SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - FreeHand 9--the latest upgrade to Macromedia Inc.'s illustration tool--packs sufficient depth to please its core constituency of pro designers.
This $399 package's coolest new tool, the Perspective Grid, lets you visualize layouts along 3D planes instead of in two dimensions. Competitor CorelDraw can fix vanishing points to objects, but FreeHand has a more coherent environment for composing layouts. Attach an object to a plane, and its size and angle change depending on how far it lies from the screen. Too bad you can't do this with scanned photos.
Unlike both Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator, FreeHand 9 lets you export drawings to its Macromedia sibling Flash 4 (you can buy the two as a set for $499), which can transform them into Web interfaces and animations. Another advance is FreeHand 9's new Flash Anti-alias mode, which lets you work on graphics as they will appear online.
Like various other Macromedia products, FreeHand uses symbol libraries, so master graphics are stored, reused, and updated globally without causing bloated files. But you can't share these libraries between Macromedia products.
You can deform objects with 21 presets--such as Arc and Octagon--or warp shapes by adjusting Bezier curves. FreeHand 9 adds two new selection tools--Magic Wand and Lasso--and refines controls for color output, shape blending, and drawing precision.
FreeHand 9's innovations may not be dramatic, but they should inspire cooler print and Web designs--especially for users of Macromedia's popular Web tools.
Depth perception: New vanishing-point grids help FreeHand 9 users compose cool vector-based print and Web layouts in 3D.
Pro: Stunning 3D layouts, built-in Flash preview, more distortion tools.
Con: Perspective warp ignores photos; symbols can't be shared.
Value: Impressive vector-based design for print and Web pros.
Street price: $400 ($149 upgrade)