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 CD Home < Web Techniques < 2001 < August  

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 publishing improvements.

Productivity Enhancements

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.

FreeHand 10
cost: $399.
Pros: The Macromedia Common User Interface makes the program easy to use. Cons: 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 Figure 1), you can now test the animations within FreeHand before exporting them, resulting in tremendous savings in time and frustration.

Illustration Tools

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.

Publishing Enhancements

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.

Overall Assessment

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

Copyright © 2003 CMP Media LLC