software reviews

Adobe Illustrator CS3

Adobe’s new version of Illustrator CS3 (13.0, if you are counting) has a few new features; however these features make a major impact in certain areas. In this review, I’ll highlight some of the features to hopefully help you answer the question: “Why should I upgrade to CS3?”

Before we get into the new features, I want to mention a few items.

Adobe continues their commitment to standardize the program interface across the entire CS3 family to aid users. Now it is easier than ever to switch from one CS3 program to another, but still maintain the consistent look of the interface. This is very helpful when bouncing back and forth between two or more CS3 programs.

Palettes are now panels? Like its other CS3 compadres, Illustrator now sports panels instead of palettes. These panels are neatly dockable, stackable, and can be minimized to give you more virtual real estate on the screen.

Once again the folks at Adobe have succeeded in making Illustrator perform even faster. You can now transform objects, scroll, zoom, pan and scale even faster than before. The enhancements to speed come in handy when you are working on a complex project. You don’t have to spend time waiting for Illustrator to “catch up”.

Some of the New Features:

Integration with Flash – I want to mention this new feature first, since it is near and dear to my heart, since I work with Flash occasionally. You can now export multi-layered Illustrator drawings directly into Flash. This is very handy. However, probably my favorite part of the new enhancement related to Flash is that you can access symbol options in Illustrator CS3 for objects you intend to import into Flash. You can define a movie clip or graphic symbol and assign a registration location in Flash. This saves time.

Previously, you could create symbols in Illustrator, but it took a few steps. You would then have to import it into Flash and define the object further. You can now import AI files into Flash CS3, as well as, or copy and paste artwork from Illustrator to Flash. Importing the artwork into Flash is great because when you import, you can still maintain the paths, anchor points, gradients, clipping masks, and symbols. Another cool thing is that when importing layers, groups, and object names are also preserved. No need to rename them in your Flash library.

Another Flash-related enhancement is that Illustrator comes with a Flash text-handling dialog box. Like you Flash, you can define text blocks in Illustrator as Static, Dynamic, or Input. You can also assign the anti-aliasing (readability, animation or custom) to the text. Dynamic text can even be tagged for selectable, boxed or it can be linked to a website address.

Document Profiles This is an example of an idea Illustrator has possibly borrowed from Flash and Dreamweaver. In both of those programs, you can start out with a profile or template to begin your creation. These profiles have pre-defined settings specific to certain format. In Illustrator, you can now create new documents by selecting default profiles to suit your different media format needs. These new profiles enable you to set up parameters including dimensions, styles, color spaces and so on. This is another example of a time-saving enhancement to get you up and running quickly on new documents.

Live Color – This new feature is much touted by Adobe and pretty difficult to find. Don’t try to find it in a panel, palette, tool or menu item. It’s not there. You will only find it in one dialog box named, Live Color in Illustrator CS3. This feature is actually a single dialog box that contains two functions: editing color and assigning color. In the Live Color window, all the colors you use are charted on a color wheel. You can change a single color or all of the colors as a group. Now, you can more easily manage your colors and color relationships by creating a Swatch Group which groups swatch colors.

The new Color Guide panel enables you to choose tints, shades, or color combinations, which you can save as Color groups in the Swatches panel. You can also test and contrast different color schemes as well. This feature, alone, is enough reason to upgrade from a previous version of Illustrator!

Review the dialog box carefully! There are several different settings, menus and options. Don’t be afraid to review Illustrator Help for more information.

Isolation mode We know that selection is king. How much time have you spent trying to select and edit individual objects within a group, without damaging the other parts of the artwork? It reminds me of playing the “Operation” game, where you try to remove the “bones” without the buzzer going off. Now, Illustrator has Isolation mode to help you solve the selection and editing frustration. This new enhancement enables you to easily select difficult to reach objects without having to restack, lock, or hide layers. Isolation mode also comes with intuitive visual indicators for users like me. It is definitely easier to select objects with this new feature.

Eraser tool Made an error? The new Eraser tool has got you covered. This enhancement is an example of another feature that Illustrator has “borrowed” from its cousin, Photoshop. This tool enables you to quickly modify your objects or create new shapes by deleting pixels, as easily as you would you a brush tool. With the brush tool in mind, all of the erasures maintain a smooth line. Wacom tablet users will notice that this new tool is also pressure-sensitive (like a brush).

Crop Area tool Cropping rectangular areas is made easier by the new Crop area tool. You can also define multiple crop areas and easily move them around. You can choose from multiple formats with several different options.

Align panel You can now the Align panel to align anchor points just like other objects. Another new feature on the panel is a new toggle button that enables you to align to your artboard, or currently selected crop area. You can align clipping masks with this tool, as well.

Control panel The Control panel is a context-sensitive tool which enables you to access other tools more easily. You can now quickly reach selection tools, clipping masks, and more. You can now align and distribute points as you would objects. The Direct Selection tool is also easy use. It is more accurate and also highlights nodes as you hover over them. This makes selection much easier.


Before you run out and order that copy of Illustrator CS3, check under the hood and be sure your PC or Mac will support it adequately. Here are the specs:

  • Intel® Pentium® 4, Intel Centrino®, Intel Xeon®, or Intel Core™ Solo/Duo (or compatible) processor
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista™ Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise (certified for 32-bit editions)
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • *Note that none of the CS3 applications are 64-bit. Mac OS X
  • PowerPC® G4 or G5 or Intel processor (single or multicore)
  • Mac OS X v.10.4.8
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • 2.5GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Tested Specifications Illustrator CS3 was tested on a Dell Precision 490 Intel Xeon CPU (2Ghz) with 2GB of RAM running Windows XP Pro.

    Although I did not test on systems with multiple processors, Adobe states that through the multi-threading enhancements, systems with multiple processors benefit from increased speed as well.

    Reviewed By: Loren Elks
    Windows XP