How can one review an ocean? How would one start, by going drop by drop? By beginning by defining its boundaries, various civilizations living on its shores, its flora and fauna, or winds and currents? Reviewing the Master Collection of Adobe’s Creative Suite is like reviewing an ocean.

Adobe?s Creative Suite is widely used and has been an industry standard for the last eight years. Many minute as well as massive changes occurred during those years, but the essence, the core elements and concepts remain the same, and many of its features predate the Suite. CS features many newer versions of software applications that were originally developed by other companies eventually acquired by Adobe (Macromedia’s Flash, DreamWeaver, Fireworks, Freehand and the now discontinued ColdFusion) as well as Adobe’s own products.

Maybe Adobe Suite is not large enough to be called an ocean, but it is certainly a sea. To explore this vast Sea of Creativity, as we refer to it, we would ideally need a crew of 11: a graphics designer, an illustrator, a colorist, an animator, a web programmer, a web front-end developer, a sound technician, a video editor, a video technician, a 3D modeler, and someone to make tea. Unfortunately, we are limited to one professional having to fill these roles and we will do our best to chart this sea, though mistakes or oversights can occur.

Luckily, NVIDIA was kind enough to provide us with the perfect vessel for this expedition, the model 5000 of the Quadro series of professional graphics cards. Not only will the carb enable us to maximize the performance of all Creative Suite applications, but it will also unlock some of the new, cool features that would be otherwise difficult to demonstrate without it.

1. The Map Of Creative Suite

We begin our voyage by defining what makes the Creative Suite. To the east are the lands of graphic design; the home of Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat. This mighty group is locked in a permanent war with printing presses, always fighting about colors and crop marks. To the south is the archipelago of web development; the home of Flash, DreamWeaver, Fireworks, and Contribute. This loose confederacy suffers from an internal conflict about standards and other technicalities, but is otherwise a fine group of products. To the west is the wealthy nation of filmmakers, the home of Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, and Encore. This powerful group has sadly been plagued by pirates in recent times. Centrally located is the coral (not to be mistaken with Corel) paradise of Photoshop and its recent offshore platform, Extended, connected to all other lands by Bridge.

Creative Suite features no tools for creating music, though one might think that it would when considering its name.

2. What Creative Suite Is Not

On its own, the Adobe Creative Suite is not very creative. The creativity is provided exclusively by the user. There are no stock photos, videos, or clipart in the bundle. There are a limited set of templates, fonts, gradients, etc. but majority of these are just samples. The Creative Suite also is not very intuitive. There are hundreds, if not thousands of tools in each application, and more added with each new version. It takes time, money, and practice to master each individual application. Luckily, all applications in the bundle reward experimentation and, perhaps more than anything, learning how to use one application helps with learning the others. Once you understand Photoshop and/or Illustrator, Fireworks will make more sense, and the vice versa.
3. Looking At Final Products

Creative Suite includes such a large number of applications that it cannot be reviewed by only looking at each product individually. Oftentimes designers need to use multiple applications to produce their final export file.
There are four essential types of documents that Creative Suite can deliver. All exported documents contain one or more of the following:
-still (raster or pixel) images
-vector art
-moving images (movies)
-programming code

3.1 Still images

Apple introduced Retina display devices for a reason. Created for print or screen, still images still dominate user interfaces, the World Wide Web, and the vast majority of printed content. As long as our data outputs remain defined by clusters of pixels and ink drops, that is the way it is going to be. The types of containers may vary (JPEG, TIFF, PNG etc.) but the basics are the same: a raster image is made of a defined set of pixels that have individually defined color values.

As still images are essential to every workflow, almost all Creative Suite applications are capable of delivering still images, but Photoshop (and to some extent, Fireworks) excel in this area.

3.2 Vector Art

What a raster image does by defining each individual pixel, a vector-based document does by assigning points, connections, and properties in a scalable two-dimensional space. The final product might be very similar or vastly different to what a raster image might provide, depending on many factors. Vector art is infinitely scalable in both directions, which makes it ideal for displaying content across multiple media. Theoretically, a single vector file would be of the same visual quality whether it is viewed on a small mobile device or on a billboard covering the visible surface of the Moon.

Vector documents are not images. They are programming code, merely interpreted or rendered by our software. There is not much difference between how Adobe Reader or Adobe InDesign visually display vector documents, even though we know that Adobe Reader is just that – an interactive reader of PDF documents. I guess one might say that a vector document becomes a raster image once it ?hits the screen?.

Vector art is of tremendous benefit to designers and almost all CS applications use it. Graphics designers use vector documents (AI, PDF, EPS and PS files) to as both a creation platform and as means of delivery to colleagues, consumers, and printing presses, while animators and software developers use vector art to create scalable animated elements and movies. Flash is a prime example of the latter.

One of the reasons why designers favored Apple over Microsoft in the early days of personal is that PCs had a terrible PostScript (vector language) interpreter. Overall support for vectors was terrible on PCs. It had unusable fonts, unreadable PostScript documents, a lack of proper software. This contributed to many – if not all – graphics design studios sticking to Macs until this very day.

3.3 Movies

From simple animated GIFs to Blu-ray quality videos, the essence is the same: Pictures moving quickly.
Many principles of cinematography are identical to those of photography, but there is a third dimension – time. When you look at Adobe?s applications that work with videos, the same logic and structure that their other applications use is there, embedded into everything from user interface to content manipulation. If one understands Photoshop and its layers, it becomes easier to open up Premiere Pro and understand effects and multiple video streams being presented as ?layers?. Throughout the Creative Suite, animation can be found in many applications, from Photoshop to After Effects, one can create anything from stop frame animation and vector transformations to blockbuster 3D multi-angle 4k video productions.

3.4 The Code Layers

If the rasters, videos, and vectors make up the base, the code provides the higher level meaning. There are many design applications on the market, but none provide such a vast amount of code embedded into these core elements. That is what the evolution of Creative Suite is all about, and it is why it is worth upgrading to follow Adobe on its journey to perfection.

Humans are not creatures that fully understand 3-dimensional space. People understand 2 dimensions well, but to deal with the third dimension, people slice it up into comprehensible parts. This is true for computer programs as well. What Adobe did with Photoshop 3 in 1994 was it introduced image layers. This started a very different evolution of design software. Suddenly objects did not have only properties, but whole images were consisting of multiple layers that interacted with each other in different ways. After a while, this ?layer concept? started to take form in other applications as well, and today it is integrated into all Creative Suite applications.

Image color profiles and compression are code, InDesign layers are code, and interactive elements in PDFs are code. The Adobe Creative Suite has many strong points, but this is its spearhead. This is where most of the new features of CS6 lie and they are darn important.
4. Adobe Photoshop CS6 Extended

Sub sole nihil novi est. Photoshop is still the best general purpose raster image editor on the planet. This is unlikely to change in the near future. There is literally nothing that cannot already be done in Photoshop related to raster images. That said, there is always room for improvement, and there are plenty of new features in Photoshop CS6.

4.1 Hardware Graphics Acceleration

Photoshop finally has begun to make use of its proprietary Mercury Graphics Engine. It supports both CUDA and OpenCL for many features of Photoshop that are listed on the screenshot. Hardware Graphics Acceleration is available on both Mac and PC versions and in both cases I highly recommend using a CUDA-enabled NVIDIA graphics card.

Photoshop?s Performance panel inside Preferences. All effects affected by GPU Acceleration are listed, and you can choose the ?level of acceleration?. On Apple, the 10-bit color ticker is missing from the subpanel, as it?s not supported for now.
Photoshop?s Performance panel inside Preferences. All effects affected by GPU Acceleration are listed, and you can choose the ?level of acceleration?. On Apple, the 10-bit color ticker is missing from the subpanel, as it?s not supported for now.

4.2 Photoshop Extended Got Extended

Adobe introduced some 3D functions back in 2007, but working with 3D really began with CS5.5 Extended. There is still no 3D modeling, that needs to be provided by other applications, but as far as static 3D goes, CS5.5 and especially CS6 enable designers to create 3D scenes inside of Photoshop. There is a whole course on lynda.com that explains how this works and it is great. Obviously, it is not yet on the same level as other Photoshop editing tools, it looks a bit rough around the edges, but it is a logical ?next step? in enhancing Photoshop?s static image editing capabilities. Along with After Effects and Premiere Pro, it also supports stereo/3D views for those who need it and users can actually export 3D objects to these aforementioned programs. Unfortunately, we do not have a 3D set available yet, so that is something for a future review.

Photoshop CS6 Extended?s 3D workspace. The tablet merely gained a realistic shadow and some thickness. Obviously, more complex scenes can be set up. And that?s the beauty of 3D in Photoshop - it is as complex as you need it to be.
Photoshop CS6 Extended?s 3D workspace. The tablet merely gained a realistic shadow and some thickness. Obviously, more complex scenes can be set up. And that?s the beauty of 3D in Photoshop – it is as complex as you need it to be.

4.3 Patching Up The Bad Spots

CS6 brings a palette of new features to everyday photo editing and image creation, as well as many updates to existing features. Painting, drawing, and photo editing have a list of valuable new tools. Many image effects have been enhanced, especially the Content-aware patching tools. Blur effects received a few additions as well as a separate panel. Unfortunately, the ?shaky hands removal? feature that ?un-blurs? photographs did not make it into this version.

Photoshop got a brand new Blur panel. Rendering of blur is also boosted by CUDA and is darn fast.
Photoshop got a brand new Blur panel. Rendering of blur is also boosted by CUDA and is darn fast.

4.4 Interface and Display

Perhaps the first obvious change users will see, is that the color of Photoshop?s UI can now vary from dark gray to light gray (a total of 4 steps) a new feature also shared by the new Illustrator. It is definitely a welcome change. People with monitors that support 30-bit color will also be happy – Photoshop finally supports 30-bit color depth, but only on Windows PCs.

CS6?s four shades of gray. Users of Photoshop and Illustrator have four UI ?colors? to choose from.
CS6?s four shades of gray. Users of Photoshop and Illustrator have four UI ?colors? to choose from.

5. Illustrator CS6

Again, Adobe Illustrator is the best vector graphics editor available. Much like Photoshop, it has no real competition, especially since Adobe purchased (and killed) Freehand. Admittedly, we have never really gotten into the whole ?3D space in Illustrator? thing, but other than that, it is one of the three applications we use the most. What is interesting about illustrator is that it has some ?hidden? capabilities that people may not be aware of until they begin working seriously on web design. More specifically, we have found Illustrator to be one of the best tools for Web page design. Its robust, well-established user interface and tools, combined with the relatively new ?pixel preview? feature enable web designers to create whole webpages in Illustrator and then slice it up and import into Fireworks or Photoshop. Although web design is basically pixel art, it is extremely tedious to work with vectors in both Fireworks and Photoshop. There is nothing worse than realizing a bar or button is a few pixels smaller than it should be, and that is where vector editing comes in. Although Illustrator already has some great effects that can be applied to vector graphics like drop shadow, inner shadow and round corners, it would need many more to become a fully-fledged, self-sufficient web design tool. Although both Photoshop and especially Fireworks have their place in web design, it would be really awesome if Adobe decided to make Illustrator stronger in this area. For web designers, we suggest giving Illustrator and its pixel preview a try. The results provide a pleasant surprise. Just be sure to export work into PNG rather than using the ?Save As? command because, for some reason, the export gives superior quality output.

5.1 What Is New

A long awaited feature has finally arrived – Illustrator finally supports gradients on strokes. This feature is not as ?corny? as one might think. It is almost a necessity when designing web elements, and is also used for some very sophisticated vector art. What is still missing (but was already present in Freehand MX) is the ability to apply multiple properties to a single stroke. We are not sure why Adobe did not implement this magnificent idea, perhaps it was due to technical reasons.

Say goodbye to Illustrator pattern scripts - the new Pattern creation panel is excellent. Using ?pixel preview? is recommended when creating web-friendly patterns.
Say goodbye to Illustrator pattern scripts – the new Pattern creation panel is excellent. Using ?pixel preview? is recommended when creating web-friendly patterns.

There have been great strides forward in Image Tracing as well, boosting already existing tracing tools. This feature will either eliminate or reduce the need for 3rd party tracing tools. Pattern Creation is the third important feature in Illustrator CS6 and, considering it is a brand new feature, it really works as advertised. The new pattern control panel will be obviously extended over time, but it is already powerful enough to create patterns without need for gimmicks like applying double ?Transform? effects.

Gradients are either horrible or brilliant. Same with strokes on gradients. This feature will be used both to create brand new stuff and enable faster web button creation. Now all we need is the fantastic ?strokes with layers? feature back from Freehand MX! (Those who know what it was will probably agree with me).
Gradients are either horrible or brilliant. Same with strokes on gradients. This feature will be used both to create brand new stuff and enable faster web button creation. Now all we need is the fantastic ?strokes with layers? feature back from Freehand MX! (Those who know what it was will probably agree with me).

5.2 User Interface

Quite a large number of additions and tweaks in Illustrator CS6 are in the user interface. The UI was historically one of Illustrator?s weakest points, especially compared to other CS applications. Many panels have been enhanced, and as mentioned before, the UI has 4 grays to choose from.

Illustrator now also uses the Mercury Performance System. Natively built for 64-bit systems, the performance boost is most visible when working with very large files and when applying complex effects onto vector graphics.
6. Adobe InDesign

If Photoshop enabled Adobe to become the dominant graphics design software platform, InDesign is the application that nailed it. We used to be avid fans of QuarkXPress, but InDesign CS2 simply forced us to switch, because it was too good not to. It built upon the foundations of PageMaker, avoided the mistakes of QuarkXPress, and implemented features from Photoshop. These were the keys to success of InDesign. It provided a tool that finally enabled graphics designers to create layouts they wanted, without the need for super-expensive 3rd party plug-ins and programs. There is a reason it has become the industry standard.

Honestly, there is not much improvement left to go in DTP when talking about print. PostScript, OpenType, PDF and many other groundbreaking technologies are already well established and well developed, and are integrated seamlessly into InDesign. Digital publishing (ePublishing) is a completely different kind of beast though. This is the direction that InDesign, starting with CS 5.5 and now continuing in CS6 is moving towards, while not neglecting its print production capabilities in the process.

6.1 Folio

Digital publishing stopped being ?the future? this year. Not only did Amazon?s eBook sales overtake printed book sales, but the introduction of iPad 3 with its Retina display became the final step in digital media catching up to print in terms of display quality. What is still unclear is what the new standard or standards for digital publishing will be. Although Adobe?s .folio is not an industry standard yet, there is not much in the way of competition. Even at this early stage, it is probably pretty safe to say that Folio will become the new PDF. (We will write more about enhancements to PDF in the Acrobat X Pro chapter). Luckily for us, Adobe is known for setting their own standards pretty high, rather than waiting for the competition to show them how stuff is done.
So what the heck is Folio? Much like PDF, Folio is a proprietary self-sufficient multi-platform container file that contains a layout designed in InDesign. Although the files are created on desktop machines, a Folio file?s final destination will be iOS, Android, and Kindle mobile devices. The actual code is HTML5, CSS3 and probably some other stuff Adobe has not discussed, but the important thing is that it really works on all platforms and really gets displayed and viewed on those platforms the same way as while it is being created in InDesign. One major difference between PDF and Folio is that Folio contains DRM, so in the Adobe Content Viewer one can view only unpublished Folio documents. The final destination of every Folio file is ultimately to get up to Adobe?s servers, where it gets wrapped into a self-sufficient App format and finally gets distributed via Google Play, the iOS AppStore, or Amazon.

You will immediately notice that the Pages panel can now contain more than one layout (in this case two), separate for each screen size and orientation. Folio documents can hold only one screen size with up to two orientations. Uploading (export) of Folio files is done by the panel shown on the right, and the process requires logging onto Adobe servers.
You will immediately notice that the Pages panel can now contain more than one layout (in this case two), separate for each screen size and orientation. Folio documents can hold only one screen size with up to two orientations. Uploading (export) of Folio files is done by the panel shown on the right, and the process requires logging onto Adobe servers.

The other major difference between PDF and Folio is that Folio files can contain complex interactive elements, as well as multiple layouts within one single file. The possibilities for both are limited only by budget and creativity (and file size). This brings us to the new features of InDesign.

6.2 Liquid Layout and Alternate Layout

Most of the new features in InDesign CS6 are related to Folio and ePublishing in general. Documents can be now created in a classical environment (strict page sizes), they can be liquid, or there can be multiple layouts for the same document. There are now two ways InDesign can treat objects (be it text, images, or interactive elements): static, as it has been until now, or anchor-based. The new anchor-based object placement system is essential for both Liquid and Alternate layouts. The differences are as follows.

A Liquid layout behaves exactly like a liquid layout web page would: it looks different when the screen or browser gets resized or when viewed in fullscreen on different resolutions. It is best used if the purpose of the Folio file is to be viewed in fullscreen on various mobile devices that vary wildly in terms of screen resolution and format. This type of Folio file has only one layout – the liquid layout.

An Alternate layout is more rigid, and is designed to provide two orientations: landscape and portrait. Anchor points are still used, but the format (16:10, 16:9, 4:3 etc.) is fixed and the positioning and size of the content is dependent on the orientation of the viewing device.

You will immediately notice that the Pages panel can now contain more than one layout (in this case two), separate for each screen size and orientation. Folio documents can hold only one screen size with up to two orientations. Uploading (export) of Folio files is done by the panel shown on the right, and the process requires logging onto Adobe servers.
You will immediately notice that the Pages panel can now contain more than one layout (in this case two), separate for each screen size and orientation. Folio documents can hold only one screen size with up to two orientations. Uploading (export) of Folio files is done by the panel shown on the right, and the process requires logging onto Adobe servers.

Although one single InDesign file can contain an ?indefinite? number of layouts, exported Folio files can contain either one Liquid layout or two Alternate layouts. So, for example, when designing an Alternate layout fullscreen magazine for Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad, one must make two folio files, one for each screen format.

6.3 Digital Publishing

Publishing Folio documents is simple, although not very intuitive at first. One part of it is integrated into InDesign itself (users must log-in to Adobe servers from within InDesign), while management and distribution is done on Adobe?s web. Adobe?s Digital Publishing Suite product (line) is sold separately and without it Folio files can be shared only by a limited amount of people (usually colleagues and potential investors).
InDesign now also supports (exports into) EPUB v3.0.

7. Adobe Acrobat X Pro

PDF is the de facto standard for internet documents. It is printable, legible, zoomable, scrollable, searchable, sign-able, encrypt-able, mail-able and every other -able that one can imagine. Illustrator, InDesign, and every other application that supports it can save into PDF, but Adobe Acrobat X Pro is the ultimate PDF utility tool. It is used for everything from checking files in print production workflows to creating fill-able forms.

Once the layout is completed and uploaded from the InDesign?s Folio panel, the workflow continues on Adobe?s Acrobat.com servers.
Once the layout is completed and uploaded from the InDesign?s Folio panel, the workflow continues on Adobe?s Acrobat.com servers.

There is one ?new? level to PDF documents that will likely be used more in the future, and that is the fact that Adobe Readers slowly but surely have begun to support InDesign?s features that make PDF documents interactive. It does not support just hyperlinks and embedded videos, but also custom-made buttons, Flash animations, embedded HTML etc. InDesign?s ?export to interactive PDF? is now more powerful than ever, making the creator of the PDF document dictate even the behavior of the Reader (for example, if ?open fullscreen? is checked during export, the client?s Reader will open the PDF in fullscreen. Since PDFs are DRM-free, it would not be a surprise if more publications begin to embrace interactive PDFs (along with Folio and ePub) as their medium of choice. Since Acrobat X has been available since 2010, we will not delve further into its features.

Next week we finish the review of Creative Suite CS6 by taking on the video production and web development tools.