Ten of the best Illustrator plug-ins

Ten of the best Illustrator plug-ins

There are plenty of plug-ins out there that are supposed to improve your workflow. Rob Carney puts a selection to the test.

While Illustrator doesn't have as many plug-ins as its raster brother Photoshop, developers take the application very seriously when it comes to building new tools,effects and workflow solutions.

Extending the abilities of Illustrator isn't usually necessary, but, as with Photoshop, plug-ins can save time and effort.These plug-ins won't cause a mini-revolution in your studio, but they will enable you to do certain tasks quicker.

01. Andrew's Vector Plug-ins Collection

The collection is a set of 40 or so plug-ins, plus hundreds of symbols, brushes, styles and patterns. Individual plug-ins include Zigzag, Warp, Lattice and Starburst - all doing exactly what you'd think. While the collection isn't going to win any awards for quality, the price isn't bad for the sheer volume of extras you get. And if you find a gem in there that suits your needs, it will be money well spent.

02. BetterHandles 1.2

Like Xtream Path, BetterHandles makes it easier to work with paths.You can extend or retract handles without changing their angles, edit point positions numerically, quickly reshape path segments and a lot more. It's not as comprehensive as CValley's plug-in, but at this price you wouldn't expect it to be. See if the demo improves your workflow.

03. CADtools 5

As the name suggests, CADtools adds CAD functionality to Illustrator.Very useful features include the ability to snap objects and project art onto isometric grids, which can save hours on its own. CADtools also adds many tools to the Illustrator toolbox. It's a well-thought-out plug-in that can boost efficiency dramatically. Download the free trial and see if it suits your needs, because it's not cheap.

04. FILTERiT 4.2

FILTERiT was the first Illustrator plug-in, and its 3D transform tools used to make it nigh-on essential for every user. Unfortunately Adobe has since built this kind of functionality into the application, and its Live Effects offer nothing that can't be done natively.

05. FoldUP!3D 1.1

This wonderful plug-in enables you to create packaging mock-ups and preview them in 3D right inside Illustrator. Simply create your template (or use one of the ones bundled), add the relevant cut and fold lines using the FoldUP! interface, then add your artwork. It will take a while to get used to the workflow. It's a great idea that's been executed brilliantly, but it's one of the most expensive Illustrator plug-ins around.

06. MultiPage 4

MultiPage is about as simple a plug-in as you'll find. But, as is often the case, this simplicity makes it very effective and very usable. MultiPage cleverly uses layers, in combination with its own palette, to set up the effect of having multi-page documents in Illustrator.You can even use master pages.The plug-in is handy for the occasional longer print job and very inexpensive. But if longer print jobs come your way more often, you might as well get your hands on InDesign.

07. Path Styler Pro 1.5

Bevels are the name of the game with this plug-in. While it's true that Path Styler Pro isn't likely to feature prominently in your day-to-day creative work, it does have its uses. It's handy for coming up with logo concepts, and will come in very useful if you ever have an interface to design. Easy to use and with a fluid interface of its own, it's an interesting if somewhat gimmicky addition to your arsenal.

08. Phantasm CS 2 Studio

A simple idea that bridges the gap between Illustrator and Photoshop by bringing the image-editing tools of Adobe's raster powerhouse to its vector-based sibling. Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation and more can be tweaked, with everything remaining editable and live. Some neat duotone and halftone tools are useful, and separations and overprint previews confirm this as a pro tool at a very un-pro price. Highly recommended.

09. SymmetryWorks 4

Textiles, greetings cards and other designs that require repeating patterns are much easier with SymmetryWorks. Simply set up the object to be repeated and use the intuitive palette to create 'replicas', which remain live so the pattern updates as you change the original. When a job requires a repeat pattern, it's a godsend, and good value.
$229 (download)

10. Xtream Path

A brilliant addition to Illustrator's path editing providing, among other things, the freedom to grab anywhere on a path and edit it from that position, rather than adding control points. It takes a while to get the hang of but soon becomes a very efficient way to construct artwork.The Symmetric Edit tool is beautiful and Smart Rounding is fantastic. A great suite of tools and excellent value.
$139 (download)

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