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Feature: Fireworks CS3 replaces Image Ready as Adobe's Web graphics program
Idea:Fireworks carries vector+bitmap graphics the furthermost among Adobe programs
Fireworks is a strange brew among Adobe programs. It has vector tools that are good but not up there with its sibling Adobe Illustrator (especially the printing control, color and vector finishing features of Illustrator), bitmap tools that are good but certainly no match for either Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. So what is Fireworks doing in the Adobe stable of products?
Well first, Fireworks has, as we shall see in detail below, topnotch bitmap+vector tools which are becoming so important for image composition capabilities where bitmaps are combined with vectors in novel ways. Second, Fireworks has always had good Web optimization features and those have ben improved yet again with nine slice-scaling. Third, Fireworks is a hotbed for innovation starting with its bitmap+vector capabilities adding scripting and now symbols. And the result is that Fireworks outlasts Freehand from Macromedia and appears to replace Image Ready as the tool of choice for web optimizing plus integrating operations with Flash, Flex and Photoshop.
But perhaps the most important of the Property settings is the Filter stack shown in the lower right corner of the screenshot highlighted in yellow. Every time you choose to set a Style using the Styles icons in the Assets panel (again see screenshot), the Filter stack is automatically set (or changed if a style had been previously used on an object). With the + sign you can add your own filter or double click a filter (say Inner Shadow from the screenshot) and edit the setting for that filter step. Finally, just highlight a step and then clicking the minus sign to delete that step from the filter stack. Simple and as we shall see an important part of Firework's bitmap+vector capabilities because like Xara, the filter effects apply to both vector and bitmap parts of an image composition. Both the vector and bitmap part of the image are changed - this is a feature supported most effectively by Xara and Fireworks.
Then a series of Transform (scale, skew, rotate, and perspective tools), Combination (Join, Intersect, Weld, Punch, Crop, Group commands) plus a number of Modification capabilities (Align, Arrange to Front, Arrange to Back, Flip, Rotate, and other commands) - all of these commands and tools allow developers to create logos, do basic DTP, or create image compositions of a high caliber. They are the bread and butter commands of any good vector drawing tool. Such tasks may be faster in Xara or Corel Draw but the modifying and finishing of those vector images in Fireworks has a claim for ease of use with two important features.
First, the set of patterns and textures available for modifying fills and contours is quite extensive. More than 4 dozen easily. Second, users can add to these lists which turns out to be most important for fills - because that is the way users can add their own and thus help to unleash the bitmap+vector capabilities of Fireworks. The above screenshot shows the vector tools being applied - using Photoshop-like styles to modify the text and metalized background, and then a bitmap fill (already filtered using a 3rd party plugin) is placed into the lowest chamfer-shaped container. This is then reshaped by the Freeform vector path modifying tool. This example demonstrates the effectiveness in design that can be achieved quickly with Fireworks and its range of vector and bitmap tools and commands.
The Importance of the Fill Step in Fireworks
You would think that given all the tools that allow users to modify vector containers with bitmap fills, the Adobe Designers would make that task drag and drop simple. Import a bitmap. Resize it appropriately and maybe add an effect. Then drag and drop it on top of the vector shape or group you want it to fill. Nope - that is too easy.
Instead here is the sequence of operations users will have to go through. First highlight the vector or group you want to Fill. Then choose the top Fill pulldown and choose Pattern. Then when that dialog pops up with a huge list of presets, go to the bottom and choose Other.... This will popup a Open File dialog and you can then choose any image on your hard drive. And now your own image appears as a fill. With the scale and rotate arrows users can configure the fill in its vector container to their exact liking.
Admittedly this process is both obscure and tedious but the rewards are great because now you have instead of a standalone or grouped bitmap+vector, but a bitmap in a vector container that will react to Fireworks extensive set of filters in a nifty way - both the vector container and the bitmap will be altered by any filter. Xara does the same with one added benefit the operation is non-destructive. In Fireworks the vector container is converted to a bitmap - so users must be careful on the order of their edits.
But it is also important to note that the bitmap+vector object works with all vector commands such as Group, Combine, Intersect and so forth; but with the consequence that many commands overwrite the bitmap fill. So photofinishers will have to be careful on the sequence of edits - with the fill being preferably the last step. Also these capabilities are a fraction of what is possible with 3D programs like Rhino, Maya and the like. But the learning curve is a fraction of these 3D tools and as the screenshot above shows, the results can be quite effective.
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