"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

The Lure of Creative Suite

Toby Roworth

May 28, 2013

I've finally moved away from Inkscape, GIMP and LaTex and sunk some (educationally discounted) money into Creative Suite.
So why sell out to the big boys? Why ditch the wonderful world of free software? Why risk installing Windows? What follows is a few thoughts I chucked together over a few weeks of train journeys.


I've been gradually growing more interested in typography recently, and playing around with type is greatly assisted by the modern wonder that is opentype typefaces. Libpango, the rendering engine Inkscape is built on, has very poor support for opentype features, meaning one doesn't get the benefits of paying hundreds of pounds for a professional typeface.
Illustrator and Photoshop have a simple tab that provides direct access to jazzy character features, and a separate tab for opentype features. InDesign isn't quite so nice, using a drop-down menu for opentype (or a slightly nicer interface in the style editing window).
This is one of my annoyances with creative suite - it doesn't always feel like a deeply integrated suite, more like a collection of related tools. The UIs are similar, but regularly different, supposedly because each product has its own design team. (Upcoming post on this, so watch this space).
But even simple things like adjusting kerning, leading etc is a lot easier, especially given that Inkscape has a bug which really screws up adjusting kerning on both ranges and individual letters.


Inkscape hardly supports CMYK, which is essential for professional printing - printers speak CMYK, and sending them an RGB file can lead to incorrect colours in the printed copy.
Spot colours are completely non-existent in the open source tools, including the Pantone Matching System colours, whereas in InDesign they're right there. I've had a little less luck with Illustrator, but I think its about somewhere. Couple with with a handy app and I can pull a colour palette together on the train, ready to drop onto a document once I reach my laptop.
Additionally, all of creative suite can be colour managed, working towards that dream of a fully colour calibrated workflow. One day...
This can be accomplished with the open source toolchain (disparate set of tools might be more accurate) in most cases, but is nowhere near as easy.

Professional Printing Output

Bleed, slug, multiple pages in many orientations can all be handled by InDesign with no effort. Scribus might have managed these, but I never got on with it. Latex might have done it, but it was a mission at best. Inkscape didn't have a clue - cunning use of guides and export commands gave something approaching bleed options, but nothing great.

Photoshop's Transformation Tools

In short, they're more wide-reaching and quicker than GIMP's transform tools, and don't show me matrices - didn't like them at school, still don't like them now!

Adjustment Layers and Layer Effects

Non-destructive editing saves a lot of time in the long-run, and means glows, shadows and the like can be adjusted without redoing them from scratch.
Adjustment layers are similarly useful, not requiring news colours etc to be baked in, and can be clipped to the layers below, which is nice for compositing several pictures together each requiring different colour adjustments.

Photoshop's Selection Tools

Creating a selection in Photoshop gives you half a dozen different smart tools for selecting part of an image in seconds - quick selection tool feels a bit like magic, and does a fairly good first cut. Followed by a more refined tool you can select a person very quickly.
But where it really gets good us the "refine edge" tool, which allows the edge to be smoothed, feathered and generally made better.
There are probably things I've missed, but they're generally along the lines of integration and professional features.

Creative Cloud

Adobe's just revealed a whole host of cool updates to Creative Cloud, and will no longer be releasing traditional releases of Creative Suite. At it's heart, this represents a shift from software as a [licensed] product to software as a service, but they're throwing in a whole lot more than just the software - cloud syncing, a font catalogue and access to the whole of creative suite, not just the useful bits, are just the start.

What Do I Miss?

£16 per month Given that it was cheaper and spread the cost over a longer period, Creative Cloud was a no-brainer.
Inkscape's Vector Tools
Inkscape's vector tools are much quicker to pick up than Illustrator, and I generally found it easier to create a given shape. I haven't yet had the time to go really deep into vector drawing, so it might be that there are hidden options to make pointy corners etc.
Latex is awesome and fun! It'd just no good in a rush, or for graphical work.
My old toolchain script let me build several inkscape's documents into a multipage PDF via LaTeX, but it was a clunky way of working, and even after assorted compression methods the PDFs were quite large.
InDesign allegedly uses a very similar justification algorithm to LaTeX too, which means I can trust it to justify well, and I really like good justification.
Knowing my Design Toolchain Inside-out
There's lot of learning to do in Creative Suite still. But I guess that's the fun of it!
And I'll get plenty of practice on the upcoming (watch this space) redesign of this blog...