Better with Age
By Clayton Crooks
Since its introduction in 1988, FreeHand has been at
the forefront of graphics innovations. Now, with its
tenth release of FreeHand, Macromedia continues to
expand the image editor's ever-increasing set of
features, including additions to the illustration
tools, several productivity enhancements, and
Macromedia has modified FreeHand's already effective
and unique multipage workspace. You can use master
pages as templates to create objects and page
attributes, which can be edited at any time. When you
edit them, the child pages that use this information
are updated automatically. In a single FreeHand
document, you can now manage up to 32,000 master
pages, a number that most projects never reach.
The Macromedia Common User Interface makes the program easy to use.
New features may not be enough to convince users of other applications to switch.
As many design application vendors have done,
Macromedia has added support for Web-based output in
FreeHand's recent releases, including the ability to
output Flash SWF files. Previously, you had to export
the files from FreeHand before you could test them.
This could be troublesome if you were trying to
fine-tune animation, as you'd have to export an SWF
file, try it, and then go back to FreeHand to make the
appropriate changes. Since the addition of the Flash
Navigation Panel (see
you can now test the
animations within FreeHand before exporting them,
resulting in tremendous savings in time and
While the new additions to FreeHand will undoubtedly
receive the most attention, the illustration tools
keep its user base happy. The gradient functions have
always been adequate, and the addition of the new True
Contour gradients makes them even better. A True
Contour gradient can be used to create a variety of
interesting features including multicolor gradients
that follow the contour of an outlining path.
Macromedia has been attempting to create a user
experience that's nearly identical in all of its
design products, and the company isn't stopping with
the elements that make up the GUI. It has updated the
standard pen tool so that it looks and behaves
identically in FreeHand, Fireworks, and Flash. If you
use any of Macromedia's design products, you'll find
that having tools and interfaces that work similarly
is a big plus.
The pen tool, which needed some work, seems to have
borrowed some of its new functionality from Adobe
Illustrator. The Illustrator-like functions become
apparent when you're drawing or extending a path and
then you move the mouse on top of another path. The
tool displays a smart cursor, which indicates that the
next mouse click will connect the two paths. When the
paths are connected, the second path borrows the
properties of the first. It's a small addition, but
one that warrants mentioning.
Lastly, a new brush system lets you apply brush
strokes to any FreeHand path. The system is based on
the use of graphic symbols that can be repeated,
stretched, or stacked as they're created. Employing
reusable symbols keeps the files small. You can import
or export the symbols from any FreeHand file, making
the new brush system an easy-to-use addition.
FreeHand now supports International Press
Telecommunications Council (IPTC) information.
IPTC-aware applications can read information such as
copyright and captions to which they otherwise
wouldn't have had access. These applications are used
by large news organizations such as Knight
Ridder/Tribune Information Services and the Associated
Press. This is a good feature if you use other
IPTC-aware software or plan to exchange information
with someone who does.
Macromedia created the Flash format, so it's not
surprising that it continues to expand the abilities
of FreeHand's Flash support. You can now add live
links in the form of URLs to any element with the
Flash Navigation Panel. This feature was an obvious
omission in previous versions and is a necessity for
Flash output. When you export a Flash file, FreeHand
now saves any background graphics or illustrations
only once, and then reuses them throughout the
animation, minimizing download times
for the files.
Previous owners of FreeHand should definitely consider
upgrading to version 10. The Common Macromedia UI
creates an environment that's more intuitive for users
of other Macromedia products, and the improvements are
enough to make it a worthy upgrade. On the other hand,
if you use a competing drawing tool, you're probably
better off sticking with your current tool unless
you're specifically looking to make a change.
Clayton is a freelance writer and independent consultant based in Knoxville, TN. Reach him at email@example.com.