Adobe Illustrator CS6 – Review of New Features

• 9 minutes READ

Today I will try to analyze the most important of new features of Adobe Illustrator CS6, and will review the other less significant, in my opinion, improvements.

After reading this review, you can get a first glimpse of the advantages of this release, and make your own conclusions; I was just trying to make an unbiased approach towards the subject of study.

Gradients on strokes

Now it is the first time since the creation of Adobe Illustrator it became possible to apply gradients to the strokes.

Besides the traditional linear and radial gradient for the stroke, there appeared two types of the gradient fill. These are the Gradient along stroke and Gradient across stroke.

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With the help of the Gradient along stroke, we can create a conical gradient, for example. Previously, there were some smart tricks that helped to create this type of fill (here is described one of them), but now it became much easier. You just need to create a circle with a stroke, whose width is equal to the diameter of the circle, and to apply the Gradient along the stroke to it.

Such a conical gradient is very easy to control by changing the position and color of its sliders.

Gradient across stroke helps us to color curved objects similar to chrome-plated tubes.

We can apply to the path different profiles from the Stroke panel and change the width of the stroke with the help of the Width Tool. Gradient along stroke will obediently adjust to new shapes.

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You can also apply the Dashed line to the path.

This is the most remarkable feature for me that has enormous creative potential and allows you to create artworks much faster.

When I first saw the presentation of this feature on Adobe TV I immediately came up with a question: what object does the stroke with a gradient fill convert to after applying the Expand Appearance command? Now we can check it out. Select the stroke with a gradient fill and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

As you can see, we got a Gradient Mesh. It’s just so wonderful! In case you need a more complex filling, than we can create with the help of the Gradient along stroke and Gradient across stroke, we can recolor the nodes of the gradient mesh or add new ones.

What would I like to have and what I cannot find in Adobe Illustrator CS6 when filling strokes with gradient fill?

  1. We cannot control the position of the gradient with the help of the Gradient Tool (G), and for this reason, Gradient annotator is also inactive.
  2. If we apply the Art Brush to path, we cannot apply the gradient fill, even if we choose the appropriate option in the dialog window of the Art Brush Options.

Is there an alternative option for creating this kind of fills in earlier versions of Adobe Illustrator? Yes. There is a Free Gradient Mesh plugin which allows you to do that. You can read more about it here.

Pattern creation

The creation of the seamless pattern in Adobe Illustrator was driving crazy many designers to which I belong as well. There is at least one trick that allows you to make this process automated. You can read about this here. However, the creation of the seamless pattern still remained a challenge, the resolution of which needs accuracy and diligence. Fortunately, now this process is automated so that now it can be done by any beginner. Let’s see how this is done on a simple example. I created a group of elements, which consists of several circles, as it is shown in the picture below.

To create a seamless pattern, select the group and go to Object > Pattern > Make. As a result of these actions, we get into a special mode in which we can manage the seamless pattern with the Pattern Options panel and get a visual control over the process of its creation.

There are 5 Tile types that you can choose from a list in this panel.

You can change the size of tile or set the value of spacing between them.

You also have a choice of type of overlapping of the elements of the adjacent tiles.

Elements in the bottom of the panel are used for different kinds of visualization and do not affect the final product.
We are able to edit the existing and create new elements, all the changes are immediately displayed on the entire pattern.

To save a new seamless pattern click on “Done” on the top bar.

As a result of these actions, we leave the mode of seamless pattern creation, and the designed pattern appears in the Swatches panel.

Now we can apply it to any object as a fill.

If you need to edit the created pattern, just double click on its image in the Swatches panel which will get you to the mode of creation of the seamless pattern.

Does a new feature allow to create all the possible kinds of seamless patterns? No. There are at least 17 kinds of similar patterns. Is it possible to create seamless patterns in earlier versions of the program? Yes, There is Free Mad Pattern Tool which allows you to create a greater variety of patterns. But if we talk about the convenience, then, of course, it is more convenient to create patterns in Adobe Illustrator CS6.

Image Trace

Developers promise us that the quality of trace is more improved, and the process is more intuitive. Now check this out. For our experiment take two raster images, a photograph and sketch. Let’s start with the photograph. I’ll be using the photograph Night Just Starting (credit to deviantART user ~ xeneras).

Paste the photo into the artwork (File > Place …) in Adobe Illustrator CS5 and Adobe Illustrator CS6, and then do tracing using the designed for these purposes preset Photo High Fidelity, and then compare the results.

As you can see, new tracing engine shows better results.

Try to improve the quality of images in Adobe Illustrator CS5 by manually controlling the parameters of the tracing.

Using different parameters, I could not achieve the quality, which gives us the Adobe Illustrator CS6.

Let’s apply tracing to the sketch. I’ll be using the sketch.

Preset Inked Drawing is designed for tracing this kind of images.

But from experience I know that it is better to use the preset Black & White Logo.

Tracing of the sketch in Adobe Illustrator CS5 gave, in my opinion, an excellent result.

Apply the same preset for tracing in Adobe Illustrator CS6.

As you can see, most of the tiny details disappeared.

Try to improve the quality of images in Adobe Illustrator CS6 by manually controlling the parameters of tracing.

I managed to achieve almost the same result.

Did the process become intuitive? I’m not sure. Specifying in percentage is clearer for you than in the numerical values? There is one plus that I can see for sure. When you hover over the element controlling the parameter, in the Image Trace panel we can see a tooltip that indicates what the actions with this parameter lead to.

64-bit support for Mac OS and Windows

One of the main differences between Adobe Illustrator CS6 and previous versions is the ability to support 64-bit operating systems. 32-bit operating system version is limited to support of a maximum of 4 GB of memory, and even then it will not give the entire power to your applications. If you’re working with a large amount of documents, or with complex graphics, the memory is consumed rapidly and the operating system starts moving some of the information on your hard disk. This leads to a slowing down the work or issuing an error about the lack of memory, but the worst that it can crash the application and data loss.

64-bit version can support any amount of memory available today. Transition to 64-bit operating system and more RAM will not only give an additional “living space”, but will allow working more efficiently.

Adobe Illustrator CS6 supports 32 and 64-bit operating system for Windows, but for Mac OS now it only supports 64-bit operating system.

Now let’s talk about the new features that are not as essential as mentioned above, but still enjoyable.

Efficient, customizable interface

Now you can set the brightness of the interface. To do this, open the Preferences window (Cmd / Ctrl + K) and choose the User Interface in tab in the left side of the window. Now, by moving the slider, you can change the brightness of your interface.

You can also change the Canvas color. It can match the brightness of your interface, or be white.

Changes in the panel system

Now you can switch between the numeric fields using the Tab key and change the values using the arrow keys. This change affected only Mac OS users. Windows users had these features in earlier releases of the program.

Character panel now has additional options that allow you to manage your text parameters more efficiently from a single panel.

Now we are able to rename the layers, brushes, symbols, and so on directly in the correspondent panels without opening additional windows.

Make / Release Mask button appeared in the Transparency panel.

You can tear off dock of previously hidden tools such as the Shape and Pen tools. Dock tools horizontally or vertically for a more efficient workspace.

Advanced Color panel view allows us to choose colors more effectively. In addition we get an ability to specify 16-bit color value.

Speedy Gaussian Blur

You can apply Gaussian Blur and effects such as Drop Shadows and Glows and see the results immediately on the artboard.

Start-up profiles

When creating a new document and choosing Devices profile you are able to choose the type of mobile device for which you will create an artwork.


In this short article I have listed are not all the new features of Adobe Illustrator CS6, but only those that I consider to be important. You can find the full list of updates by clicking on the following link.

Iaroslav Lazunov

My name is Iaroslav Lazunov, I am a graphic designer from Ukraine. I am glad that I finally found the job in my life that I can share my knowledge and experiments with you in my tutorials.

Posts by Iaroslav Lazunov
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