Illustrator CC 2018 New Features

Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 brings several exciting enhancements, including Variable Fonts, Puppet Warp and the new Properties Panel. Here, we’ll look at the major new features in this year’s update, and talk through their strengths and weaknesses.

Variable fonts

Just like Photoshop CC 2018, Illustrator now supports Variable Fonts. These allow you to change aspects of a selected font, such as width and weight, using simple sliders. Six variable fonts are included with this release, and they have different characteristics. For example, with Source Sans, you can only change the weight. With Minion, you can change the weight and the ‘optical size’. With Acumin, you can adjust the weight, width, and slant. If you don’t want to use the sliders, you can choose the weight from a huge scrolling list instead.

Variable fonts in Adobe Illustrator CC 2018

Note that some users have reported problems using the new variable fonts. Specifically, Illustrator sometimes fails to automatically adjust the letter spacing, resulting in characters crashing into each other. This can be seen in the example above, with the middle version of Acumin Variable showing overlapping text. Also, changing the slant can cause similar issues, as can be seen in the bottom example. I have seen this technology work perfectly, but for many this is a recurring problem. Other users have reported different issues with fonts, such as the inability to select certain fonts at all.

Although there are few color fonts currently available, you can build your own directly inside Illustrator using Fontself Maker. Also, see for our review of the Photoshop version.

Color fonts

Illustrator has introduced support for color fonts for the first time, and ships with two examples, Trajan and Apple Emoji. The Trajan font includes a range of different textures and styles, but switching between them is not straightforward. The default color is gold, and it looks great with built-in beveled edges.

You can choose from a number of variants, but finding out how to do this isn’t obvious. You first need to open the OpenType panel from the Window > Type panel, then click the tiny icon in the top right corner and choose the variant you want from the Stylistic Sets submenu. There is a tendency, though, for Illustrator to stay ‘stuck’ on a previous selection, showing two different color sets selected but not making the new one active.

If you want to change the colors to your own specification, the only way is to turn the font into outlines (which, of course, means it’s no longer editable as text) and adjust the gradient for each one. But as the gradients are applied differently to each glyph, and multiple gradients are used, this can be a very time-consuming process.

Styled library text

For the first time, Illustrator allows you to style a block of text with any fonts, weights, styles and colors you like, and save the whole block into your CC library, where it can then be used by other Illustrator documents and by InDesign – but, sadly, not Photoshop, which is unable to import items of this type from the library.

Puppet Warp

First introduced in After Effects and then Photoshop, Puppet Warp allows you to place pins into vector artwork and then pull those pins to different locations, or rotate the artwork around them. It’s great for organic shapes such as animals, greatly easing the process of changing a pose without having to make complex anchor point selections. Puppet Warp is one of Illustrator CC 2018’s major assets.

Properties Panel

The Properties panel concept is borrowed from Photoshop, offering context-sensitive information that varies depending on the type of object selected. With vector shapes, it shows fill, stroke, and opacity, and you can click the thumbnail for each to change it. A Transform section allows you to scale and rotate objects with ease, and there are finally buttons to flip objects vertically and horizontally – something Illustrator users have been asking for since the beginning. A ‘Quick Actions’ section allows you to offset and join paths, and to recolor and arrange objects.

When a text object is selected, the panel changes to show the font, weight, size, kerning and justification. When multiple objects are selected, the panel displays alignment and Pathfinder options.

The Properties panel is a major usability enhancement, enabling a clutter-free interface that concentrates on just the information you need for the selection you’ve made.

Revised Export Panel

The Export Panel allows you to export selected artwork in a variety of formats, including PNG, JPG, SVG and more. With this release, the behavior has changed so that if you drag multiple objects into the panel it will create separate export assets for each object.

It’s hard to see the logic of this, since there are few occasions on which you’d want to divide artwork up into its constituent parts for export. Fortunately, there’s a workaround: if you hold Alt or Option while dragging, Illustrator will revert to its original behavior of exporting the whole selection as a single asset.

Best of the rest

Illustrator now allows multiple artboards to be selected, aligned, and distributed. Those with a MacBook Pro will benefit from the new Touch Bar support; Windows 10 users can now enjoy Microsoft Dial support as well. Finally, Illustrator at last permits you to join paths that are in different groups—at last, an end to the frustrating warning dialog that wouldn’t permit you to do this before.

Illustrator CC 2018 is a marked improvement on the previous version, which could be made even better if Adobe addresses the issues with color fonts and variable fonts quickly.

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Posted on: November 20, 2017

Steve Caplin

Steve is a freelance writer, artist and designer, and the author of over a dozen books, including the popular How to Cheat in Photoshop series and the Amazon #1 best-seller Dad Stuff. His training videos can be seen on lynda.com, Retouch Pro and elsewhere.

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