Review: Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe Creative Suite BoxWhen it comes to professional graphics software for either the Mac or PC, Adobe pretty much has the lions share of the marketplace, with Adobe Photoshop pretty much the industry standard. In recent years Adobe has taken advantage of this stronghold and released suites, containing several applications. The Adobe Creative suite offers pretty much all the tools needed for creating any 'still' media, from brochures to web pages to electronic documents. The Premium suite, reviewed here consists of six main applications:



Let's take a look at each application individually:

Adobe Photoshop CS
While there are many pretenders to the throne, every publishing house and print shop will have a copy of Photoshop, as it can take in (and also export) many different file formats. This latest release is not massively different from its predecessors, but continues to make the photo editor's life easier. New tools such as the shadow/highlight command offer a quick way to fix under or overexposed areas within an image - the first time you use this tool you cannot fail to be impressed. Red-eye removal is also a welcome inclusion - seasoned Photoshoppers know how to easily remove red-eye, but for novices this will make life a lot easier.


The file browser (pictured below) has also had a makeover since version 7, with the ability to edit image information as well as view images. Histogram palette improvements include colour and tone information, and a comparison with old/new histogram as changes are made.

Adobe Photoshop file browser


There are new file formats, both in terms of input and output. Camera buffs will be pleased to see the support for the Camera RAW format, and larger images (up to 300,000 pixels by 300,000 pixels) can be saved as the new PSB format.


Photoshop also comes with ImageReady, which has improvements in exporting animations to Flash and improvements to rollover graphics creation.


It's difficult to find anything negative in Photoshop. As a user from the days when Aldus PhotoStyler was a major player Adobe has continued to exceed graphics designer's expectations and rightly maintained their pole position with this product. While there are much cheaper products (such as Paint Shop Pro) available, the support, add-in and development network for Photoshop is phenomenal. It is the best application available today for image editing, but low end users might wish to consider Photoshop Elements.


Adobe InDesign
This could almost be called InDesign 2.5 rather than a whole new version, as the 100+ improvements simply adds to what was a larger version upgrade the first time around. While the interface is more complex than before there have been many minor improvements that add up to greater than the sum of their parts. The nested styles is the most notable improvement. You can set one style for, say, a drop cap, then apply another style to the rest of the paragraph. This could also apply to bullets and their text content. InDesign's PDF support has been beefed up, now supporting rich media such as sounds, buttons and movie clips. The separations preview palette is a welcome edition, allowing you to view each of the four colour seps before printing.


There have been several minor improvements to InDesign's text handling. Text pasted from other applications can retain (or indeed lose) its format - while this does not sound like much it can save a considerable amount of time on a project, for example taking content out of a word processor or web design software. Text realigning has also been tweaked, with paragraph styles automatically aligning with the baseline grid.


One minor downside is that files cannot be down saved to work with InDesign 2, although this will only really affect users that need to collaborate.


Adobe Illustrator
The lines have been blurred between Illustrator and InDesign a little in this latest release, as Illustrator has now inherited InDesign's superior text engine. Clarification has been made for when using OpenType fonts (versus TrueType). As OpenType can support up to 65,000 characters in a single font, the ability to control these through a single palette is very useful. Tasks such as activation/deactivation of categories of characters, activating swash alternatives, ligatures, ordinals and fractions can all be done using the same palette. Adobe supply 100 OpenType fonts in the package to get you started. Lastly, Adobe as integrated InDesign's Every-Line composer, which adjusts word and character spacing, returning a much cleaner looking block of text than previously.


3D features are a new and welcome inclusion in Illustrator. CorelDraw has had these features for over a decade, so it's about time! 2D components can be drawn and quickly extruded and rotated. Further effects, such as lighting, bevels and perspective can be applied. This feature is not going to worry true 3D rendering packages, but it can be very handy for knocking out a quick logo.


One area that Adobe has paid attention to is printing, with the initial dialog box now combining many of the options previous split over Print and Print setup screens. Information that is applied to output, such as marks and colour keys have a greater level of control and, as with InDesign PDF support has been improved.


Adobe GoLive
Macromedia Dreamweaver has enjoyed the position of 'Leader of the Pack' when it came to web design, but GoLive may be an increasing threat to its throne - soon but not quite yet. GoLive offers a 'drag and drop' approach to web design, with the usual web items such as tables and forms included in a slightly overpowering array of buttons and floating palettes (28 palettes in all).


GoLive's main strength is its integration with other apps in the suite. Create a smart object in Photoshop, place it as an optimised graphic in a web page and the optimised file will be updated when you next change the source file - no other web development application can do this. Many PDF creation features have been built directly into the software, plus a new PDF smart object tool, which makes web images from a PDF file, with the ability to add comments and links within the PDF directly from GoLive.


Previous versions of GoLive came with dynamic content technology, but Adobe has chosen to remove this feature from CS, which makes Dreamweaver the more attractive option for developers coding in ASP, PHP or Cold Fusion, but for many users of 'static' sites this will not be an issue.

Macromedia used to have a monopoly on collaborative design with its Contribute product, however this version of GoLive has a sibling - Co Author (purchased separately for around £50). Setup is cumbersome and requires separate templates. Although the product is easy to use its functionality is limited in comparison to Macromedia's offering.


One major flaw in GoLive is the code that it produces - it is not always W3C compliant, although GoLive is at least courteous enough to provide you with an error report showing the code that is not compliant, so you can dig into the code to edit it. CSS support is also weaker than implementations in competing products, although there are improvements from previous versions.

For basic to intermediate sites GoLive does offer a good solution, if you're prepared to tweak your code for W3C compliance and don't need to integrate to a database (you can do it, but you'd have to code it manually, which many coders do anyway). The integration between the other apps is very useful, and may outweigh the drawbacks for many.


Adobe Acrobat
If all you ever want to do is create a PDF version of an existing document, then Acrobat Pro will be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut, but once you've installed it and played with it for a while you'll find yourself coming back to it more and more. For example, if someone emails you a PDF order form you could now open the form and 'fill' it electronically, then save the output. You can also add comments to a PDF document, or send items for review either by email or web.


While other programs claim to have PDF output I've experienced some compatibility problems, especially when downloading off the web - outputting the same file in Acrobat Professional does not recreate the same problem. Its output for print bureaus is also superior - important if you are creating professional material for printing.


Total integration
The main reason to purchase a suite is the compatibility and crossover between applications, together with common interfaces. Despite minor glitches in commonality, for the most part it is easy to switch between applications. Version Cue is an additional app that offers Explorer style functions with thumbnail images of all files. File formats are interchangeable e.g. pull Photoshop files straight into GoLive - something you could not do within most other web design applications.


At almost £1000 for the Premium version Adobe Creative Suite is pricey, but you get a lot for your money. In addition to arguably the best photo editing application you get complete vector drawing and page layout software, a respectable web editing application and professional PDF creation and editing capabilities. The box also includes a training CD, 100+ OpenType fonts, clipart and stock photos, and various other goodies. It's light on documentation though, with all manuals being in electronic format within the software, so if you prefer to sit down away from the PC to read a manual you better pay a visit to Amazon and order one of the many training books.

On their own the applications range from good to best in class. If I were choosing applications separately I'd probably cherry pick PhotoShop and Acrobat from this suite, and stick with the competing apps I'm used to. If I was starting out I'd probably be comparing this to the CorelDraw Graphics Suite, which can create PDFs but has no web design software. Corel has R.A.V.E., which handles animations, however I'd suspect that this its use is limited to a small subset of users. While InDesign and Illustrator are good programs, it takes two applications in this suite to provide functionality that CorelDraw often does in one, although it could be argued that some of the features are more powerful in the Adobe applications.


Although the Adobe Creative Suite is around three times the price of CorelDraw Graphics Suite it does cover a wider spectrum of general needs. If I had to rate these apps separately this is how they would fare.


  • Adobe Photoshop - 5 stars
  • Adobe InDesign - 3 stars
  • Adobe Illustrator 3 stars
  • Adobe GoLive - 3 stars
  • Adobe Acrobat Professional - 4 stars

If you already have DTP and web design software, then at least opt for Photoshop CS on its own, but if this is your first step into the world of graphics then the Adobe Creative Suite can aptly be described as 'the Office suite for design'.

Supplier's web site: 


4 stars - Adobe Creativity Suite 

Pro's: Integrated package. Best graphics package on the market, with excellent PDF creation/editing. Complete solution for both printed and digital media creation. Training videos included.

Con's: Expensive. GoLive weak for higher end web sites. InDesign and Illustrator provide in two apps what CorelDraw does in one.

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