Macromedia FreeHand 9

Macromedia will begin shipping FreeHand 9, a graphics design tool for the web, this month.

FreeHand 9 offers new features with an emphasis on simplifying the development of vector graphics used by Macromedia Flash 4 and the Web. Additional design and productivity tools make this an easy product for both new and seasoned graphics designers to use.

In addition to the new built-in tools for creating and exporting Flash 4 animations, the upgrade boasts improved (and expanded) menu options, new toolbar functions, new artwork creation tools, productivity enhancements, improved text support, expanded file exporting, and improved colour output support.

Vector-based drawing applications are used to define graphics using straight or curved lines with colour fills. This results in much smaller files, and, unlike bit-map images, vector files can easily be enlarged without degrading quality. Ultimately, however, the Web requires conversion to bit-map file formats that browsers can understand (with the exception of the Flash file format).

FreeHand 9 simplifies Flash animation creation with the Release to Layers feature, which creates Flash animations by using layers as groups of frames in animations. Release to Layers allows users to animate a complex image such that it builds before the eyes of Web site visitors. Features such as the new Magic Wand Tracing tool let designers take a bit-mapped graphic and convert it to paths so that it can be further integrated with other vector elements. FreeHand 9 provides many drawing tools not offered with Flash 4 that let designers create sophisticated graphics much more easily than with Flash.

FreeHand 9 now offers a Flash-compatible Symbol library that lets designers define graphic elements and then reuse them. When a change is made to a Symbol, each document that uses it reflects the change.

New design tools make it much easier and faster to create complex graphics. The new Perspective Grid feature makes it simple to create a skewed element that’s similar to a 3-D graphic. For example, a simple text element cab be simply snapped to the grid to automatically create a 3-D effect. The Perspective Grid lets the placement of text be altered without having to re-create the design. The element could be moved up and down the grid, or closer to the vanishing point, and the angle and scale of the text changed to reflect each new perspective.

Another time-saver is the new Envelope tool, which helps to simplify warping and distorting text and graphics. When this feature is used simply dragging a handle to raise parts of an element extrudes that element.

FreeHand 9 is available for Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT and Mac OS 8.1, costs US$399 and $149 for the upgrade. The Macromedia Flash 4 Freehand 9 Studio costs $499 and $199 for the upgrade.

Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco is at http://www.macromedia

Prices listed are in US currency.