Illustrator v. Freehand

for the Web Tools Review by Philip Greenspun

Adobe Illustrator is a better product than MacroMedia (nee Aldus) Freehand. It comes in a bigger box. It comes with a bigger manual. Illustrator comes on a CD-ROM; Freehand comes on floppies. Illustrator comes with a 5-lesson 100-page tutorial; Freehand comes with a 57-page "getting started" booklet.

Why would anyone in his right mind buy Freehand? Because it is a better program.

Maybe if you are a superprofessional graphic artist, Illustrator can do some things better (people talk about "sharing paths with PhotoShop"), but for this novice user, Freehand is leaps and bounds more usable.

Freehand's text-handling capabilities are vastly superior to Illustrator's. Freehand supports multi-page documents with linked columns, obviating the need for a program such as Pagemaker or Quark Xpress. Illustrator won't even allow you to underline text (unless you want to draw a custom line underneath the text yourself).

The main challenge with Freehand for Web authors is getting the results into bitmap form. With Illustrator, you simply import the file into PhotoShop, tell it how many pixels/inch you'd like, and then "Save As" a GIF or JPEG. Exporting a Freehand file into Illustrator 3 or Illustrator 5.5 format and then trying this stunt with PhotoShop results in garbage. Probably the best way to do this is adjust your Freehand view until the image looks right to you, then take a screen capture. On a Mac, just type Apple-Shift 3 then pull the "Picture 1" off your startup disk into PhotoShop, crop, and Save As a GIF.

A final option is to ask yourself how many figures you really need and whether it wouldn't be more cost-effective to hire a graphic designer. You will save the $400 cost of a drawing program and many hours of frustration. Not everyone was born to draw.

Freehand 5.0 is $400 at MacConnection, $150 for an upgrade or competitive upgrade. Illustrator 5.5 is $390, $100 for an upgrade from 5.0.

Reader's Comments

I use FreeHand 7.0 mostly for print and wanted to comment on getting FreeHand art into gif format. I have exported logos drawn in FreeHand as eps/tif preview and opened in Photoshop without a problem.

-- Don Pikovnik, December 18, 1997
With Freehand 7 you can simply export any highlighted element as a pict with the export pict function in the extra tools panel. You have the choice of dpi and colour depth. The other advantage of Freehand 7 for web development is that it is, naturally, compatible with Macromedia Flash, which will put your vector-graphics into the web at vector graphic file sizes.

-- Tim Groves, February 12, 1998
I worked with Illustrator for several hours. I had nothing to show for it. I spent 4 hours with Freehand 7 and had completed the tutorial and published (yes, published) 3 maps for web pages. Enough s

-- Christopher Orth, March 30, 1998
I am a graphic illustrator that creates very detailed and complicated work. I noticed that in Adobe Illustrator, the radial gradation shows quite visible lines of change of gradation (dark to light, etc.). This is also apparent on print-outs. Macromedia Freehand (7.0), the gradation lines are alot less visible on screen, and invisible on my print-outs. It looks smooth as silk. So far, I think Freehand is a better tool.

-- Jonathan Blair, April 16, 1998
Paintbrush for windows 3.1 is the best. Its paint, and erase tools are far superior to those of freehand.

-- jhgj --, May 4, 1998
Now that Freehand 8 is available, Freehand is both a better program *and* a better product. PC Magazine gave it the Editor's Choice award, suggesting that Illustrator users ought to learn to use Freehand instead. I agree.

-- Glen Perkins, June 19, 1998
I tryed Illustrator 7, Corel 8 & FreeHand 8 and I think that FreeHand gives a fantastic capability to work with different pages in a document, it works with text better than two others, but I don't know how to add a node in choosen place of a path and how to open a node. FreeHand doesn't shows printing area and it's prewiew is terrible. However my choice for MY needs is FreeHand 8

-- Gregory --, June 27, 1998
Another comment I'd like to make about Freehand is how lasting it is. I still use Aldus Freehand 4. It more than perfectly suits my needs. I know that people with Illustrator seem to obsess about getting an upgrade soon, but I really haven't thought to hard about upgrading, as it's a swell program.

-- Chas. Mercadal, July 8, 1999
Comparing illustrator to freehand is like comparing my now small boobies to my old huge ones!!!!

-- Pamela Anderson, September 23, 1999
The wonderful Illustrator V Freehand argument. When I first picked up freehand I learned the program in a day and never used Illustrator again. I also never used Quark express again either. WHY? why should I use 2 programs and jump from one to the other when I can just do it in one program. Freehand 8 in my opinion can do 99% of what quark does and 99% of what illustrator does..but Quark can only do 80 percent of what Freehand does and Illustrator 90%. Alot of people do not know that Freehand is equal to if not more powerful then quark in text features..bascially if Illustrator and quark had a kid it would be freehand. And if your designing for the web macromedia products are the ones to use. Check out both Adobe's and Macromedia's websites..expecially you will go hmm Adobe has some catching up to do..haha

-- that guy somewhere, October 5, 1999
This comparison is now so out of date, it's probably doing both products a disservice maintaining it.

-- Mark Dancer, April 3, 2004
Now that Adobe has acquired Macromedia, expect FreeHand to disappear soon. Grap FreeHand 10 or MX and hold on to it. I can only hope Adobe incorporates some of FH's superior qualities (pen tool, multi-pages, text capabilities) into Illustrator. I personally dislike Illustrator to a high degree. FH is so intuitive to use compared to Illustrator (I am surprised Ill. ever made it to the stature it has attained). I personally do almost everything "non-pixel" based in FH. I do love Photoshop though, so I am not anti-Adobe, in case anyone was wondering.

-- Steve Bailey, October 27, 2005
Firstly I would like to state that the comments are very old and allot has changed from then to now so here is some updated news, I have been in the print industry using Freehand 3 - MX 11.02 and using Illustrator 5 - CS3 13.0.1 and I prefer Illustrator for many reasons.

Freehand is not Postscript level 3 compliant even though level 3 has been around for about 8 years, what this means is that Freehand can only reproduce 256 levels of grey whereas Illustrator is level 3 and can produce the same gradient with 4096 levels of grey.

Freehand is not updated enough and will not ever go past version 11.0.2 and therefor will not take advantage of the new apple Intel chips.

Freehand loses information when ungrouping objects, try this example in version 11. Make a new page, draw 2 squares with no stroke and a fill of black, group the 2 items, stroke the group with a 4-pt cyan stroke, now ungroup. oops where did your stroke go.

Freehand gives features that do not work try a pattern fill, with the great warning "Pattern fills and strokes are not intended for output to high-resolution devices" sorry but why not, what happens if I want to make a computer form with a burlap effect as a strikeout, so the client plays it out on their laser-printer and I cant reproduce it.

Try making a PDF using Adobe Distiller of a freehand document with a 2 spot colour linear gradient and although the rest of the elements appear in their spot colours, the gradient does not it comes out in CMYK. You have to print that as a separated PDF, this is to say the least problematic.

How about lens fills why cant they be used with spot colours OR eps files. So you have some corporate stationary been made up in freehand you get your 4 colour folder printed and delivered, with lens fills all over the place, now I want to make some 2 spot colour business cards and reproduce those effect. Sorry I'm out of luck, it can't be done well that's no good.

Try using the great text underline function in freehand spoken about earlier in the comments here, now just convert it to paths for me. mmmmm where did your underline go.

Try produce a high resolution PDF from a FH11 document with a spot channel EPS DCS 2 as a composite, and once again your spot colours go missing and convert to 4 colour and it is all low resolution, you have to make a separated PDF again.

Freehands' transparency effects are a joke and do not work well at all, also take a grey-scale scan and make it transparent, now it becomes a bit-map and all the grey is gone.

Make a new Freehand document and draw two lines one at the top of the page and the other at the bottom, now create a blend between the 2, now look at the steps in the properties inspector and you will see 25 steps, undo your blend change your document printer resolution to 2540-dpi and make the blend again, now it is at 256 steps, its still not smooth so you have to set your own.

This is an intermittent problem that happens every so often so I can't give direction how to reproduce it fully, but sometimes when using linked text boxes with a picture that has a text wrap around it to reflow the text, you will find that some of your text goes missing sometimes an entire line, and I do not mean at the end of the text either, just anywhere in the middle of any paragraph it likes, freehand has no prejudice.

For those who say Freehand has the same text handling capabilities of Quark or InDesign, you are misinformed, it is close but as I started out as a typesetting operator, I have dealt with all sorts of typography, such as align to baseline grid witch is missing in freehand and many others.

Freehand has bad font support just compare you find and replace windows font list with your normal font list and there are major differences.

How about Font Glyphs where are they in Freehand and how do I use them from the Character pallet, well you just can't and why not well open type fonts are not fully supported in Freehand, and freehands' clipboard is too limited with its format to paste a glyph

Summary Although it may not sound like it I have enjoyed using Freehand for many many years and there are bugs within Illustrator too and Freehand is a good application however in my printing business if I had to say witch application has cost me personally the most money in time wasted and print rejections it has to be freehand hands down, there are just too many bugs to use this application in a high production environment.

It is your prerogative to disagree but please do not give reasons like ILLUSTRATOR WAS HARDER TO WORK OUT THAN FREEHAND cause if that is the case then you have never used Illustrator extensively enough to give commentary.

All this information provided above is based on the Apple version of Freehand NOT PC, maybe they had better luck with the app.

-- Paul Strydom, July 24, 2007

Illustrator is the most reliable vector program available. Freehand is by far the most intuitive. I started out using Freehand at it's inception (when it was launched with Pagemaker by Aldus) and believe that as a free form design program freehand is excellent. Slicing and joining paths, masking (paste-inside) are just a few features that are far easier to use.

I have recently introduced my artsy 14 year old daughter to computer graphics and try as I did to explain how to use Illustrator, it was obvious that she able to achieve results quicker in Freehand in a way that made sense to a beginner.

Adobe Illustrator is great but would do well to take on board some of the critisisms and include some of the excellent intuitive features from Freehand. As a daily Illustrator user, I feel that it's a bit like wading through toffee.

Illustrator zealots that have not experienced the joys of Freehand do not know what they have missed.

Rest in Peace Freehand

-- Mat Pilbeam, November 26, 2007

I last used an illustration program in 1999, and at the time that was FreeHand. Ten years later, I found myself once again needing to do illustrations, and was forced by lack of alternatives to use Illustrator. I figured that it would be a doddle given my previous Freehand and Photoshop experience, but it's been anything but.

Human computer interaction is passion of mine, so I don't say the following lightly: Illustrator has the least intuitive interface of any application I ever used. Strange behaviour is riddled through the UI at the most fundamental levels: do you click-release-drag to move a point or simply click-drag? They both seem to work and not work arbitrarily. Modifier keys, which making working with Photoshop such a dream, work completely differently and inconsistently in Illustrator. Probably the worst example of this is Ctrl to switch to previous command. Ctrl should be selection: period; having an essential key work differently depending on your workflow is insane. And I'm not sure how anyone worked out the gradient tool without looking at the web. Snapping is another form of hell, sometimes leaking over pixel boundaries, sometimes not.

I'm not saying that Illustrator isn't a powerful tool. It is. I've made several designs that would have perhaps been more work in Freehand. But its complexity is not caused by its utility. Every Illustrator function found in Photoshop is easier to use in Photoshop and it just comes down the UI. In terms of usability, Freehand was vastly better designed and it is sad that the Illustrator team has been unable to take what was good about Freehand and enrich Illustrator. Hell, even the Photoshop team could make a huge impact.

-- Brendon McLean, May 29, 2009

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