Illustrator Call to Duty

Freehand is dead. It’s a painful truth which has forced many of us illustrators to migrate to Adobe Illustrator to earn our living. Although I have acclimated pretty good, it hasn’t been the smoothest transition as many of my Twitter friends can attest. When I learned Freehand 13 years ago, I was surrounded by many other more experienced Freehand users who trained me in the efficient ways to draw, since our employee reviews were largely based on production.Flash forward to the present. I work alone at home, training myself and stumbling through the quirks of Illustrator. I know there are ways that Illustrator can be more efficient, and I know efficient ;). But when I verbally explain to friend or forum members how things can be improved in Illustrator, I usually get one or more of the following responses:

  • a blank stare
  • a rolling of the eyes
  • accusations that I just can’t let Freehand die, and that I should quit being a baby

The truth is, I want very badly to love Illustrator. I use it more hours than I see my own family each day.So, I’m going to start making Illustrator videos for the following reasons:

  • To share with Adobe Illustrator Developers when I make feature requests. A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • To share with friends, so either they stop rolling their eyes, or they can share a better way of doing things with me.
  • To share with everyone, so maybe someone else can learn either from my techniques, or my mistakes.

Let it be known that this will not be a Illustrator bashing session. I really want to learn the best way to do things, and I want Illustrator to step up. Adobe killed Freehand, it’s high time they brought back efficiency that they took away. It’s an Illustrator Call to Duty.

17 comments… add one

  • Looking forward to seeing the vids. I am prepping a blog post on this as well, from the perspective of an Illustrator-only user since version 8.

    Seeing the features you liked most about FreeHand, and what is missing in Illustrator I think will give other Illustrator users who haven’t used FreeHand some insight as to what is ‘missing’ and what could be better.

    A real key will be to band together and get a large group of digital artists asking for the exact same features. I am sure the feedback form is rarely used, and even a small group effort can produce change.

    While Adobe the company may be too big to reason with, the developers and project managers frequent the Adobe forums and are always open and receptive to users’ requests. The key is that only those features requested via the feedback form are considered, so message boards (even Adobe’s) and blog posts should only supplement these feature requests.

    From Vonster’s AI gripe list I already see some things that I wasn’t aware FreeHand did, and unfortunately the rest are longstanding gripes AI users have had for years.

    Thanks for putting these together, and looking forward to making some changes!

  • endekks

    I have been a FreeHand user since it was an Altsys product, so believe me when I tell you I can sympathise with the woes of migrating to AI.

    I only spend part of my time in vector drawing apps as of late (being a director means I spend more time directing, and less time producing) which means that the transition has been taking longer than I would like. And so far there are two main aspects which I dislike about AI at the moment…

    1) The way the selection tools work. I drastically preferred the selection methods in FH. And if you spent enough time in FH, you’ll know exactly what I mean. When I mention this to my friends who started in Illustrator, they know what I mean and say they think FH’s selection methods “suck”. Well that is exactly how I feel about AI’s. It’s a matter of preference from experience. And my experience is in FH.
    2) Zooming on items. I loved in FH how when you hit the Zoom In keboard command that it would zoom *and centre* on the object. Not only does it not work that way in AI, but there isn’t even an option to do this *at all* in AI. How has this never been addressed in all the years of AI development? That just floors me.

    There are other little things which nag at me from my years and years of experience drawing a certain way software-wise, so if something were done to help make things a bit easier for me it would make me actually enjoy the genuinely cool features AI has all that much more.

  • Sean

    Absolutely great! Please, PLEASE include mention of how Adobe’s products don’t include the same keystrokes amongst their own family. I hate that things, like Undo’s Ctrl Z, function differently betweeen AI & PS. I know that initial change will be hell & whining will rain down upon them, but in the end, isn’t a better user interface the best focus?

    Keep up the mission! I’m right there with you!

  • endekks –

    I know what you mean about selection. I think that one aspect of Illustrator is rather minor in inconvenience but it really adds up in the course of a workday. Long-time Illustrator users might prefer how Illustrator handles selection but it isn’t very efficient. Illustrator’s little quirks force you make an extra mouse click or two to accomplish the same task (or three or four when I can’t quick seem to click on the edge of an object … or five or six when the edge is hidden by a thick stroke.) Those extra clicks could easily be eliminated by the Illustrator development team by looking at how things operate in the program, how user use and intend to use the program and where operations could be streamlined. And why can’t they put in selecting an object by clicking on its drawn area rather than forcing you to hunt for the PostScript edge?

  • @Wes – you can in fact select an object by it’s fill – in the preferences for AI, under “Selection & Anchor Display” (CS3), deselect the “Object selection by path only” pref. You can do this in earlier versions as well, but it might be named/located somewhere different.

  • As an Illustrator user, I was always told the grass was greener on the Freehand side but I never knew the extent until now! Hopefully Adobe hears your comments and I can save a couple hundred hours of work. Thanks for your hard work!

  • Jay

    Where I work, we’re lucky enough to have an Adobe rep come to the office twice a year to answer questions and listen pitches on new versions of their software. I’m a die-hard Freehand user (and long-time Illustrator user) so every time he’s here, I go on and on about when are you going to add paste inside or simplify the arrow tool a la Freehand or “insert favorite Freehand feature here.” At first he laughed, but then got annoyed and frustrated (they know we’re right) as I ripped Illustrator apart while extolling the efficiencies and elegance of Freehand. At the end, the message I got was clear… “Shut-up, deal with it, we don’t care.”

    I can’t wait to annoy him again in a few months!

  • George-Thanks! That helps with some of my selection frustration.

  • Garrett

    I salute you and back you whole-heartedly in your quest. It’s sad that all of the 10+ years I’ve worked in Freehand are now worthless. Adobe has really screwed the design/advertising industry out of millions since killing my beloved app!

    What frustrates me are the endless “layers” you have to work with in AI. You can’t work freely on the artboard alone, you have to constantly manage your layers and name your layers to avoid an all-out cluster of a file. To really make matters worse, the layers panel does not even function the same as in Photoshop. I would think they could get their act together and have the entire CS3 work in a similar manner.

    Keep up the good work!

  • @Garrett –

    I am curious how Freehand managed layers (or the equivalent) as opposed to Illustrator. Perhaps I’ve just been conditioned from years of use, but I don’t really find the layers palette frustrating (usually). In fact, I find Photoshop’s layers way more unintuitive, but that could be because I spend more time in AI.

    I do agree that AI needs to implement the object selection methods from InDesign CS3 (command-click selects successive objects under the mouse pointer).

    And @endekks – check out the AI plugin ‘Zoom To Selection’ to zoom in/out on selected objects.

  • George:

    I, too, find the Illustrator layers palette frustrating. It’s just an overload of information. Freehand’s layer palette was far from perfect but it was functional. I find Illustrator’s layers palette to works fine if I never have to work down into the sublayers. If I do I’m lost in the thousands of listings with no way to figure what separates each sublayer from its neighbor.

    I think the idea of sublayers is interesting and probably works well with simpler files. I think for more complex files that Freehand’s Graphic Find & Replace would be an invaluable tool. It’s a much more powerful and easier way to interact with the individual pieces of a file.

    And then the drill-down selection — as in InDesign as you write — would be a great complement.

  • @ Wes:

    I’m not that bothered by Illustrator’s layers palette, but then again I have been using it for much longer than you guys. I think the trick is to build with the layers palette in mind – the endless sublayers effect you mention really only pops up when you expose sublayers for a layer that has *all* your objects.

    I normally build up an object composed of many layers, even for a single character (head, torso, arms, legs, background, shading, highlights, etc.) and especially for many objects/characters/elements. I rarely use the actual sublayers save for when I want to create a clipping mask for an object.

    Any time sublayers start getting out of hand, just group the object and it will collect them all into a group sublayer (which has it’s *own* sublayers!). Usually

    Personally I wish the layers had folders as they do in Photoshop. Sublayers are fine as well, but layer folders in addition would be better, even if it’s just a graphical change.

  • Vik

    This is just what I’ve been waiting for. Someone to explain in a simple manor how some things (not all) were a lot better in FreeHand. My new colleagues that only worked in illustrator before dosn’t understand. Now after 12 years with FreeHand I have to switch. These videos will help me tremendously.

    Thanks and keep it up!

  • Tony

    I’m currently doing a *very* simple bit of icon creation and I’m seriously thinking of working from home on my old copy of FH MX 2004, even though I’ve been using AI for 2 years.

    In the past Adobe have done a fantastic job of taking a good, but out the way product and making it better – like FrameMaker. What happened this time?

    Selection tool: Why would I want the selection tool and direct selection tool to do the same job when I click on the whole item?

    When I’ve selected an item, why can’t I just click on a point to edit that point, overriding the move command? I’ve watched a few training vids at and the pros are always ‘clicking away’ watch the AI training demos and see how they stumble and Ctrl-Z – I’ve just made Ctrl-D the deselect keystroke.

    Why can I not add a point to a path (or how do I)?

    Is there a way of changing a point from curve to corner to smooth?

    Why is “Path” not a menu option when you right click on a path?

    Why do I feel compelled to comment on a forum, rather than using AI and doing the work I’ve been asked to do?

  • The bleating and pleading continues:

    (This is what I sent out yesterday May 1st after receiving an AIGA Adobe User Group sneaky invitation for May 2nd!)

  • Selection tool: Why would I want the selection tool and direct selection tool to do the same job when I click on the whole item?

    — Direct selection tool allows you to select individual points. I believe you can turn off selecting object by the fill in the prefs. Regardless, when you select with the Selection tool, all points are selected; when you select with the direct selections tool, you can move the object, yet the individual points are not selected. This way, you can interact with the object and also tweak the points individually.

    When I’ve selected an item, why can’t I just click on a point to edit that point, overriding the move command? I’ve watched a few training vids at and the pros are always ‘clicking away’ watch the AI training demos and see how they stumble and Ctrl-Z – I’ve just made Ctrl-D the deselect keystroke.

    — This is what the direct selection tool is for.

    Why can I not add a point to a path (or how do I)?

    — The pen tool will have a small plus sign added to the cursor when over a selected path, you can add a point this way. Remove points similarly with the pen tool and the minus sign when over an existing point.

    Is there a way of changing a point from curve to corner to smooth?

    — Hold down the option key when using the pen tool to get the point convert tool; this can also be selected from the pen tool sub-tools flyout.

    Why is “Path” not a menu option when you right click on a path?

    — Not sure what you are trying to do here.

    While I agree with a good portion of Freehand to Illustrator gripes, a lot of what you bring up here seems more the result of not going through the manual throughly. Obviously, Illustrator is not the same software as Freehand, and there are going to be differences and similar tools and functions that are accessed/used differently. Much of what you bring up is covered in the Illustrator manual.

  • wgan

    Hi Garth, nice videos, i wonder which screen capture software you use, they look so slick like real time stuff.

Leave a Comment