Adobe’s new release of Creative Suite 5 is now available for preorder, and it’s got a lot of power under its hood. While CS4 was a decent step forward from CS3, I would recommend that CS5 is the step to make from CS3 if you decided to stay behind. Adobe has concentrated, with this release, on improving existing workflows, honing points of user difficulty, and rewriting underlying technologies to enhance them.
The big story for me is that Photoshop is now fully 64-bit compatible across all platforms, and, as such, is about ten times faster for some operations. I immediately saw a difference in my workflows; the app overall boots faster and operates more smoothly now that it’s addressing all of my processor power. Connectivity between applications is, in fact, much simpler than it has been before, and Adobe is building in connections via its new line of CS Live online services, most of which we began using in simple ways (such as Kuler, in CS4). Now there are new ways to facilitate document reviews via online sharing in Adobe CS Review and speed up proofing methods via Adobe BrowserLab.
This is an overview, so I’ll be concentrating on the major six apps used in print and online work: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and the Flash twins. The workflow and changes in the mix for video professionals are pretty magnificent, so I’m going to save that for an entirely different review. So, let’s start with the app that impressed me most with its real, functional changes for the better: Dreamweaver. Yes, I said Dreamweaver.
Dreamweaver is now much more flexible in its project setup and the way it handles dynamic sites. In previous versions of Dreamweaver, you had to know all of your project’s server settings to even begin a project. Now, not so much. This is a huge help in development—the web’s development process is very rarely linear in nature. You can now set up basic parts of your project and fill in the blanks later. So, for instance, if you don’t know what your staging server’s address actually is, you can work around that until you do know. Huge improvement.
Initial CSS page layouts are now much simpler. In previous versions, the code comments were presented primarily in the code as commented sections, which didn’t work so well for non-coding designers. Now, those pieces are also in the text. The selections themselves are also much easier to navigate and understand.
Another huge improvement is that Dreamweaver now works with PHP-based CMSes. Preprogrammed into the program are definitions for variables from Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. If those CMSes aren’t yours, you can, with the help of your developer, build definitions for your CMS of choice. If you’re working in this way, you can access the dynamically-related files associated with whatever element you’re designing. So, for instance, if you’re designing something that would be included in one of WP’s core files, you can see and filter by file type, via breadcrumb trail, where the file containing your selected element is located. If you need to edit that, you can, and easily, by way of a system of checkboxes to turn each element off and on, independent of each other element. This particular feature works really nicely in conjunction with live view, introduced in CS4—you can now see files as they are being used by the CMS. Live view also shows you dynamic files as they would be processed in a browser.
This version of Dreamweaver also allows you to inspect and debug your CSS iteratively. You can, for example, select an element in your design and see a flowed list of attributes applied to that element with the ability to turn each attribute off and on in the context of that particular element. This is a huge help in finding errant bits of CSS, and helps to stop round-tripping from Dreamweaver to browser as you check work.
The big improvements in Flash CS5 are in typography, animation, workflow, and access to files “post-authoring”—an opaque concept to non-programmers, but easily the most important part of this upgrade. Flash now has a brand new type engine that allows access and control over Open Type features and bidirectional language support. So you can finally access your typography the way you need to—ligatures, discretionary forms, Arabic and Hebrew scripts.
Flash’s coding language, Actionscript, is easier to access for non-coders. It’s not necessarily easier to use, but there are a ton of included code snippets for common things such as fades, page turns, and animation. If you’re a non-coder stuck in Flash for the first time, this will keep you from ripping your hair out.
Animation is enhanced with spring for its IK bones system, ostensibly for people writing animations or games. To the non-animator, it’s unimportant, but for the animator, it’s an introduction of real physics to create more fluid movement, resistance, and collisions—all integral parts of the animator’s toolbox.
But the big story for me is that Flash files are now XML-based packages rather than binaries. In the past, if you saved a Flash file, you were left with a single file and no way to access its contents unless you had Flash and a developer to match. Now with the rewritten file format, you are actually gathering resources into a folder and packaging them with an XML file describing the folder’s contents. This means that somewhere down the line, if you need to edit a single portion of the file, but don’t have access to the original author, you can control-click on the .fla file, select “show package contents”—just like you can with any Mac application—and see the included components. You can access the package’s components from within Flash as well, of course. This is an enormous change. Now Flash projects can live much longer than they used to by opening themselves to further editing ability, and they can be edited by more than one person at a time working on different components.
Adobe’s new baby this year is Flash Catalyst, which is essentially Flash for non-coders—those of us who simply need to work with rich imagery to create minimally-animated and interactive mini-sites on the fly. This is a direct response to folks needing to create movie sites and brochureware relying upon more imagery than interactivity, pre-visualization and storyboarding needs, and site-page flows. Think of it as “Flash shorthand.” The program was specifically created with the visual designer in mind, and there are familiar analogies, like pages and states, that we’ve all seen in our existing workflows from InDesign and Illustrator.
Catalyst is further integrated into Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop via roundtrip editing, which we are already used to using. (Roundtrip editing means we can select objects created in those programs, return to the original program, make changes, then return in to Flash catalyst with the object automatically updated.) Animation and video are also easy to incorporate. Selecting a beginning, select an end, and then create
a transition between them. Easy as that. Video is as easily dealt with as a placed photo.
To extend Flash Catalyst into Flash and Flash Builder (Flash’s sister program created specifically for coders and Actionscript professionals), Adobe has incorporated easy ways to connect Flash Catalyst projects with databases via easy mocking up. They call this “design time data”—data that’s accessed during time of design. Using design time data simulates what happens when your project is connected to a database to show results from interface elements. So, for example, if you’re doing something to show a list of search results designed into your interface, but you don’t know offhand what those might be, you can add dummy data to simply say “something will be here” and then continue designing without worrying about specifics.
Bridge/MiniBridgeAdobe has included what is called a MiniBridge in this edition of Creative Suite, and frankly, it finally makes Bridge make sense in apps such as InDesign and Photoshop. Bridge has always felt clunky and slow to me, because it makes me stop to let it open. MiniBridge corrects that by showing and allowing the more common Bridge tasks immediately inside the programs rather than stopping you.
For Creative Suite’s core apps—Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator—I would classify the CS5 upgrades as performance increases rather than major feature additions. Photoshop has some new things that I personally don’t think are necessary, but I can see how they could be to people with different workflows.
InDesign sports a number of new features we’ve been requesting for a long time, such as the ability to use multiple page sizes in a single document. So now, your cover with the half-page overfold doesn’t need to be two separate InDesign files. As we all know, we have too many files to work with already, so the less to lose, the better.
InDesign’s layers are now just like Illustrator and Photoshop!
There’s a great new tool called the “gap” tool, which lets you resize grids of objects by grabbing the spaces between them and changing those. Previously, the only way to edit a grid was to edit the position of each box independently, which is tedious to say the least. Now, you simply grab the space between the items and yank those around to size them properly. It sounds like a small performance upgrade, but frankly, it’s a huge timesaver.
And to continue blurring InDesign’s lines with the interactive world, you can now manage .flv and .mp3 files within InDesign for interactive presentations, and you can export .swf files to be used within Flash. I don’t know who exactly is making websites and animated pieces in InDesign, but I’m sure this will please them.
PDF files can now be exported in the background from InDesign—meaning you click “export to PDF,” then go about your business while it grinds away as you do other things in InDesign.
InDesign now has a change tracking feature similar to Word or Pages, and it’s great for editorial workflows which must be collapsed as our timeframes and publication dates grow smaller.
As stated earlier, Photoshop CS5 is now 64-bit, which means it starts and operates a lot faster on 64-bit machines. This means exactly nothing to the way you work, but it also means that the program now addresses all of your processor power, whereas before it only addressed half of it.
The program sports a lot of refined controls and commands, many of which have been revealed in Adobe’s own gee-whiz feature reveals. Most notably, the program now handles complex selections, like hair and fur, and you can pull a Soviet history move on pretty much anything in a photo, making it look like it was never there to begin with. The content-aware fill tool has been used in showcase examples to delete entire people from scenes, but to my mind, it feels kinda like a circus trick. The real usefulness comes in when you’re trying to take care of annoying mundane tasks like deleting wires and cords from photos to clean up the composition.
Complex selections are now a lot more intelligent, making it easier to delete backgrounds and isolate subjects onto a solid color. The selection tools have a lot more refinement built in than previous versions and can handle changing conditions of edges much more cleanly. So, for instance, your model standing against a wall with both light and dark areas, as well as not-so-crisp areas of clothing edges, can now be selected much more easily than before.
There’s an entire feature set now available for High Dynamic Range photo nuts. You can create actual HDR photos, or you can create photos that simply look like they’re HDR.
Photoshop now has a lot of new natural-media painting tools, which I’m not so sure about since I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Painter fan. You can use natural-media brushes over photography or on a blank canvas and let paints collide and mix, and therefore turn photographs into paintings in an expressive, realistic way. There’s a new HUD color picker that you can invoke without resorting to the color menus, which makes painting a lot faster when you can simply click a key, pick your color, then go back to painting. You can also change your brushes via a new HUD that allows you specify wet or dry bristles, a fan brush, and so on.
Another new tool is called Puppet Warp, which allows for smooth warping of existing pieces of photos by creating a bones system for the object, then bending it around. I suppose this could be considered a productivity tool if your photo editor is insane and wants you to move a model’s arm down by her side when it was originally sticking straight out. But it’s actually a neat little feature showing a lot of potential for expressiveness. One example we saw in Adobe’s reviewer workshop, a series of long-stemmed roses bent into letters, was quite pretty.
Photoshop’s raw image processing power has been enhanced quite a bit as well with new controls for non-destructively adding noise and vignettes. You can correct lens errors and aberrations much more easily than before, and can create custom lens profiles to save, thereby removing the need to re-do lens corrections all the time.
Adobe has extended its 3D capabilities with a new tool called Repoussé, named after a metalworking technique for embossing surfaces with dimensional imagery. Repoussé lets you add quickly-definable dimensional effects to flat objects. The 3D toolset is now enhanced for greater control of surfaces, textures, and lighting, and includes an improved raytracing engine. (These 3D capabilities are part of Photoshop Extended only.)
And lastly, there are lots of new workflow enhancements. The good ones are often the most simple, such as the ability to save presets for layer effects. Here’s an example: The default Photoshop layer drop shadow is much too dark and dense for me. Every time I make one, I immediately change the density to 40%, change the color to a darker version of the object’s color, and add a tiny bit of noise. Now I can save that as a preset once and never have to do it again. In other improvements, it’s now possible to use overl
ay guides to crop images and automatically apply the Rule of Thirds or show a grid to more properly compose crops. Also, there’s one-click image straightening. It’s easier to dismiss dialogs. You can close all files without saving in a single click, if you have a zillion images open and need to re-do your processing on all of them. It’s easier to create custom workspaces. On, and on.
Illustrator has significant performance enhancements as well. It now sports perspective guide creation to make drawing in perspective much easier, and in fact will allow you to select drawing along a particular plane in dimension—meaning you can concentrate on drawing, not on getting your perspective right.
There’s a new set of natural-media brushes, which adds to the existing painting capability by allowing you to create much more expressive, natural strokes on art that needs to be infinitely scalable.
A lot of user-requested performance enhancements are now in effect: You can control dashed lines so that they line up with corners, control arrowheads more precisely, create variable-width strokes, control how brush stroke stretch by defining “stretch zones,” control how brushes interact with corners, and so on.
Illustrator’s control for web-based designers has also gotten much easier by simplifying aligning items to a pixel grid, thereby giving us our hours back. Rather than showing a pixel preview and clicking things into place manually, you simply turn on your pixel preview, tell it to align to pixels, and done. Text anti-aliasing modes can now be set directly in Illustrator, which removes another annoying, unnecessary roundtrip to Photoshop I’ve needed to make for years. There’s also new support for nine-panel scaling, which means you can define objects that stretch the same way they are formed in the CSS box model on the web. Now, rather than creating a widget and pulling it into place manually with its headers, you create a widget, define its stretch zones, drop it into place, and stretch it as you need. So much easier, so much faster.
Drawing is also much more intuitive. You can now draw behind existing objects, thereby removing the stop-and-think moment of figuring out how far back you need to send something. You can draw directly into masks. You can control shape-making options much more intuitively than clicking every single shape option in the pathfinder dialog until you get it right. You can control your artboards much more fluidly.
So, after all that, my only negative point about this upgrade is my overall feeling about Adobe’s performance as a company responding to its customer’s needs. On one level, I like a lot of the new features, and they will actually save me time in the day-to-day workflow. On the other hand, I am still frustrated by its lack of consistency between interfaces, despite that being the primary point of CS4.
My favorite example of this incosistency is the InDesign text engine and text interface that is slowly making its way from app to app. This should be uniform across all the applications, but Illustrator has different ways of selecting text from InDesign, while Photoshop’s methods are also completely different, and now we have a fourth way of accessing features within Flash—and Flash Catalyst doesn’t even have the new text engine yet. It gives me the overall impression that I’m being made to work in ways that are a direct response to Adobe’s internal culture rather than what’s actually easiest for design professionals.
(Edit: Flash Catalyst does have the new text engine as does Flash Pro. Apologies for that mistake; I had some incorrect notes saying that Flash Catalyst’s codebase was approved before the new text engine was completed.)
So. Is it worth it? Yes, but not because of the new features. Yes, for the added performance and speed. I’ve been using this in a production environment for a couple of months now, and my workflows have become shorter and more efficient; it is much easier to work between applications and without pauses. In that respect, think of this as Adobe’s response to Apple’s Snow Leopard release—tons of performance enhancements and simplifications packed into a release that seems less feature-rich, but is turns out to be a huge timesaver.
Patric King is owner and principal at House of Pretty, Ltd. in Chicago. He designs for both print and the web, most recently for Movieline, 2wice, and POV. You can follow his personal Twitter feed here (not work-safe, no intention of being so) or House of Pretty’s strictly design-related (work-safe) Twitter feed here.
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