As one of Adobe's oldest apps, Illustrator has gone through many version updates. This latest CS4 release, though, is its most useful revision to date.
Chief among the new features is support for multiple pages; a feature Illustrator users have been calling for since version 2. And while third-party plug-ins have taken up the slack in the interim, Adobe has finally included it as a standard feature.
Through its Multiple Artboards, Illustrator CS4 now enables users to work across multiple images and items - all of varying sizes - from within a single document view.
You no longer need to create multiple files for a multi-page PDF, and up to 100 artboards can be tiled upon each other. These can then be exported in various formats as a series of files that are automatically numbered and sequenced or saved down as a single multi-page PDF.
In terms of workflow across the Creative Suite, multiple artboards are a huge boon. Importing into Flash - a common process for most designers - now brings up an Illustrator-specific import dialogue, which enables you to specify which artboard is imported into your Flash project.
Also new is transparency in gradients, enabling you to define the opacity of a gradient, smoothing blending between objects and shapes. While not the most compelling of the new features, it goes a long way to make Illustrator CS4 a more responsive and productive program.
A further headline announcement is the new Blob Brush. Used like a paintbrush, it enables you to create clean-lined vector shapes that automatically merge all the paths created. This renders Illustrator more painterly than it's ever been before, and more akin to a natural media painting environment.
The interface has also been refined, aping the full window approach of Photoshop CS4. Refined panels include the Appearance pane, which offers up faster access to selected editing features including Opacity and Transparency.
Further workflow enhancements include more functional Smart Guides and Isolation Modes, the latter of which enables detailed editing of a specific vector region without disturbing other paths.
The bottom line
Tighter integration with Adobe's RIA environments, Flash CS4, Adobe AIR and Flex, is the final fanfare announcement from this release. All of this reaffirms Illustrator as a creation environment for preparing assets and designs for further use. It's still the best vector editor out there, and through this update adds some excellent new tools and huge workflow enhancements.