourite is the Mesh Warp tool. Very similar to a third-party plug-in called Vector Studio, it provides a great deal of control over distorting the shape of vector objects, bitmaps and even editable text).

But I did allow myself to have some fun with the new symbol sprayer tools, and of course there are the ubiquitous effects like live drop-shadow. Data-driven graphics, allowing variables to be defined and linked to an external database, will benefit production workflows.

I soon discovered that the interesting thing about Illustrator 10 is that transparent effects (such as the blurry drop-shadow) can now be applied in conjunction with a spot colour (a special ink, rather than CMYK inks) and the job will print. Also Photoshop files with transparent backgrounds can be placed with the same astounding output result.

For those of you who may be considering it, there is still a limitation in the fact that output from files using Photoshop’s spot colour channels is still unreliable. As previously this can still be worked around by placing a DCS postscript file and by avoiding transparency.

Adobe promises the upcoming InDesign 2 will support native Photoshop files with spot-colour channels. InDesign can do it, so why not Illustrator? With transparency, and many other properties revolutionary for a page-layout program, it remains to be seen whether InDesign fulfils its promise with reliable output.

With Illustrator 10 it seems that the development team have been listening to those who brought about its status as a standard in the graphics industry: the graphics professionals. They have paid attention to generating output that actually prints as intended. Obviously this will also appeal to the business or casual user.

Canning is an Auckland graphic designer.

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