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Adobe Illustrator CC 2013: hands-on review

Illustrator CC is only available via Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service - is it worth the paying monthly to get the update?

Our Verdict

This is a major upgrade to Illustrator, with some brilliant new features, in particular the Touch Type tool, which offers a whole new level of creativity with type, and the ability to paint with a brush made from a photo. If the subscription model doesn't put you off, this is a must-have upgrade for all designers, illustrators and other creatives.


  • The new Touch Type tool
  • Support for Retina
  • Export to CSS
  • Sync fonts and settings between desktop and laptop


  • Subscription model may not suit light users of Illustrator who are happy with an older version.

Illustrator moves to subscription-only - find out whether it is worth it or not

Illustrator moves to subscription-only - find out whether it is worth it or not

Existing Creative Cloud subscribers are getting a nice present from Adobe today as the all new CC editions of the tools, previously branded as Creative Suite, become available for download.

The latest versions of these applications are now only available through the subscription model, so to get Illustrator CC you'll have to pay a monthly fee and download the software, instead of buying a box off-the-shelf.

What's new?

Adobe has added a useful set of upgrades to the latest version of Illustrator including some all-new features, as well as improvements to existing functionality.

Users of computers with high-resolution displays, such as the Retina MacBook Pro, will love the HiDPI Support, which finally resolves some of the ugliness that the pre-Creative Cloud upgrade version of Illustrator suffered from.

Elsewhere, guides have been upgraded to be more responsive to your needs, including the ability to place a vertical and horizontal guide simultaneously, and all-new font and colour search options make it quicker and easier to find your choice of font or swatch than before.

And web-oriented designers are well catered for with CSS and SVG output which will make conversion of mockups to functioning web assets a much more streamlined process.

Extra goodies

There are numerous additional goodies that almost every design will benefit from, including the likes of the all-new touch-type tool, which allows you to manipulate individual characters within a text area, bitmaps-in-brushes for raster-based scatter, pattern and art brush effects.

There are also a useful set of productivity enhancements including an upgrade to the rendering engine for improved performance, the ability to place multiple files with a single command (much as you can in InDesign), and support for changing a text block between area and point type.

This latter feature is a small one, but a great example of a time-saver; previously you'd have needed the patience to either copy and paste your text between the two different types of text field, or the use of a script to achieve the same.

Best new features in Illustrator CC

01. HiDPI support

Illustrator CC: HiDPI support

As high-resolution displays have become more common, such as that found on the Retina MacBook Pro, many of Adobe's apps have looked blurry, with apparent loss of definition on text and artwork. This problem was partially fixed in Creative Cloud CS6 updates, but Adobe has applied improvements to support in CC, allowing text to look sharper and artwork to render with a smoother look. There have also been changes made in the rendering engine overall, allowing multi-core machines to flex their processing power, improving rendering speed when zooming and panning documents.

02. CSS output

Illustrator CC: CSS output

AdobeLabs released a plugin for Illustrator CS5, the HTML5 pack, which brought support for SVG and CSS export. This plugin was missing from CS6, but the functionality has returned with some improvements for CC. The toolset is similar to that previously found in Fireworks, and mirrors the updates Photoshop has got.

In essence, the new CSS Properties Panel allows you to automatically generate CSS code to replicate the effects and styles you’ve set up inside Illustrator. This will save web designers a huge amount of time when they create interface or widget mockups in Illustrator, and the code output supports CSS properties such as gradients, as well as vendor prefixes.

03. Touch-type tool

Illustrator CC: Touch-type tool

The Touch Type Tool allows you to target and manipulate individual typographical characters within a larger text area. You can make adjustments such as rotation, scale, offset and colour, while continuing to be able to affect kerning, leading, tracking and so on. This kind of control previously required you to break each character out into its own text box, or to outline the type beforehand, so will potentially save a lot of time when creating headline treatments.

04. Images in brushes

Illustrator CC: Images in brushes

Art, Pattern and Scatter brushes now all support raster bitmap images as the brush source, allowing you to use any image asset you like as-is, without the need to convert it to a vector first. All the standard characteristics of these tools remain, so you can manipulate the bitmap-based brush output in the same way you would with any other symbol, opening up a world of new creative possibilities.

And one that's 'coming soon'...

Illustrator CC: Typekit

Adobe was hoping to see Typekit integration included in the release of the CC suite, but unfortunately it's suffered a delay. There's no date yet for when this feature will be introduced, but we hope it's soon because so much work inside Illustrator tends to involve typography.

Is it worth the upgrade?

Illustrator has received a significant upgrade that will speed up your workflow, especially if you work on the web. This makes the decision to upgrade easier than with some of the other tools in the collection.

Of course if you're still happily using Illustrator CS2 you'll need to think about upgrading your computer before you can consider Illustrator CC, but for everyone else, especially non-CS6-users, CC offers a raft of useful additions that are well worth looking at. To twist your arm, Adobe are offering CS3+ users a discount of almost 40 per cent during the first year, while boxed-CS6 customers also get an additional £10 off for the first year.


Adobe says that by moving to a subscription-only service, new features can be rolled out more often and rapidly than was possible with the boxed software model of the past. For many users this decision caused outrage, although the pricing over a typical product lifecycle of 18 months is broadly similar to the old upgrade cost between releases, and is substantially more cost effective if you use several of the tools and tended to upgrade with each release.

How much it costs

If you're only interested in Illustrator itself, you can buy a single license for a monthly fee of $19.99/£17.58 including VAT. This is reduced to $9.99/£8.78 a month for the first year if you have a previous license for CS3 or later, although you have to commit to a minimum of 12 months if taking up the offer.

If you use Illustrator with other tools in the suite, the complete package of every Creative Cloud app (including the likes of Dreamweaver, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom and After Effects) costs $49.99/£46.88 per month with a minimum one-year contract (or a whopping $74.99/£70.32 per month without the contract), but again there's an offer available for the first year.

If you're upgrading to Creative Cloud from a previous boxed version of the Creative Suite CS3 or later, and make a 12-month commitment, you can get a discount of almost 40 per cent on your first year's subscription rates, bringing the cost down to $29.99/£27.34 per month.

It's also worth pointing out that Creative Cloud comes with various additional benefits including a Prosite via Behance, and the ability to legitimately install all the tools on a laptop and a desktop machine.

Words: Sam Hampton-Smith

This review was based on a pre-release of the Creative Cloud software for review purposes only.

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The Verdict

out of 10

Adobe Illustrator CC 2013

This is a major upgrade to Illustrator, with some brilliant new features, in particular the Touch Type tool, which offers a whole new level of creativity with type, and the ability to paint with a brush made from a photo. If the subscription model doesn't put you off, this is a must-have upgrade for all designers, illustrators and other creatives.

The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began over a decade ago. The current website team consists of five people: Editor Kerrie Hughes, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Deals Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Digital Arts and Design Editor Ian Dean, and Staff Writer Amelia Bamsey. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.