Review: FreeHand 10
Developer: Macromedia (product page)
Price: $399; $129 upgrade
Requirements: PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.6, 40 MB available RAM, 70 MB available disk space
Recommended: PostScript Level 2-compatible printer
Trial: Feature-limited (no saving, printing, exporting, or copying to clipboard)
Software is a very tricky business. Sometimes a successful software product simply borrows on a company reputation rather than being the better product; other times a piece of software takes time to be recognized for the pioneer it is. The latter certainly applies to Macromedia’s FreeHand, a true gem that should and probably will dominate vector illustration just as Adobe’s Photoshop reigns over the image editing market.
Reflecting on FreeHand’s history (when Aldus was still responsible for it) I still remember how stuck it seemed on version 3. Sure, the software had fans, but it seemed like Adobe’s Illustrator was always ahead in features. The FreeHand cult was somehow as ashamed of admitting using FreeHand over Illustrator as Mac users were of admitting using Macs in pre-PowerPC days (obviously not because of using an inferior product but because the majority said differently).
With the release of Macromedia FreeHand 10, however, the tables have turned and FreeHand is now way ahead in the game. The program has become so much more powerful with its unparalleled Web integration, great editing capabilities, Flash power, and amazing multi-publishing. Just imagine that while FreeHand is introducing master pages, 3D perspective grids, and animation, Illustrator is still struggling with no multiple page option. How about transparency and gradients that actually print seamlessly? Or opening a page with images without the need to have a cup of coffee in the meantime? In fact, FreeHand has outgrown its category so much that it would be unfair to compare it to Illustrator, or for that matter any other product.
Who is FreeHand 10 for?
- Professional Designers, Illustrators, and Printers
- Multi-Publishing Professionals (Web, multimedia, etc.)
- Cartographers / Desktop Mapping
“Macromedia FreeHand 10 simplifies the lives of graphics professionals through tight integration with Macromedia Flash 5, new creative drawing tools, and advanced features for print and Web professionals,” said Keith Hutchinson, product manager, Macromedia. “This is the perfect tool to transition traditional printers to the Web and offer advanced illustration solutions for Macromedia Flash users. We see our beta customers already decreasing costs because of the multi-publishing capabilities of FreeHand 10.”
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Some of the new features in FreeHand 10 follow.
Mac OS X Compatibility (via Carbonization): Not really a feature but worth a mention. If anything it shows Macromedia’s dedication to the Mac community. Kudos.
Navigation Panel: Using the Navigation panel, you can assign URL links to objects or create notes that export with your document. You can also assign Flash actions to FreeHand objects, to create interactive Flash movies that you can export as SWF files. For more information, see Adding names and notes to objects, Attaching URLs to objects and text, and Assigning Flash actions.
True Contour Gradients: With the Contour Gradient feature on the Fill inspector’s Gradient panel, you can now blend color in two dimensions (both horizontally and vertically).
New Symbol-Based Brush and Spray Strokes: Using the Brush Stroke feature, you can now create a graphic element, save it as a symbol, then use it as a brush stroke to stretch, repeat, or stack multiple times along the length of a path. Using this feature reduces file size and eliminates excessive redraw time.
Smart Cursors for Automatic Joints: FreeHand 10 makes the Pen tool easier to use by adding additional smart cursors. As you move the Pen tool, the cursor changes to show what action will happen if you click at the Pen’s location.
Common GUI: The FreeHand interface now looks, feels, and behaves like other Macromedia products such as Macromedia Flash and Fireworks. Consistent elements such as standard shortcuts and toolbars, and customizable features make it easy for novices and experienced users to move between products.
Master Pages: Master pages are special nonpasteboard pages that can contain any object or graphic symbol that ordinary pages can contain except for page numbers. They provide a method of easily creating objects and setting page attributes shared by a range of pages in a document. You can change a master page at any time, and the changes you make are reflected in each child page. Master pages are saved with the document and can be imported or exported as library items.
New Formats: These include Industry-standard IPTC header file support for cataloging information; improved SWF export for preserving backgrounds when testing animations within FreeHand; Macromedia Flash Navigation panel for applying Macromedia Flash Actions; Web URLs; and new Web page sizes.
Improved Print Area Control: In FreeHand 10 you can define a print area within the workspace to send to your printer. You can resize or delete the new print area, which is treated as part of your document’s attributes.
Enhanced Tools Panel: The Subselect and Hand tools are now available on the Tools panel. The icons for the Freeform, Zoom, and Line tools have changed to match those in Fireworks. For more information on these and other tools, see the FreeHand basics overview.
Editing Symbols: When you edit a symbol, FreeHand updates all instances of that symbol within your document. This functionality is particularly useful for graphics that need to be updated often.
File Info Dialog Box: The File Info dialog box lets you enter optional information such as dates, file names, captions, headline slugs, author/photographer names, and copyright information.
Unsaved Document Indicator: In FreeHand 10, you can track the revision of your working documents. When a document needs to be saved, an asterisk (*) appears at the end of the file name in the document title bar (similar to Dreamweaver and Fireworks 4). For more information on the unsaved document indicator, see The Document window.
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Summing everything up, FreeHand might slightly fall victim to its own glory in that the numerous options available to users might become overwhelming at times (especially for beginners). An anti-aliased view mode (not just text) would also be a nice addition. Nonetheless, FreeHand is in a class of its own and yes, for Illustrator the race is over. If you can afford it, buy it.