Aldus FreeHand

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On: 2014-04-14 23:02:20
Updated by: MR
On: 2023-12-23 17:02:22
Other contributors: osodeanteojos , InkBlot , that-ben
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What is Aldus FreeHand?

Until recently, Adobe Illustrator was the only Macintosh drawing application offering an interactive interface that took advantage of some of PostScript’s more advanced capabilities. Now Illustrator has a formidable challenger — FreeHand .

Developed by Altsys Corporation, of Fontographer fame, and marketed by Aldus, of PageMaker notoriety, FreeHand lakes a qualitative leap beyond Illustrator by providing a "freehand" drawing tool, which greatly simplifies the drawing of curves; multiple layers, which help manage complex drawings; improved text handling; and color.

FreeHand's drawing tool allows you to trace (or draw from scratch) a complex curved object without having to worry about where one Bezier curve segment ends and the next begins. The lack of such a tool in Illustrator is one of that program’s shortcomings.

FreeHand also has specialized tools for connecting two straight lines, two curves, or a curve to a straight line. I find these less appealing because they require you to think a step ahead. Before you draw a line or curve segment, you need to decide whether the segment after the one you are about to draw will be straight or curved and choose the appropriate tool.

Furthermore, the interaction between the freehand curve tool and the other tools is... well, let’s just say it doesn’t exactly get an “A" for being intuitive.

One of Illustrator's innovations was to separate the abstract outlines of shapes in a drawing (known as "paths" in PostScript) from the characteristics of those paths (such as line width and fill shade) as they appear in the final output of the drawing. Unfortunately, when an Illustrator drawing gets complex, it becomes almost impossible to tell which paths are in front of or behind which other paths, FreeHand eliminates this problem by providing 200 layers, each of which can have as many or as few objects as you like drawn on it. You can specify which range of layers are active. Because you can only select items on active layers, you can isolate specific objects that require detail work while still allowing objects on other layers to be visible as a reference. Specific layers can be made visible, so you can focus on a set of objects without being distracted by others.

The zero layer is for pasting in MacPaint or PICT images for use as templates. Yes, you read that right — pasting in. Unlike Illustrator which allows you to “attach” a template to a drawing without cutting and pasting, in FreeHand you must use the Clipboard or an appropriate desk accessory to do the job. Also unlike Illustrator, however, FreeHand allows you to put multiple objects on the template (zero) layer and to move them around relative to the drawing layers.

In text handling FreeHand has also leaped ahead of Illustrator. Each individual character in a text block can be a different font, style, and point size. And manual kerning between individual character pairs is supported as well as global letter spacing. FreeHand's text WYSIWYG is also far more accurate than that of Illustrator.

But it’s the ease with which you can scale text blocks within a FreeHand drawing that is perhaps its most welcome advance over Illustrator. When you select a text block to resize, FreeHand surrounds it with a rectangle with four corner handles. You can scale (resize) the text in the block by dragging one of these handles — just as if you were resizing a rectangle in MacDraw. In addition, you can modify letter spacing by holding down the Option key as you drag a text block's handle, and you can modify word spacing by holding down the Shift and Option keys.
There are some rather glaring omissions in FreeHand's text-handling capabilities, however. You cannot stroke (outline) and fill text at the same time. Nor do you have any control over the width of the outline for outlined text. Furthermore, there isn't any simple way to modify FreeHand's PostScript output to overcome this limitation in the user interface.

FreeHand's got color — lots of it. You can define a color using any of four color models: RGB (red/green/blue), HLS (hue/lightness/saturation), CMY (cyan/magenta/yellow), or four-color process (the same as CMY with the addition of black). Once defined, a color can be assigned to any line or fill or to text. FreeHand allows you to print either a composite gray-scale simulation of a color drawing or separate images for each different color.

If you use process colors. FreeHand automatically prints a separate image for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black layers.

Although there's tremendous power here, the user interface for defining and using colors leaves a bit to be do sired. The menus through which you define and access colors are poorly organized and continue to confuse me after many hours of use.

Two more things I simply have to mention. First, FreeHand imports Illustrator files directly and allows you to edit them — and I do mean edit, not just scale and crop.

Second, FreeHand lets you clip one object or group of objects to the outline of another. No, sorry, you can't clip to the outline of text.

Overall, FreeHand is a powerful graphics tool, well designed and well implemented. If you're a serious Macintosh artist, particularly if you do color work, you'll certainly want to get FreeHand.

But, like all software, it's not without its shortcomings. If you're on a tight budget, wait to compare FreeHand's capabilities to those of Illustrator '88, which is due out soon.

Bortman, Henry. (August 1988). Aldus FreeHand. MacUser. (pgs. 83-84).

Download Aldus FreeHand for Mac

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