SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - Because of its sophisticated and powerful illustration tools, people commonly lump Macromedia Inc. FreeHand in with other professional drawing programs. But while the majority of FreeHand users are professional illustrators, the program's scope far surpasses that of a conventional drawing package. With its tools for page layout, Web graphics, and animation, FreeHand is difficult to pigeonhole.
Version 9 expands the application's abilities even more, offering new features for each of FreeHand's personalities. Some of these additions are eye-catching and take the program in a new direction; others offer solid enhancements to everyday tools and promise to transform FreeHand from a workhorse to a racehorse.
Here's a look at the most impressive additions to FreeHand 9 and some tips on putting them to work for you.
One of the most notable new features in FreeHand 9 is the perspective grid. For years, graphic designers have needed a way to get simple 3-D graphics into their drawing programs. For example, you may want to create a realistic depiction of a room or show what your flat design will look like wrapped around a product box. Before FreeHand 9, you had to either turn to complicated 3-D rendering programs, such as KPT Bryce, or manually redraw the graphics -- a tedious and time-consuming chore. And time is exactly what most designers don't have.
FreeHand's new perspective grids give you the power to create and edit simple 3-D effects without breaking the bank or missing your deadline. Like traditional perspective drawing, FreeHand's perspective grids rely on the concept of vanishing point -- the place where, due to quirks of visual perception, receding parallel lines meet. FreeHand simulates this illusion of distance by creating vertical and horizontal grids whose grid lines likewise converge on a single, editable vanishing point.
When creating a new perspective grid, you can select up to three vanishing points depending on the effect you want to produce. A grid with a single vanishing point contains only a horizontal and a vertical plane receding into the distance. Select a second vanishing point to add an additional wall, producing the illusion that you are staring at the corner of a building. The third vanishing point appears at the top of the grid, turning the building into a pyramid. You can adjust each plane's perspective by dragging the grid's vanishing point or outer edges -- even extending them onto the pasteboard.
Once you've defined the grid, you can use the Perspective tool to snap single or grouped objects to its planes. FreeHand adjusts the images, shrinking or expanding them as you move them around the grid. And since the objects remain editable, you can always detach them from the perspective and return to the original graphic.
A document can have multiple perspective grids, although you can only view one at a time. You can also hide the grids completely when you need to work on unrelated areas of the page.
FreeHand's perspective grids do have several limitations. For one, you can't attach an imported image to the perspective grid. This is a problem if you need to use a client's bitmapped logo in your design. To get around this problem, trace the images using FreeHand 9's improved Autotrace tool, which now incorporates a magic-wand tool for selecting continuous areas of color. Then attach the resulting paths to the perspective grid.
Attaching an object pasted inside a clipping path also can be a headache. To add perspective to these objects without permanently losing their paths, you must first remove them from their paths by choosing Cut Contents from the Edit menu; then apply them to the perspective grid. Once the object has the correct perspective, you can use the Release With Perspective command (located in the Perspective Grid submenu under the View menu) to detach the object from the perspective grid while retaining the illusion of perspective. You can then paste the object back inside its original path.
The perspective grid has no effect on tiled fills, custom fills, or PostScript fills. If your artwork uses these types, you'll have to come up with another solution for 3-D rendering.
Like the perspective grid, FreeHand's live envelope feature aims to make manipulating images a quick and easy process. An envelope is a method of distorting an object (or a group of objects) so it appears that you've bent or stretched the plane on which it rests. This creates an effect similar to a funhouse mirror. When applying an envelope, FreeHand creates an envelope grid -- a kind of bounding box you can manipulate using standard points and control handles. As you stretch and distort the grid, the shape of the underlying object changes as well.
Slim Down By storing repetitive graphics in the Symbols palette, you can cut down on the document's file size and save time.
The envelope feature itself isn't the big news in FreeHand 9; previous releases of the program included a primitive version. The main difference is that now envelopes are live, and you can manipulate them directly within the work space.
In previous versions, applying an envelope changed the shape of the original path. This meant that the only way to adjust the original object was to start over or undo all of the envelope changes manually -- along with any other changes you'd made in the meantime.
In FreeHand 9, applying an envelope changes only the appearance of the path, leaving the original object fully editable. If you decide an hour later that you are unhappy with the envelope, you can always return to the original shape of the path or change the settings to create a different effect. Even text remains editable after you've applied an envelope to it. Like perspective grids, however, live envelopes don't work with bitmapped images.
In addition to saving time and headaches, FreeHand's live envelope feature opens the door to a number of interesting creative possibilities -- especially once you throw in the program's improved Flash export capabilities. For example, if you want to create a Web animation in which text subtly changes shape, you can export successive frames as you adjust the text's envelope.
Because of its powerful productivity features, such as graphic find-and-replace and intelligent text-handling tools, FreeHand is the program of choice for many cartographers and technical illustrators. For this group, one new feature that really stands out is the addition of symbols.
Many Macromedia customers are already familiar with symbols -- which are standard features in other Macromedia programs such as Fireworks, Flash, and Director. Symbols are shapes you can use over and over again in your publications. They might be icons for state capitals in a map or for a specific nut or bolt in a mechanical assembly diagram. You could create duplicate graphics by copying and pasting, but symbols give you two advantages over that technique.
First, by turning repeated objects into symbols, you can place an unlimited number of instances of the symbols in the document without significantly adding to your size. This is because instances aren't duplicates of the symbol but are simply references to the original. So each instance you use saves space in your FreeHand document and on your hard drive.
Second, symbols save time. When you change a symbol, FreeHand updates all instances of it in the publication. This is faster than updating repeated graphics using FreeHand's graphic find-and-replace feature (as great as that is), and it's much faster than updating each graphic by hand.
The key to working with symbols in FreeHand is the Symbols palette, located in the Panels submenu of the Window menu. Creating a new symbol is as easy as dragging the object into the list area of the Symbols palette and dropping it.
Then, to insert an instance of the symbol into your document, drag it out of the Symbols palette and drop it on the page. You can transform an instance just as you would any other object -- moving, rotating, skewing, or reflecting it.
These changes affect only the selected instance. You can also break the link between an instance and its symbol completely, converting the instance to a normal FreeHand object.
To update a symbol -- and all of the instances based on it -- simply drag a new object over the original item in the Symbols palette. You can even share your symbols with other designers or transfer them to another FreeHand document, by exporting them into a symbol library. To do this, choose Export from the Symbols palette's pop-up menu.
In addition to utilizing its illustration tools, many designers also rely on FreeHand as a page-layout program -- especially for short jobs such as brochures. Unlike other drawing programs -- Adobe Illustrator, for example -- FreeHand can create documents containing more than one page, and you can give the pages in a single document any size and orientation. The only real limit is the size of the pasteboard -- a healthy 222 by 222 inches.
In the past, it was hard to ensure that your pages ended up in the correct order and location when you arranged them in the Document Inspector's tiny Page Preview window. The introduction of the Page tool changes all that. This tool allows you to move, flip, and rotate pages directly, rather than dragging a tiny thumbnail around in the Document Inspector. You can also use the Page tool to add, duplicate, remove, and resize pages quickly.
When you select a page with the Page tool, handles appear around the edges of the page, allowing you to manipulate it like any other object. To resize a page, for example, simply drag one of the corner handles. Or if you want to delete the page altogether, select the page and press the delete key.
To arrange multiple pages on the pasteboard, choose Fit All from the View menu.
FreeHand zooms out to a view that displays all of the pages in the publication.
This makes it very easy to position
pages relative to each other. For greater accuracy in positioning pages on
FreeHand's pasteboard, you can activate the Snap To Grid feature (in the View menu), which forces the page to snap to increments of the document grid. (To view the grid, choose Show from the Grid submenu of the View menu; to edit the spacing of the grid, choose Edit.) This makes it much easier to leave an exact distance between pages -- which you sometimes need when you're printing imposed pages.
FreeHand 9 is a different program for every user. Part of its strength lies in its diverse feature set. But whether you use FreeHand for creating Web animations or designing vacation brochures, chances are you'll find a tool in version 9 that can save you both time and trouble. You can download a trial version of FreeHand 9 from Macromedia's Web site (http://www.macromedia.com).
OLAV MARTIN KVERN is an illustrator, graphic designer, software developer, and writer. He is the author of Real World FreeHand (Peachpit Press, 1998) and the forthcoming Real World InDesign (also from Peachpit).
Sidebar: Putting FreeHand in PerspectiveImagine that you've used FreeHand to create a package design for one of your clients -- a somewhat eccentric vaudeville performer who is branching out into a new line of medical products. You've sent out the package for printing when the client asks for a perspective rendering he can use in advertising materials. Thanks to FreeHand 9, with a few quick clicks of the new Perspective tool you can convert the client's existing flat FreeHand artwork into a reasonably good 3-D drawing.
1. In your FreeHand document, arrange the artwork you want to convert to 3-D.
Group individual elements on each panel so you have a single image for each side of the package. This keeps your designs intact when you move them to the perspective grid.
2. To set up your perspective grid, open the Define Grids dialog box from the Perspective Grid submenu under the View menu. For a simple box rendering showing only a front and side panel, choose two vanishing points. Set the Grid Cell Size field to a value that's an even divisor of the package's width or height -- this makes aligning the objects on the perspective grid much easier.
3. Next, display the perspective grid by choosing Show from the Perspective Grid submenu. If the perspective isn't right, you can adjust the grids by clicking and dragging the vanishing points -- or the horizon -- out onto the pasteboard.
4. With the perspective grid in place, you can apply the perspective to your graphics. Use the Perspective tool (A) to select the front panel of the box.
While holding down your mouse button, press the right-arrow key. This snaps the front panel of the box onto the right "wall" of the perspective grid (the plane of the grid extending from the vanishing point on the right). Likewise, pressing the left- or up-arrow key projects the object onto the left "wall" or "ceiling" plane. Tip: Sometimes objects attached to the grid appear backward -- to reflect an object you've attached to a grid, select the object with the Perspective tool and then press the spacebar.
5. Repeat this process for the side panel of the box. To snap the two panels together, use the Perspective tool to move the objects to the intersection of the left and right grids. As you drag, FreeHand adjusts the perspective distortion of the object. To adjust the angle of a grid without dislodging its contents, hold down the shift key as you drag the grid into a new position.Tip: To release an object from the distortion applied by the perspective grid, select the object and choose Remove Perspective from the Perspective Grid submenu of the View menu. To release the object from the confines of the grid while maintaining its distortion, select Release With Perspective.
Sidebar: Pushing the Envelope
Your client asks you to create some graphics showing his name printed on ribbons. This project isn't as simple as it first seems. When you're simulating the appearance of text on fabric, you can't count on having a flat plane.
Fabric stretches, bends, and wrinkles -- and so must the text. It's a perfect job for FreeHand's improved Envelope feature.
1. First create the basic design of your ribbon. Make sure the design has enough points that you can reshape it later. To distribute new points evenly around the object, open the Xtras menu and select Add Points from the Distort submenu. If you add other details to your ribbon, group the paths before applying the envelope.
2. Open the Envelope Toolbar (found under Toolbars in the Window menu). Select your ribbon and choose the Rectangle envelope from the list of envelope presets on the Envelope Toolbar's pop-up menu (A). Click on the Create button (B) to apply the envelope. This applies a distortion grid over the ribbon. To view the grid, click on the Show Map button (C).
3. Before you begin reshaping the ribbon, add additional points, as you did in Step 1. This time, you're adding the points to the envelope. For precise control, make sure the envelope has the same number of points as the original object. You can now edit the envelope as you would any other path.
One interesting feature of FreeHand's envelopes is that you can turn them inside out by dragging one edge over or beyond the other, creating the illusion that you've twisted or folded the object.
4. When you're done, click on the Save As Preset button in the Envelope Toolbar and name the new effect "Ribbon." You'll see the envelope at the top of the Envelope Preset pop-up menu.
5. Position a text block above the ribbon. Select your new envelope from the Envelope Preset pop-up menu and click Apply. The text appears to curve around the ribbon.