Fireworks CS3: 5 Reasons You Might Upgrade

I wrote most of this piece for the Design View, but the graphics took some time, so I figure it’s worthwhile posting it here too.

Obviously the main reason you upgrade any application is to be able to do new stuff. I’ve been working with Fireworks CS3 and it’s betas since last year so I’d going to concentrate on the features I’ve actually been using every day.

You can then make your own call on how valuable they might be to the way you work.

1) The Pages Panel

Pages, a brand new panel in Fireworks CS3, lives happily alongside your Layers, Frames, and History panels.

As you might infer from by the title, Fireworks’ new Pages functionality is essentially a design templating system.

Fireworks CS3: 5 Reasons You Might Upgrade

Currently, I suspect most professional web designers mimic this function — regardless of their choice of graphics program. Like many, I typically design a cross-site header, footer and navigation, lock it on a layer, then add new layers containing variations for different page types — article pages, search results, the cover page, category level pages, and so on.

The new Pages panel lets you formalize this templating method. After designing your core page interface you can use the fly-out in the Pages panel to “Set as Master Page”, and then roll out new, linked pages all based on your locked master page.

You’re then free to edit your master page at any time and these edits are, of course, translated immediately to any linked pages.

I must admit it did take me a little time to get into the ‘Pages way of thinking’ — old habits die hard — but I think it’s ultimately a fundamentally better, more organized way to work, and worth persisting with until it becomes part of your natural workflow.

2) Cross-application Interoperability

Although the great Adobe/Macromedia merger was a concern to many of us, it must be said that there are some great upsides to the situation, and cross-application interoperability is certainly one.

Fireworks CS3’s newly acquired tricks include the ability to:

* open and save files in PSD format
* open and save files in Illustrator 8 format
* open EPS documents (reliably)
* natively render and edit all Live Effects from Photoshop accurately — including bevels, shadows, glows and patterns
* copy and paste between Illustrator CS3 and Photoshop CS3 with far higher fidelity than before

Also, for the first time, Fireworks makes a concerted effort to look outside the standard Red/Green/Blue color space with much more sophisticated color management.

Not only can it think in terms of CMYK, but the new color selector can handle the HLS (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) and HSV (Hue, Saturation, Value) color models more common to files created in Photoshop and other graphics apps.

Matching Pantone colors from within Fireworks is still a problem. It isn’t often that I need to do this, but it would be nice to have it there for the occasions that I do. I’d imagine substantial licensing fees would have some impact on that decision.

Fireworks’ new Blender and Mixer palettes have borrowed a little from the Illustrator tool set, and provide fast and elegant access to the colors you’re most likely to need.

3) 9-slice Scaling

Although I covered this one in detail in an earlier post, I think it’s well worth restating in this list, as it’s certainly been the single most useful development for me.

The more I use 9-slice scaling, the more places I seem to find to use it.

What I’ve also discovered recently is that both Flash and Illustrator in CS3 include similar functionality — albeit in slightly different implementations.

4) New Assets: Shapes and Styles Library

Fireworks CS3: 5 Reasons You Might Upgrade
One of the real eye-openers for me in this release has been the souped-up assets library.

As you can see from the small sample at right, there are some really impressive effects including accurate imitations of plastics, metals, glass, flames, and plasma.

Bear in mind that every one of these styles is a scalable, tileable vector style that can be applied to any vector shape at a click.

While there’s no doubt they are useful in their own right, I’ve personally found them more useful as an learning aid.

As each style is made up of often intricately layered glows, textures, gradients, bevels, and reflections, I’ve gradually come to understand a lot more about constructing these styles from scratch. After a little trial and error, there’s very little in the real world you can’t mimic with the right combinations of effects. In fact, I’ve created a number of drag ‘n’ drop glossy card and paper styles that I now routinely use in our book cover mock-ups.

Fireworks CS3: 5 Reasons You Might Upgrade
Fireworks’ Shapes library also has some nifty additions — although I’ve always felt the idea of referring to these objects as “shapes” was rather underselling their value.

Fireworks Shapes are more like reusable screen widgets, each with a specialized task. You can even write your own if you’re clever.

New additions to the Shapes panel that catch the eye include:

  • a smart, styleable calendar object that automatically adjusts its layout based on the month and year selected
  • a drag ‘n’ drop “File Info” shape that automatically labels your artwork with filename, filesize, image dimensions, color depth, number of layers, timestamp and author name
  • a posable artist model (shown above — very handy for the feature article illustrations on SitePoint)
  • a spinning, posable 3D cube
  • an editable annotation shape (also shown above)

5) Performance

While most of us would be quite content to have an upgrade that simply ran without needing new hardware, I’m happy to report that all the CS3 applications — Fireworks included — run at least as fast as, if not faster than, their CS2 equivalents.

I have to say that this came as a surprise, as I expected the task of integrating Macromedia-born applications into Adobe’s codebase would come at a performance cost — at least on the first version. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Summary

In short, this a pretty significant upgrade to an already strong application (okay, so I’m a fan). Although there are plenty of other new goodies I haven’t mentioned here, the features noted above are the ones that have largest impact on the way I work.

If you’re a Fireworks convert — or even just a bit curious — I think you could certainly do worse than taking the demo for a test drive.

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