The History of Adobe Illustrator

When Adobe Illustrator V1 was first released in 1987, the creators aimed to revolutionise the professional illustration and graphic design market by bringing digital solutions to everyday analogue problems. “My wife couldn’t ink,” said President of Adobe and creator of Illustrator John Warnock, referring to the laborious process of manually drawing and sketching illustrations.

People would use Rapidograph pens which are industry standard fine art pens that maintain a standard thickness no matter the movement or direction. They were messy, they would explode and one mistake right at the final line would render a drawing that you’d just spent a whole day working on would be ruined. Clients would ask for colour, size and style changes which before Illustrator meant starting from scratch.

V1 – 1987

Illustrator was the first clear signal that artwork was starting to become digitalised, and for some this felt like a threat to their profession. Designers who had mastered the skills of using analogue tools like the industry standard Rapidograph pens struggled to grasp the new concept of bezier curves. But for others, Illustrator’s pen tool was their new best friend. It allowed a whole new generation of designers to bring their ideas to the table and have complete control over every curve of the design. Many students who were finishing their design degrees at the time quickly mastered these techniques offered by Illustrator and proudly showcased the artwork that for the first time had been created using a computer.

The original version of Illustrator was a basic user interface between the user and the postscript code. One user remembers working with Adobe and if he made a mistake, he would have to ask a developer to come and remove that bit of code as if it were an undo function. Soon this would become a feature of Illustrator and for many traditionally trained graphic designers, a wave of a magic wand to be able to undo something and try again as this allowed designers to be braver and try out things that they’d never tried before.

An original Apple Mac circa. 1984

V5 – 1993

Did you know that before v5 of Illustrator it was not possible to work on the preview of a design? This meant that designers would have to have two versions of a design open – one version to work on and one version to preview the final version. Adobe quickly responded to the market needs after they had a flood of complaints that designers were having to have two versions open and released this feature to do live editing in preview mode.

V7 – 1997

For many years up until this version, designers had to battle with two different formats of fonts, namely Truetype fonts and Postscript fonts. The format war was quickly dispelled when Illustrator released V6 that was compatible with both and for some designers, instantaneously doubling their font library if they’d previously used a graphics package that only allowed one type of font from their library.

Even today there is still a strong debate as to whether Macs or PCs are the strongest machine to use. A big part of this is dependant on the work that you’re doing and of course some arguments are subjective. Before version 7 there was no compatibility between the Mac versions of Illustrator and the Windows versions of competitor packages like Coreldraw and Freehand.

After this, collaboration between artists, studios and printers was much easier and there was less need to buy additional packages just for compatibility purposes.

With version 7 came the ability to move around and customise the tool palettes. Up until this point, if a user was working on a design that required both the Align and Transform palettes, they would have to constantly change between the two. This new features to be able to split the palettes and place them wherever you wanted to on screen allowed for a smoother work flow due to the constant interruptions needed to switch between tool palettes.

The text tool was also updated in this version including the ability to place type on a curve. Not only did this allow designers to create new designs and layouts with fun titles that engendered movement and direction, it also spawned a whole sub-genre of art called Calligram. Dylan Roscover is famous for creating these illustrations that are made out of type I.e. a moscaic made out of words. His most famous example of Steve Jobs in 1990’s that included quotes from his speeches drew attention from Time magazine and Roscover eventually created a Caligram of Romney and Obama for one of their magazine front covers.

V8 – 1998

Imagine doing UI Design without the gradient tool? It didn’t appear in Illustrator until v8 and this ability to mix two colours together to get a smooth blend started a new trend. A gradient creates visual interest and helps users navigate a design. If you search for UI Design examples on any search engine or social media platform like Instagram, the majority of the strongest examples leverage the gradient tool because of its simplicity to create and its power to attract.

Smart guides was an example of introducing AI (artificial intelligence) into Ai (Illustrator). The main purpose of Smart Guides is to bring consistency, precision and speed to a designer’s workflow, but it can be a great learning tool for new designers. Just like a spell-checking feature in a word processor teaches many people correct spelling and grammar, Smart Guides gives inspiration to budding designers as to what can be lined up and when. This useful tool is now a heavy feature of programs such as Adobe XD where speed and conversion of UX design idea to screen is key.

CS2 – 2005

A rainbow gradient

When I first saw Live Trace I knew how important this tool would be for me. I have spent many years mastering the pen tool, but after looking at some drawings you know that a computer can create it half the time as you could. The traditional process for many designers and illustrators would be to sketch out using pen or pencil, then take a snapshop on a camera or mobile phone. Once the raster version is on screen as a backdrop, the artist can then draw over the lines using bezier curves. Live Trace gave users the ability to skip a huge step in this process by getting this intuitive tool to make the bezier curves themselves. The tool requires some mastering, but the beauty is that if the tool creates a few curves which are not quite right, as they are bezier curves they can be quickly amended for precision.

CS6 – 2012

Many design reviews of this new version of Illustrator starts with the new “darker interface”, which of course is still controllable if you were to prefer the previous lighter version. This update had listened and observed how some users were struggling with headaches and eye strain after working on their graphics for hours a day. Combined with additional research about how bright colours on a monitor were prime culprits to adding to eye strain, the simple change to the darker interface was for some designers the equivalent of being wrapped up in a fluffy blanket on a cold day.

CC2014 – 2014

CC Libraries is another step towards global thinking and the ever increasing demand for remote working. Today in many areas of UX and UI design, teams and companies are spread out all over the world. Studios, clients and even colleagues sitting next to each other need a consistent and structured way to collaborate and share assets and CC Libraries was the solution that was released. Even from v1 of Illustrator when designers saw the potential power of the software in being able to make those oh-so-annoying client changes on the computer instead of starting again, CC Libraries allows multiple users to ‘child’ instances of graphic elements like logos, icons and straplines which will update if there is a change to the master / parent. All corporate branding goes through stages of evolution with design iterations that include tiny tweaks and major overhauls. As long as all designers work consistently by utilising assets from the CC Libraries, making client changes to artwork can be now be done in minutes rather than days or weeks.

Illustrator is now available on the iPad

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