Computer ArtsFeature

Nine indispensable Illustrator plug-ins

In recent incarnations Illustrator has swallowed up many of the best third-party plug-in ideas. But there are still some that add an extra dimension to its powers - we take a look at nine of the best

Concatenate
Price Free
Compatibility CS3, CS4, CS5
Concatenate is a plug-in filter that connects multiple paths into one continuous path, similar to the Merge Path command when using the Blob Brush tool in Illustrator CS4 and CS5. However, Concatenate adds a few extra features including an 'assimilate' function, which scans a selected area or layer for unselected paths, and adds them to the merge. The 'connect' function then enables users to subsequently add lines or extra segments between open paths.

Phantasm CS Studio Ver. 2
Price £99
Compatibility CS3, CS4, CS5
Phantasm CS's appeal is in its simplicity. It effectively plugs a hole between Illustrator and Photoshop, adding familiar bitmap-editing functions and options to a vector workflow. Such tools include Curves, Hue and Saturation, Levels and even Automation functions for all of the above. All of the effects are non-destructive, and it also offers duotone and halftone options, an overprint preview and a separations option that adds some serious prepress weight to Illustrator's arsenal.

Artlandia SymmetryWorks LP
Price $364 (download only)
Compatibility Illustrator 10 to CS5
Artlandia's SymmetryWorks LP is a combination release of two plug-ins in one. SymmetryWorks is a gift for Illustrator users who create complex patterns. It lets users quickly generate repeating graphics using Illustrator's drawing tools, then apply transformations to 'grow' the pattern. Once they're complete, patterns can be saved as swatches. LivePresets then augments this process, enabling users to update and edit these pattern swatches and symbols through a 'live edit' function.

FoldUP!3D 1.5
Price $379
Compatibility CS onwards
If you're a packaging designer working in Illustrator, then there are few better plug-in options than FoldUP3D. Illustrator has 3D tools, of course, but FoldUP streamlines the process of creating extruded shapes via a range of pre-designed templates. These enable users to create a packaging design and preview it in 3D. It's just as efficient with bespoke designs too, where X, Y and Z axis lines can be applied to quickly create 3D previews.

Andrew's Vector Plug-ins - Volume 3 Gradients
Price Free
Compatibility CS3, CS4, CS5
Andrew's series for Illustrator is a vast horde of plug-ins covering all manner of creative outputs. Gradients in particular is good value and recommended. It enables users to quickly create 'live' gradient textures that can then have perspective, sharpen, soften, blur and recolour parameters applied to them. Using Illustrator's native Colour Settings dialog box, users are free to experiment with colour combinations quickly, without the need to permanently apply any pre-selected effects.

Select Menu Plugin Ver. 11
Price Free
Compatibility CS2, CS3 (PC); CS3, CS4, CS5 (Mac)
The addition of 18 extra objects to Illustrator may seem unnecessary, but this plug-in grants users access to guides, open paths, closed paths, unfilled paths, stroked paths, unstroked paths, dashed paths, undashed paths, compound paths, groups and more on a single object. It twins these with additional export options, which, while present in Illustrator natively, can be combined here for saving transparencies and flattening images quickly.

Graffix Path Area
Price Free download
Compatibility CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5
If you need to calculate the length or area of interlocking or singular Illustrator paths, there is an inbuilt option, but it involves accessing the debugging dialog box and scanning for the appropriate info. Graffix Path Area makes the process speedier. Users access it via the Filters menu, and it gives the length of a selected path, or area of conjoined paths and shapes, making precise calculations for printed graphics far snappier to retrieve.

EskoArtwork Data Exchange Plug-in
Price Free
Compatibility CS3, CS4, CS5
ArtiosCAD is a mainstay application in the packaging design industry, and this Illustrator plug-in acts as the perfect bridge. It enables users to open native ArtiosCAD files in Illustrator without the need to convert and flatten them, position them on the artboard and then apply swatches, objects and full Ai files upon the ArtiosCAD design. You can then manipulate guides and paths of the Illustrator artwork directly on the ArtiosCAD object.

FILTERiT 4.4
Price $129.99
Compatibility Illustrator 8, 9, 10, CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5
This classic suite of plug-ins has been updated in response to Adobe incorporating many of the original feature sets into CS4 and CS5. For earlier version users, the 3D Transform options are still a solid choice, but now all users can benefit from its Trace Options for quick animation work, and new Live Cut Out, Emboss, and Border features. Finally, a Live Circle feature enables users to quickly copy a single object into a circle pattern.

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