Feb 2, 2008

Switching from FreeHand to Illustrator

Poster art for Adobe.

Well it's been just over a year since I switched to Illustrator. You can read all about the real-world design project (shown above) that led to my switch and the back story of the move from Macromedia FreeHand to Adobe Illustrator here.

My first official design job from beginning to end in Adobe Illustrator was the above poster design. I've given myself a year to get use to Illustrators methods and functionality. You can see my entire process of creating the art above and my struggles to use illustrator for the first time beginning to end on this project via a free tutorial on my other site IllustrationClass.com.

I've noticed a few nick-names former FreeHand users have given Illustrator since switching and all prove to be accurate ironically enough. Here are some I've heard. (Feel free to share more in your comments below)

- Frustrator
- Castrator
- ill-luckstrator
- #$@!strator

See a trend developing?

Bubbling ideas. Or as I like to call it, "Slow Boiling."

I've had a lot of FreeHand users contact me about switching. So I decided to share a few plugins for AI that I use which helps building vectors go a lot smoother and faster in Illustrator. It is kind of sad that these tools exist if you think about it. If an application was adequate why would anyone be motivated to create essentially the same type of tools that already exist in the app for the most part? It's because Adobes are found wanting pure and simple.

Plugins I suggest for Illustrator
- XtreamPath: These tools work better then Adobes own tools which says a lot about Adobes lack of progression with their base tool set and improving upon it. They simply never do and it shows. These tools speed up my build times greatly so it was well worth the price.

- Point Control: Adobe promised with CS3 that point control would be added and improved. At best it's still hinky and clunky. This plugin works great and I use it all the time and avoid Illustrators lame and lacking point control tools.

- Better Handles: Another excellent plugin for Illustrator. The whole idea of point control is what this plugin does so well and makes so easy. Sad that Adobe refuses to realize how wanting their core tools are to the point (Pardon the pun) that it's inspired other software developers to step in and make them work the way they should. Well done Nineblock Software.

A replacement for "Collect For Output"
- Art Files: In FreeHand it was easy to gather content for final production you simply used the "Collect For Output" feature and it would gather everything into one folder. I still can't believe Adobe doesn't have this simple feature in it's app? That is just stupid. But thankfully a company offers a great little app called "Art Files" and it works the same way. Sure it'll take longer just because it's not integrated into Illustrator but hey everything will take longer now that you're using Illustrator so stop whining. (Sorry, kind of reflected Adobes attitude towards FreeHand users there)

Setting up Custom Keyboard Shortcuts to Mimic FreeHand Functions.
I have set up a bunch of my own custom keyboard commands to make building go faster in Illustrator. Below is a list of the ones I personally use. This makes running the function one key press rather then a combination of keys. It also helps me do what I did in FreeHand even though Illustrator wasn't set up to do it that way.

F1: Paste Inside (Have both mask shape and content selected)
F2: Cut Contents
F3: Clone (An action Copies, and Pastes in place))
F4: Send to Back
F5: Bring to Front
F6: UnGroup
F7: Fix Compound Paths
F8: De-Select All

All of these plugins and custom keyboard shortcuts are merely workarounds for a poor user experience in Illustrator. Of course Adobe fan boys will now feel obligated to post but frankly they don't know any better. Sure they are use to it and don't see it as a problem then again they have nothing to compare it too either. Kind of frog in the kettle if you will.

Bottom line Adobe has neglected Illustrator over time, they continue to stuff it full of new feature bloat which makes Adobe marketing weasels hot and bothered and tool hacks excited but does nothing for professionals who don't rely on pull down menus to achieve their design and or illustration. Adobe continues to develop new tools at the expense of improving existing tools and methods. Simply put there is no balance.

Will they improve the base building of vector shapes? I doubt it so it's my hope that another company will create a better drawing application and thus encourage Adobe to do what they should. My vote is Apple, but I know I am dreaming.


Kemie said...

As a former freehand user, i also get extremely frusted with illustrator's point and curve control. I found the Better Handles plugin (http://www.nineblock.com/products.html ) invaluable. It makes the beahvior much more like freehand's and in some ways better!

I. said...

For those of us who aren't longstanding professionals, the question of which vector drawing application we prefer reminds me of an old Mad Magazine bit by Frank Jacobs, about how your old man checks prices, kicks tires, reads Consumer Reports, then buys a Buick because his dad drove a Buick. Know why I like Illustrator? 'Cuz it's what I have, and what I learned on.

I'm open to learning, though. Some of those plug-ins are interesting. And I don't even know what "Paste Inside" means! What does it mean?

Vonster said...

If you use "Masking" in Illustrator it's the same type of deal but it was just done far better in FreeHand. Like I said in my tutorial on my other site. Illustrator users will never really know because they've never used it so they don't know any better. But us former FreeHand users do and that is why it's so hard to accept tools and functions that are less intuitive and easy to use.

The fact secondary software companies thrive on creating plugins that enhance core tools is testament to this fact.

Carson said...

Oh YEAH !!11!1??

Illustrator can do Lens Flares and has lots and lots (and lots) of Filters and Effects that FreeHand doesn't.

Some people debate that Illustrator and FreeHand are just vector illustration tools utilizing anchor points and paths, with the ability to change the attributes of these vector object's fills and strokes.

Strip away all those Fancy-Shmancy filters and effects from illustrator, and.. and.. and, well, I guess you have a poor useless vector based tool with crappy anchor point and handles controls, where you toggle between the Selection Tool, Direct Selection Tool (and Group Selection Tool) to manipulate the vector object itself. EGADS, and then you have to choose the correct part of the Pen tool to edit actual paths. Oh man, all this to create editable vector objects? FreeHand has a great intuitive selection tool that allows you tight controls when editing.

Um, in closing, illustrator is better than FreeHand because of the lens flare.

X _ X said...

Yeah... the flare tool... and the mesh tool... and layer handling... and opacity masks... and PDF output... and LiveTrace...

We could go on forever on this one guys, personally I'm done with it. This is AI, take it or leave it, and ask for improvements, but please save the sarcasms already... Adobe didn't kill FH, Macromedia let it die on its feet, Adobe just signed the death certificate.

GREAT artwork, tools aside. Great great great

Christopher said...

It would be great to see more fine node editing tools brought in to Illustrator. Even CorelDraw has better tools. But without any real competition in this arena, what will spur Adobe to innovate?

Thanks for the good read and great art, Vonster.

Tall, Blonde and Annoying said...

I found this blog post while Googling with the vague hope that I could find authoritative evidence that Freehand will, in fact, work just fine with OS 10.5 no matter what the technical briefing notes say on Apple's website.

I've got a gun at my head courtesy of our tech overlords, who plan to rip Freehand MX out of my machine in another two weeks. Time's ticking for me to convert 15 years' worth of Freehand files over so I can open them in Illustrator CS3. So far, my experience using Illustrator has been ... frustrating.

Despite the fact that Adobe is no longer developing Freehand, it's still a perfectly functional program, right? Agh. I'm on the Titanic, I just know it ...

Vonster said...

Tall Blonde,

I can say with all honesty I as in your exact boat. You are correct in that FreeHand was still a valid tool and I kept using it even after learning AI two years ago up until around October of '07.

I installed Leopard and FreeHand stopped working. I do have friends who use it on Leopard so it must have just been me? In any regard I went into panic mode but it took me a good three months to feel comfortable in AI.

FreeHand was a good creative app for a long time but I've embraced AI now. It is far better in so many ways but the one frustrating aspect that still has yet to be fully improved upon is the core basic building methods. They are just not as easy or intuitive as FreeHand.

Being on Adobes beta test team now for AI I have high hopes for Illustrator and take heart Tall Blonde you'll get use to it and actually enjoy it after the shock and pain of switching is over.

BTW: If you take native FreeHand file and just add ".eps" to the end of it and drag it onto CS3 you can open them up. A pane will come up asking you basic questions in order to covert properly too.


William Adams said...

If you still have a copy of FreeHand 10, it seems to work okay for basic drawing / graphics editing / updating in Leopard.

Vonster said...


FreeHand 10 is the worst of all versions. I never did get that app up and running. It worked so poorly back in the day that I for about a month ran a forum called www.freehandsucks.com which led to FreeHands top guy calling me, admitting there were serious issues and then inviting me to be on their beta test team.

The last version I used was a beta the public never saw and even that had serious issues.

I continued to use both FH and AI after I finished this posts project but when I upgraded to leopard in September of '07 FreeHand stopped working. So I cut the ties completely and it made life so much easier.

Sure there are issues with AI still but Adobe has been addressing them and I am now on their beta team for CS4 and believe me I've pointed out a ton of things and I have to give them credit they are listening to everyones comments.

So that said I suggest all of you who read this and still find AI lacking please do us all a favor and visit the Adobe web site and submit a feature request or just blog about your frustration, that's how I got invited to be on their beta team.


roesen said...

Hey Vonster, I want an update of your views now that Illustrator cs4 is up and running