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Adobe Illustrator CS4

Mulitple Artboards / Painterly Blob Brush / Many Tweaks

with Tutorial Recommendations / / peachpit press


adobe Illustrator cs4 box shot


Eden Maxwell


It's 2010 and we still don't have flying cars making that commute a breeze. What we do have is this: Adobe Illustrator CS4 continues its well-earned reign as the premiere vector–based drawing program for millions of illustrators, graphic designers, and artists. Clearly, Adobe has been listening to its user base as this upgrade adds powerful features and enhancements to an already excellent and stable program.

Here’s a selected A-list of what’s new and improved.


AICS4 now offers the same consistent well-integrated interface shared by its Creative Suite 4 counterparts; more than cosmetic, the overall common graphic user interface (GUI) makes working across applications familiar, pretty much seamless, and consequently more efficient.

Mac OS users will immediately discover the default Application frame, a feature new to AICS4 that integrates onscreen Illustrator elements into a cohesive container that includes: tabbed documents, the Application bar, Control panel, and other panels, too. Window users are already familiar with this holistic arrangement.

You can dock document windows as tabs within one window or let them float freely as in previous versions. Mac users can revert to the legacy look by switching off the Application frame—an option not available with Windows. Mac users turning off Application frame (it does neuter the Exposé function) can still benefit from tabbed documents by selecting this option in preferences: user interface > open documents as tabs.

By hiding potential Desktop distractions, the Application frame nicely displays your artwork against a tidy neutral gray background. Another benefit of working within Application frame is that in Normal Screen mode, when you hide or show panels—or collapse or expand the panel docks, the viewing area for your document automatically resizes.

The Spring-loaded panels enhancement (a similar feature of Mac OS on Desktop folders) is also among the AICS4 user interface feature set. You can access panels and options more efficiently and quickly, as panels dynamically expand when you drag and hover an object or effect on top of a receptive panel icon—on the Mac, dragging and holding down the control key and mouse invokes the spring action on the panel.


Illustrator users have been requesting a multiple page option for years. The Adobe Illustrator design team has finally answered the call with the new Artboard tool, which is well executed from the get go. The artboard defines the printable area of the document containing the artwork. Documents can now have one or more movable artboards on the Illustrator canvas—the larger screen area that contains the artboards. By clicking and dragging with the Artboard tool you can add more artboards of different sizes if you like to your document; you can also change the orientation of your artboards, move them around, scale them independently of one another and resize them on the fly within the same document. 

While you can in essence define multipage documents with varying page sizes, within your document, you can’t, however, number artboards or caption them like pages as you can with InDesign. Remember, Adobe calls them artboards, not pages. Given this conceit, multiple artboards will not be invading InDesign’s desktop publishing turf where document pages are linked to master pages of the same size. Still, the multiple artboards function is a major and powerful improvement, and for many, the reason to upgrade.

With the flexibility of multiple artboards, you could design a series of related projects within the same document—for example, a business card, poster, stationery, a tee shirt, and a brochure on separate artboards. Any colors or graphic, paragraph, or character style definitions that you create for one artboard will be available for all the other artboards in the same file.

You could also define a single set of global document settings (such as color mode and resolution, which apply across all artboards in the document) and then print them out as a multipage PDF file, graphics for a Web page, or components of a package design theme. You can also place multipage documents into Photoshop, InDesign, or Flash.


Painters and others who enjoy the freedom of working with a paintbrush will love the liberating feel of the AICS4 Blob Brush tool—which brings a welcome sense of expression and soul into Illustrator’s precision tool set. At first glance, the Blob Brush seems similar to the Calligraphic brush, which draws a path with your selected stroke. Digging deeper, however, we see the difference and elegant beauty of this new tool, which neatly combines a number of steps into one fluid stroke that both enhance and complement the intuitive gesture—sometimes, instead of perfectly aligned artwork or excessive detail, a loose interpretation works best.

As you draw, the Blob Brush automatically expands your brush strokes into a filled path; next, it dynamically combines your strokes with underlying objects of the same color into a single shape—which is, after all, composed of easy-to-edit anchors, paths, and fills; this means that you can also use the Blob Brush to alter the shape of like-colored core primitive objects: circles, rectangles, and type outlines. Note that it is your stroke color that determines which objects your brush strokes meld with, enabling you to perform edits on one shade of color without affecting objects of different colors. Since the Blob Brush only melds with like colors, you don’t have to bother locking and unlocking overlapping objects in complex illustrations.

Prior to the Blob Brush, if you wanted to create a similar effect working with one of Illustrator’s artistic brushes, you’d have to expand the appearance of the stroke, or vector path, and then invoke the Pathfinder Unite function to combine your various underlying strokes into one editable shape. The Blob brush now handles all these steps for you in the background, letting you focus on the art at hand.

The expanded paths that you create with your Blob strokes can easily be adjusted or modified with the Eraser tool—or, even better, if you have a Wacom tablet, you can save a trip to the toolbox by using the eraser tip of your Wacom pen for great results. In fact, you get the most expression and control from the Blob Brush by using a tablet such as the superb Wacom Intuos 4 that takes advantage of the Blob Brush’s stroke settings option for pressure sensitivity.  

You can also add graphic styles to strokes created with the Blob Brush by, for example, selecting Additive for Blub Brush from the graphic styles library.


Adobe Flash Professional users who are already familiar with isolating groups and symbols for easy editing will immediately recognize AICS4’s foray into the same territory with the new Isolation Mode feature, which performs pretty much the same the function. 

In the past, especially if you’ve worked on a complex illustration, your Illustrator document was overrun with paths that you diligently grouped together as objects, and even nested groups (groups within groups) for better organization; you then also discovered that editing or adding elements within these groups was a pain—Group, Ungroup. You also learned that having many groups meant selecting a particular path or object amid overlapping paths could be extremely time consuming and tedious—even when you used the Group Selection tool.

Mercifully, AICS4 puts an end to this tedium with Isolation Mode—a new capability for accessing groups, even deeply buried groups, for easy editing and adding objects, and no more drilling down in the Layer panel—which could feel like Journey to the Center of the Earth. In Isolation Mode, you can add new art to a particular place in the stacking order of the group without having to rely on menu commands for arranging and pasting in front or back. With a group isolated, you are prevented from accidentally editing other elements on the page; you can, of course, select any element within the group the way you normally would using the various selection tools. 

Visual cues let you know that you’re in Isolation Mode: a gray bar appears across the top of the document window and all other artwork on the artboard is dimmed in the background. The Layers panel shows only the selected object or path in Isolation Mode. Now, new artwork is drawn only into the isolated group.

In Isolation Mode, you’ll find a “breadcrumbs” trail beneath the Illustrator tab bar. Breadcrumb navigation is a powerful feature that not only shows you the levels of nested groups that an isolated object lives in, but now allows you to click on each breadcrumb to navigate back through your groups, isolating each on the way.

With Isolation Mode, you now have a method for making quick edits in complex documents; since, for example, you no longer have to invoke Ungroup to add a design element to that group, design elements previously applied to that group are preserved. Isolation Mode is also very handy when applied to working with clipping paths, its mask and contents, and Live Paint groups.


Gradients transform flat solid colors in art into areas of depth, dimension, and interest. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to predict how variations of the gradient will look on a particular object; finding out involves experimentation until the right look has been achieved. In previous versions of Illustrator, you applied a gradient with the Gradient Tool, and then to edit that gradient you had to modify it from within the Gradient panel.

It would more efficient if we could edit gradient colors directly on the object via interactive on-object controls. To that end, AICS4 introduces significant enhancements that continue to streamline the gradient-making process. When you click on a gradient fill with the Gradient Tool, a widget (officially called the gradient annotator) appears and displays a fill path that shows the start and end points of the gradient; this new on-object feature allows you to interactively modify the gradient in-context directly on the artboard without that side trip to the Gradient panel.

From the widget, you can also do the following: access a temporary color panel, edit the spread of any color in a gradient, modify a radial gradient from circular to elliptical—and back again—and even change opacity down to 100 percent transparent. Illustrator users have been clamoring for a transparency feature in gradients for years. In fact, transparent gradients are easier to edit, too. You can use the widget to click on a gradient stop, set the color, and then set distinct transparency settings for different gradient swatches. 

You can also begin or end a gradient anywhere, even outside the boundaries of the selected object. By selecting multiple objects, you can apply a single gradient across the entire range using the Gradient tool. Dare I say it? Way cool!

Most of the Gradient controls are now conveniently available via the widget that appears directly on your selected object. You can now see what’s happening live, right on your object as you, for example, add colors, change angle, and shift gradient stops. There are, however, several options that still require the Gradient panel, such as automatically reversing the order of the gradient colors.


Some of the deepest capabilities of Illustrator are now more accessible and easier to use. Innovative Smart Guides and new panel behaviors enable and encourage smoother workflows.

Smart Guides are nonprinting labels or lines that temporarily appear onscreen when you create, move, duplicate, or transform an object. You can also use Smart Guides when repositioning an artboard in your document.

In AICS4, Smart Guides are much smarter, unobtrusive, and easier to use than before. In previous versions, construction guides were pushy, as they would draw across your entire screen real estate, which could be both annoying and confusing, especially in more complex illustrations. Smart Guides now behave well, remaining localized near the area and object in context. You can, of course, toggle Smart Guides on or off, including an array of options in the preferences dialog box.

Both intuitive and informative, Smart Guides include other new behaviors: alignment to guides or other objects on the artboard rather than to the cursor; when you move objects, you get immediate feedback with on-object readouts that display x and y coordinates, which is helpful in accurate positioning for those so inclined; and that’s not all—you also get the angle readout when you rotate objects.


The Graphic Styles panel is now also more intuitive and useful. A graphic style is a saved collection of appearance attributes that you can apply to objects, groups, layers, and text. Since these attributes can be applied to an object, you can also save them as graphic styles and then easily reapply them. Appearance attributes include: fills and strokes, Stroke panel attributes, Transparency panel settings (opacity and blending mode), and special effects.

In the past, applying one style over an another meant that you replaced (not added) one style for another; you can now append additional styles to a particular setting, meaning that by building one attribute over another, you can construct a collective look with a combination of styles linked to an object. As you apply styles additively, you can preview the results on your selected object by control > clicking on that style in the Graphic Styles panel.


It’s often more expedient to create more complex objects from such primitive shapes as circles, rectangles, ellipses, and triangles. Made for this purpose is the Pathfinder panel, which offers a variety of multipurpose functions. You can combine shapes by creating non-overlapping paths or editable, flexible compound shapes from multiple selected objects; you can also split selected shapes apart. This is power.

One of the perks in this reworked vintage panel is a one-step default behavior in keeping with the workflow designers most often use. For example, with a simple click, the combine button function now creates one expanded object (which converts a compound shape into either a path or a compound path); in previous versions of Illustrator, clicking on the combine function would create a live behavior known as a compound shape; if you wanted this shape to be an expanded object, you would have to select the overall compound shape and then click on the Expand function.

Note: you can also access Pathfinder functions from the dropdown effects menu in the Appearance panel.


The Appearance panel displays your settings or attributes for a selected object group or layer. With AICS4, the already handy Appearance panel gets yet another timesaving and useful makeover—allowing you to stay more focused on your work.

In previous versions, to modify these attributes, you would have to leave the Appearance panel to make such changes—for example, wade through the Add New Effect menu. The improved Appearance panel now lets you experiment with your design by allowing you to alter your desired settings directly through the panel itself.

Additionally, not only can you use the Appearance panel to change the appearance of an attribute, you can also use it to modify the stacking order of those attributes. By dragging one attribute up or down in relation to another in the Appearance panel, you have the option of changing the stacking order to achieve the desired effect.

In the past, if you wanted to see how your artwork looked without an effect, you had to first delete the attribute from the Appearance panel, and then click undo if you wanted it back. Now you can see how things look with and without an effect by simply clicking the corresponding eye icon on or off.


Adobe Illustrator artwork headed for a commercial printer must for best results conform to industry-standard guidelines—and those of the printing house. To print color artwork on a printing press, the composite art is first separated into its component CMYK colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—including any spot colors used. Note: Isolating composite artwork into its component colors is called color separation.

To assure that your print delivery meets your expectations, and that of your clients, AICS4 introduces the Separations Preview panel; this print productivity feature is similar to but not quite as comprehensive (you can’t, for example and those so inclined, view ink coverage percentages) as the Separations panels found in InDesign and Acrobat.

Still, the Separations Preview panel is a big step toward visualizing, detecting, and avoiding costly color output issues. You can preview onscreen how the C, M, Y, and K color components in a CMYK document will separate to individual printing plates during the commercial printing process. You can, for example, use the panel to check that a color is properly set to knockout colors beneath it in the artwork, or to check whether a color is properly set to overprint on top of the other colors. You’ll find the Overprint fill and Overprint stroke options in the Attributes panel.

You can monitor the use of spot colors in the artwork and verify that any spot color is set to knockout colors beneath it. And you can detect whether a specific black is a rich black (a mixture of C, M, Y, and K inks) or a simple black comprised of only the K component. In commercial reproduction, spot colors nearly always require trapping because they are well-known and prone for causing knockout problems—and you want to avoid those unprofessional snafus: out of register-looking slivers and gaps between colors.

To help you with a head start for setting up your print job, AICS4 ships with a dedicated workspace called Printing and Proofing that includes a set of well-organized panels, including, of course, the Separations Preview panel.


Creating art with Illustrator is challenging, fun, and for professionals, a necessity—a way of life. With flexible multiple artboards, the painterly Blob Brush tool, intuitive Smart Guides, on-object tools, more intelligent panels, shortcuts, and hidden gems, AICS4 provides us with an extensive toolset for optimizing our creativity and productivity for use in the design content format needed: print, web, motion, and video projects.

Adobe has done its homework by enhancing, streamlining, and improving Illustrator CS4, making it faster, easier to use, and a substantial upgrade rated as A+, and well worth the coin.»


Adobe Systems, Inc.

Adobe Illustrator CS4

$599; upgrade, $199



Tutorial Recommendations

Illustrator tutorials


Adobe Illustrator is the indispensable vector drawing tool application used by artists around the world. Learning the program requires an ongoing commitment—and good help is where you find it. Read on and prosper.

With consistently high-end produced presentations, A-list instructors, and an extensive library of in-depth software courses, continues its mission as one of the best educational values in online-based tutorials. Sure, while reference how-to books for applications are a great resource, seeing how it’s done via video movies adds further depth and dimension as an invaluable teaching aid for visually grasping concepts.

Courses on are also a great value. For a low monthly or a cost-saving annual fee, you can have anytime access to hundreds of first-class self-paced trainings through your broadband connection. If you’d like to work along with the instructor, you will need to subscribe to one of the premium packages to access the training exercise files. Of course, if you like, you can still purchase many courses on DVD and CD-ROM.

Exercise files are copies of the identical files (documents, photos and so on) the author uses throughout the course. The files will help you make the most of your learning experience by providing you with the opportunity to open them in your own software and follow along with tutorials.

The training search feature is another useful tool. For example, you might recall instructor Deke McClelland pointing out a specific tip for Adobe Illustrator, but you don’t remember in what lesson, or where within that movie it appears. Instead of guessing and wading through the course, you can easily search through the training transcript by keywords, which brings up the transcript and all the movie lessons that include your keywords—from there you can go directly to the appropriate segment of the movie for that elusive tip—a real timesaver.

Assuming you are familiar with a previous release of Adobe Illustrator, I suggest that you get your feet wet with the following overview:

Illustrator CS4 New Features

Author: Mordy Golding

Duration: 01:06

In a concise, knowledgeable, and easygoing manner, Mordy demonstrates the most important and powerful new features that make Illustrator CS4 a significant upgrade—and he does all this in a surprisingly brief amount of time. The overview tour contains easy to understand onscreen examples that clearly show how these new features will save you time and greatly improve your workflow and productivity.

Mordy discusses multiple artboards (a feature users have been requesting for eons), the greatly enhanced Appearance panel, transparency in gradients, and the new tool on the block—the expressive Blob brush. He also covers interface cross continuity with other Adobe apps, the Separations preview panel, enhanced clipping masks, templates, and Illustrator’s integration with color themes available through the Kuler panel, which is now available directly from within Illustrator—previously you had to leave Illustrator and access the Kuler community for color inspiration with your browser.

Instructor Mordy even shows you how to proof your artwork so that your color selections convey information properly for viewers who are color-blind. Illustrator CS4 supports proofing for protanopia and deuteranopia, types of red-green color blindness.

An Adobe Certified Expert and Adobe Certified Print Specialist, Mordy Golding is also the author of several books, including Real World Illustrator CS4 from Peachpit Press. Note: Mordy’s training Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics on is also a winner.

Illustrator CS4 One-on-One: Fundamentals

Author: Deke McClelland

Duration: 16:48

Über Adobe Photoshop and InDesign raconteur, author and industry maven, Deke McClelland raises the bar again with his comprehensive, inclusive, entertaining, and inspiring Illustrator CS4 course. The query most often associated with Illustrator is: How do I do this or that? In his inimitable style, Deke reveals the application’s staggering array of features, how-tos, and tips (including color management, export, and print) you won’t likely find anytime soon on your own.

As Illustrator is not a linear program, in the sense that there are often multiple means of accomplishing the same task, Deke takes the time to show us alternative methods, and then suggesting the simplest and most productive solution.

With a balanced mix of incredible knowledge, wit, and humor, Deke presents a number of Illustrator art projects that he has developed for immersing us into a penetrating online ride toward understanding what makes Illustrator tick. Each lesson builds beautifully and sensibly from one to the next in a cohesive stream that reflects a well thought out training program.   

It should be noted that although there are numerous Adobe Illustrator experts, there are few teachers of Deke’s caliber who have the gift of engagement—meaning that he is speaking not at some general amorphous audience via this digital medium, but directly to you, One-on-One.

Adobe Illustrator is a complex vector–based drawing program with a deep learning curve that includes its core primitive drawing and shape tools, the transformation and reshaping features, text, and the mathematically elegant Pen tool. Fortunately for those of us motivated to learn and master the program, Deke helps us transform steep deep into mere ankle deep.

In addition to his online trainings, Deke is also the author of numerous books, including several fine titles under his own One-on-One Deke Press imprint with O’Reilly Media




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