From Humble Origins to Master of the Graphics Universe

From Humble Origins to Master of the Graphics Universe

As its box proudly proclaims, Adobe Illustrator is the “Industry Standard Graphics Software.” But the software didn’t always enjoy that standing. Illustrator evolved from a geeky math experiment into the graphics powerhouse it is today.

A brief history of Illustrator

Until the mid-1980s, computer art was limited to blocky-looking video games, spheroid reflections, and the movie Tron. Then something happened to change all that (in addition to Jeff Bridges’ refusal to make a sequel) — PostScript, a computer language created especially for printers. Adobe created PostScript specifically to help printers produce millions of teeny-tiny dots on the page, without running out of memory. (Graphics files were notoriously huge relative to the teeny tiny computers of the day.)

In 1987, Adobe released Illustrator 1.1, which was designed primarily to be a front end for PostScript — a way to make its capabilities actually usable. At that time, the concept of artwork that is scalable to any size without loss of quality (one world-beating advantage of creating art within Illustrator) was brand new. Illustrator gave companies the opportunity to have electronic versions of their logos that could be printed at any size.

In the ten-plus years since Version 1.1, Adobe Illustrator has become the Web-ready, giant application that it is today. Millions of people around the world use Illustrator, and its thousands of features, big and small, meet a wide variety of graphics needs. Oddly enough, the one aspect of Illustrator that hasn’t changed is the perceived intimidation factor. Version 1.1 had several tools, many menu items, a neurosis-inducing Pen tool, B?zier curves, and that way-scary blank page when you started it up. Version CS still has nearly every ?feature that 1.1 did and adds a staggering array of new features including 3D, new type enhancements and Scribble, but it still has that way-scary blank page. Illustrator 1.1 was a playful little kitten compared with the beast that is Illustrator CS!

Illustrator’s place in the cosmos

Professional graphic artists have a toolbox of programs that they use to create the books, magazines, newspapers, packaging, advertisements, and Web sites that you see every day. Any professional will tell you that you need the right tool for the job to do the job well. The right tools (in this case) are software products — drawing programs, paint programs, and products for page layout and Web-authoring. Drawing programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, are the best tools for creating crisp, professional-looking graphics (such as logos), working with creative type effects, and re-creating photographs from line drawings. Painting programs (often called image editing programs), such as Adobe Photoshop, provide tools to color-correct, retouch, and edit digital photographs and re-create “natural media” effects, such as hand-painting. Page layout ?programs, such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress, enable you to combine graphics that you create in drawing and paint programs with text for print publishing. You can use Web-authoring tools (such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive) to combine graphics, text, sound, animation, and interactivity for presentation on the World Wide Web.

Although each tool performs a fairly specific (if wide-ranging) task, there is some crossover between applications. For example, Illustrator has some limited image editing capabilities, but very few people ever use them. Because you can edit images with complete control and freedom in Photoshop, why use the wrong tool for the job? QuarkXPress enables you to run type along a curve, but Illustrator has so many tools for creative type effects that you’d be silly to do them anywhere else.

By using Illustrator on its own, you can create an astonishing variety of graphics and type effects. When you combine it with paint, page layout, and Web-authoring programs, you have the tools you need to create print and Web publications that match the quality of anything you see in the stands or on-screen today.

In the field of professional graphics and publishing, each software program has to perform only a few basic functions: graphics creation, image editing, page layout (for print), or Web layout.

Illustrator is the de facto standard in graphics creation. While there are two competing programs out there (Macromedia FreeHand and CorelDRAW), Illustrator is used three times as much as the other two products combined. This is mainly because it’s the best in several ways, from feature breadth and depth to tight integration with other standard applications and formats, including Photoshop and PDF.

Adobe has products in the other categories (two in the page layout category). One benefit of using Illustrator is that it works very well (as you may expect) with the other Adobe products, most of which have a similar interface and way of working. If you know one Adobe product well, chances are you’ll have an easy time of figuring out other Adobe products.

Illustrator excels at creating and editing artwork of all types. In fact, you can use Illustrator to create and edit nearly anything that didn’t start out as a photograph. (For more about the differences between photographs and artwork created with Illustrator, see Chapter 2.)