01 September 2003
Posted in Graphics
Installation & Documentation
Ease of use
Value for money
G3 processor or better
FreeHand MX is Macromedia's design counterpoint to website design software Dreamweaver although, with its print precedents, it's been much longer in production as you can see by its version number.
FreeHand's long been playing very competitive leapfrog with Adobe Illustrator, but where Adobe relies on other products under its umbrella for page layout, FreeHand has included some layout functions for print production in its portfolio for a few iterations now, including text wrap and other attributes for handling text.
You can produce Flash directly from FreeHand with Flash MX Integration, meaning you can plan, lay out and design entire projects in a single document. You can even import complex Macromedia Flash movies (SWFs) into your FreeHand MX document, integrate them into your designs then export them back out to SWF. (Macromedia Flash MX also opens and imports FreeHand native MX files.)
Other new features for FreeHand 11 include Multiple Attributes - the ability to apply unlimited stroke, fill, and effect attributes to a single vector or text object; an Object Panel that lets you inspect and change object and text properties from one panel (inherited from the web design world); drag-and-drop between the Object and Styles panels to create, edit, and redefine graphic and text styles; Live Effects which apply complex bend, sketch, and transform distortions and vector effects (such as) and raster effects (like bevel, drop shadow, and gradient transparency) without altering the original object.
Refreshingly simple interface, hidden depths
FreeHand MX also includes; Live-Edit Graphic Primitives that allow users to reshape rectangles, ellipses, and polygons and, last but not least, Macromedia MX Workspace - the new easy-to-use Macromedia MX user interface that's shared across all the Macromedia Studio MX products. This, of course, reflects their chief competitor's much vaunted product interface unity except that Fireworks MX integration goes a little further, letting you launch and edit imported bitmap images with a single click in the FreeHand MX Object panel, make your changes in Fireworks MX, then click back in FreeHand MX- your image is now updated, without losing any effects or transformations applied to the original FreeHand MX image. You can also open or import FreeHand MX files directly in Fireworks MX, with improved vector and text reliability and editability.
Further, there's an Action Tool that lets you drag and drop complex Macromedia Flash MX actions between objects, symbols, and pages, a Connector Lines Tool so you can map information, architecture, data flows and site maps with the Connector Lines tool (a bit like in OmniGraffle), and an interesting collection of new and enhanced tools and functionality like the Extrude tool for simulating 3D, drag-and-drop blends and the Eraser tool to modify paths in a new, organic way. Additionally, FreeHand MX 11 provides alpha channel support for imported bitmaps.
OK, got all that? The first thing that strikes you is how uncluttered the work area is. Very refreshing, but don't worry, there are hidden depths.
It all seems more stable (compared to v10) but it still shows noticeable slowing when the work gets complex. However, this is with the welcome addition of full resolution preview, so turn that off and it's OK (and like working the way you're used to with FreeHand). Transparency is useful but, offputtingly, it degrades the on-screen view. FreeHand 10 had a hot little user complaints thing going; most of the issues appear to have been addressed in 11.
So, has it got the edge on Illustrator? It's more interoperable with Flash, there's that multi-page thing if you don't want to spring for an additional production package, the new connector tools suit work-flow graphics designers and architectural users (plus there's a library of architectural symbols) and Illustrator doesn't have live perspective grids ... I think you have to seriously weigh up your options.
Full resolution preview
Slows as work gains complexity
Expensive upgrade if you just wanted to solve v10 problems
© Parkside Media 2004