05 December 2008

Getting Acquainted with Adobe CS4

psicon I’ve been getting to know Adobe CS4, particularly PhotoShop, InDesign and Illustrator. I have played around with some of the AV stuff, but those aren’t serious working tools for me; the publishing programs are. I have worked with previous versions of Photoshop, Illustrator and Pagemaker for a long time, but even with extensive experience with these programs, the learning curve is steep if you have skipped a few versions, like jumping from Photoshop 7 to CS4. I can’t imagine the difficulty a complete novice would have in taking on this software.

Of the three, I would say that Illustrator is the least changed of the three. It is enhanced, refined and improved. The integration with Photoshop is almost seamless. It was always apparent to me that Illustrator was really written for the Mac and porting it to Windows was an afterthought. It didn’t run well or display well on Windows boxes. It was fussy about using EPS files from other applications. Its implementation of PDF technology seemed uneven and somewhat crippled. These things have been addressed in Illustrator CS4. The display is beautiful. Illustrator now opens and edits PDF files better than Acrobat itself, just as if they were native Illustrator format. Illustrator CS4 does have more filters and effects than previous versions. It has PhotoShop’s filters and a whole bunch of its own. Illustrator CS4 is the most familiar of the three if you know previous versions. Mostly, it just works and displays better than the older versions. I really like it.

Photoshop CS4 is both familiar and changed. They have gone to an annoying fly-out docking menu system which is really not that bad, but it’s taking me a while to find things on it and get familiar with it. Layer handling is better than in older versions, especially in EPS files, but it will still flatten placed element layers when saving to EPS. Effects are better and they interact with each other better. You can get some nifty type effects by using their “styles” which are just combinations of layer effects. There is more integration with animation and 3-d programs. I want to get into that stuff more, but haven’t really had the occasion. Photoshop is still primarily a photograph processor for me rather than a draw program. The built-in support for digital-camera RAW files from Canon and Nikon is impressive. This is a real plus. Older versions back to at least v.6 would open Nikon NEF files, but the utility in PS CS4 imports and corrects the RAW files using the camera data. I really appreciate this capability in PS CS4, although I have Nikon software that does those things and does them really better.

Of the three, InDesign is the most changed. It is, of course, the slain and resurrected Pagemaker.  The instant you open InDesign, you see the Pagemaker interface. I have been running PageMaker since Aldus ported the first version to Windows back in the 80’s. Adobe bought PageMaker and brought out three decent versions of it, but then they let it die. Later they came out with “InDesign” which is nothing but Pagemaker rewired to be a Quark killer. It is as if they carefully took the best stuff from Quark and added it to Pagemaker, like the box system for placing graphics, collection for output and pre-flight, Photoshop filters and layer effects, color trapping and more. The result is kind of confusing because you now have both the Quark and the older Pagemaker systems for controlling graphics and type boxes. I always liked the old system of Pagemaker for positioning objects. It seemed more elegant and intuitive, but Quark was, in many ways, more powerful. One of the most useful features of Quark was its ability to save a page as an EPS file. This function allowed graphic artists to set up certain kind of things in Quark, save them to EPS and then manipulate them in Photoshop or draw programs. Guess what? InDesign now saves to EPS, JPG and some others. One odd thing that I noticed is that InDesign still does not have the complex gradient fills that Quark does.

Of my older versions of these programs, which will I get rid of? Probably, Photoshop 6 and Pagemaker 7 will stay, at least for now. Illustrator 7 will go. I see no reason to keep it. In time, I may let the older versions of PS and PM go by the wayside, but for now, they’re familiar old friends that I trust. I know exactly what I will get at print time when I use them and that is hard to turn loose of, even for the “latest and greatest.”

In terms of performance, you can feel the Adobe engineering as it takes advantage of the Core Duo Quad processor. Even large files, like 300 megabyte images (10’x10’ CMYK tiff at 100 dpi), are handled with ease. Rendering of 1 gigabyte video files by Premier CS4 is measured in seconds rather than quarter hours. CS4 has been completely stable on Windows XP Pro SP3, no lock-ups or other kinds of problems.

Overall, I’m impressed and not at all disappointed. Maybe in three or four years I’ll really have a handle on all the new features.

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Hillbilly said...

I have had a copy of CS2 sitting on my desk for about 2 months. I am afraid of it, but when I get going, I'm going to appreciate the advances.

And you are right. Trying to leap from PS7 is going to be tough.

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