Adobe Illustrator CS4 Graphics Software
At a Glance
Multiple-page documents (finally!), the new Blob Brush, and lots of refinements add up to a worthy upgrade.
It's been one of the eternal mysteries of graphics software: How could a drawing package as potent as Adobe Illustrator lack the ability to create multipage documents? With Illustrator CS4, Adobe finally renders the question moot. And it does so with a vengeance, thanks to a new feature called Artboards. (Illustrator's update remains pricey: It lists at $599 to buy, or $199 to upgrade.)
Each Artboard--an Illustrator file can contain up to a hundred of them--is a page. But Artboards can do things that mere multiple-page documents can't. Each one can be a different size, which lets you bundle together related graphics such as an ad layout that comes in different formats. You can view any or all of your Artboards at once, shuffle them around on-screen, and even overlap them. You can also choose for the drawings on a board to travel with it as it moves or to stay put.
Also new and cool is a drawing tool with the wacky name Blob Brush, which lets you quickly create simple drawings without most of the complexity of Illustrator's other drawing implements. For instance, if the lines you create with the Blob Brush overlap, Illustrator automatically merges them into one object rather than treating them as separate, unrelated elements.
Beyond those major new features, most of CS4's improvements are tweaks that speed working with existing features, but there are plenty of them. Just as in a Web browser, for instance, multiple documents now show up as tabs, making it a lot easier to hop between them. And you now apply gradient effects directly to objects in a fully interactive fashion that instantly shows the results you'll get. It's a feature that CorelDraw has had for years, but it's still nice to see it here.
Speaking of CorelDraw, it still has a simpler interface and more tools for creating business graphics, and it's $170 cheaper. But Illustrator is the superior tool for creative pros--particularly those who also use Adobe's Photoshop--and this new version offers more than enough enhancements to justify the upgrade.