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A Quick Review of Fireworks CS5

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or you are not a Web designer or working in a related field, you cannot have missed the announcement of Adobe’s new Creative Suite 5 a few weeks ago. I have been using two products in the suite for a while now, including of course, Fireworks CS5. As is becoming a tradition here on pixelyzed.com, here are my thoughts on the new version as well as a few thoughts on the future…

A Stability Release

The first thing you need to know about this version is that, unlike other applications in the CS5 Suites, Fireworks CS5 doesn’t have big shiny new features. As Fireworks Program Manager Bruce Bowman has stated in his “Introducing Adobe Fireworks CS5” article from mid-April, Fireworks CS5 is a release that focuses on “Stability, Performance and Polish”. It may not sound sexy but I assure you that the team delivered. Fireworks CS5 is by far the most stable version yet and many long-standing bugs have been addressed and, all in all, over 900 of them have been fixed!

The new features Fireworks CS5 does have may not be earth shattering but, they are welcome additions that will help many users in their everyday work. Some of the most noteworthy for me include:

  • Snap to pixel
  • Compound Shapes
  • Stroke Alignment
  • Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) file support
  • Many small improvements to Pages, Layers, Slices and more…

Refer to Bruce’s article above for a complete list. Like I said, nothing earth shattering here but these are welcome additions that bring a little of long overdue sophistication to Fireworks.

But what do I really think…

People who know me and long time readers of this blog know that I have been very critical of Fireworks’ development direction in the past. I still think major mistakes have been made and great opportunities have been lost. But that was the past. What I think Fireworks CS5 brings at this time is a great foundation for the future. Now that so many bugs have been fixed and Fireworks is more stable than ever, let’s hope that further development efforts will finally bring some long overdue improvements to Fireworks’ creative tool set.

What has always been Fireworks’ strength and still makes it unique in the world of graphic design applications is its incredible integrated hybrid tool set. Its mix of bitmap and vector tools mixed in with amazing workflow features make it an unparalleled Web centric graphic design workhorse that is still unmatched in flexibility and efficiency. But there’s still so much more room for improvement in its creative tool set.

The future?

While I don’t know what’s in store in for Fireworks in the future, here’s a few areas where I think the application needs improvements most urgently. Keep in mind that, in spite of many people’s misconceptions, Fireworks is primarily a graphic design application. It might be focused entirely on Web or screen output, but it’s still a creative application first and foremost, not a glorified slicing and optimization tool to replace ImageReady and not a “cheap” alternative to its big brothers Photoshop and Illustrator. Fireworks is a full featured creative design application. If you must compare it to something, don’t compare it to Photoshop but think of it as InDesign for the Web. That will give you a better idea of the breadth if its scope. So, with that in mind…

1- Color management : It is really incredible to me that, a graphic design application in its 11th major release still has such primitive color features. Fireworks still has no concept of an individual color swatch thus no concept of a global color you can edit in one place and have all instances where it is used updated automatically. Fireworks still only deals with “color palettes” as groups, not individual swatches. This is incredibly limiting to me. This is the type of thing designers have taken for granted in Illustrator for over 2 decades. Worse, Fireworks still opens and uses the absolutely useless Web safe palette by default. The Web safe palette has never been safe and has been irrelevant for 10 years if not more. Can we move on now?

2- External assets management : This is another feature that has been present in most graphic applications for years. It means you can “import” or “place” an image or a vector file in a document and keep a link to the original. If the original is modified, you can have all instances of the graphic used updated automatically. It helps with consistency, it helps save time. It should have been added to Fireworks years ago but let’s hop it makes it into CS6.

3- Sub-pixel accuracy in the Property Inspector : As you may or may not know, Fireworks renders all graphics on screen “through” a 72ppi pixels grid despite its core vector “engine”. Fireworks was designed that way from the get go to give designers a realistic view of how the graphics they create in Fireworks will look once exported to optimized Web ready formats at 72ppi. In spite of that, you can still position objects to a much finer precision than that pixel grid but you would never know that if you just looked at the size and location fields in Fireworks’ PI. Fireworks needs to enable designers to read and set the size and locations of images, text and vector objects and anchors at the real precision it is capable of because, that is sometimes the only way we can control anti-aliasing problems for both images, text and vector objects.

A third party extension offers this ability now but it hasn’t been updated in years and wastes screen real estate by simply replicating some of the PI’s functionality but with greater precision. Fireworks needs to offer this additional precision natively in the PI and other tools that depend on these kinds of measurements.

4- Reference Point Selector : This innocuous looking little tool (as seen in Illustrator’s Control Bar for example) is probably my most used piece of UI real estate when I work in Illustrator, InDesign and even Fireworks as, the same third party extension I mentioned right before offers it. But again, like the added precision, this should have been added to the PI years ago. What it does is enable you to perform transformations from any points on an object’s bounding box or its center. You can imagine its usefulness when working on many types of UI element (like buttons or navbars) where objects are aligned to one another. For now, objects transformations are always performed from the top left of the object as well as any reading of its position… which is useful only a fraction of the time.

The above are just 4 of my longest standing and oft requested features in Fireworks. You probably have others. Now that Fireworks CS5 is out, I think it’s high time to move the application forward and make its creative tool set more efficient and sophisticated.

In the now…

But for now, enjoy the increased stability and polish in Fireworks CS5. If you haven’t upgraded in a while and passed over CS4 as some people I know have done, don’t pass on CS5. It will make your current workflows much smoother and does add a few welcome new features. I highly recommend it!

Other Reviews and Articles About Fireworks CS5

This list will be updated with new articles and reviews as I find them. Enjoy!

(last edited on May 22, 2010)

Adobe Fireworks: Is It Worth Switching to CS5? (Michel Bozgounov)

Top Ten Highlights of the New Adobe Fireworks CS5 (David Hogue)

Adobe Fireworks CS5 is out… (Michel Bozgounov)

Introducing Adobe Fireworks CS5 (Bruce Bowman, Fireworks Program Manager)

Top 5 Fireworks CS5 Features (Darrell J. Heath)

Comments

  1. says

    Hey Stephane,

    I can’t agree with you more about the CS5 release of Fireworks… I was lucky enough to get on pre-release and to be a bug finder. Bruce really did run a good ship steering it to the release you see. Personally like you I find it to be excellent.

    However I am not so sure about your First point on the list of improvements… color management…. I worry that if it goes to the same place as illustrator that it will cause to much CMYK/RGB issues. Right now Fireworks is RGB only, and is only for screen, if we start adding color management you can be sure that people will want CMYK, and for me, this takes you away from the fireworks core tools towards a print environment.

    This point has been argued many times, but it nearly always comes back to the same place, Fireworks for the web, Photoshop/Illustrator for print.

    Oh and personally in Fireworks I find the batch and automated commands to be so powerful, saves me many hours to do simple yet laborious tasks such as resizing images or creating 4096 color variants of a single file.

    All the best
    Andy

    PS. made many of the Share and Follow icons for the plugin (wordpress only at the moment) using Fireworks CS5….

  2. says

    Hi Andy!

    Thanks for your comment. Regarding color management, some people are already asking for CMYK. That’s not what this is about for me at all. I don’t need or want CMYK in Firewoorks either. What I want is to be able to edit individual color swatches and set them as global colors so I can play with color schemes more easily and have those edits ripple through an entire file instantaneously. It’s not an RGB/CMYK issue and certainly not a Web vs Print issue. It’s about workflow efficiency in a graphics editing application which is what Fireworks is first and foremost, regardless of the final output medium.

  3. says

    Hi Davis!

    Yes, I’d say it makes many tasks that are laborious easy, especially compared to Photoshop. Adding basic interactivity is far more straightforward in Fireworks for example because of it more efficient slicing workflow. But it doesn’t have to depth of Axure’s interactivity features.

    If you have a recent suite with Photoshop and Illustrator you probably have Fireworks anyway. Give it a try!

  4. says

    @Davis:

    Fireworks has a much easier workflow than Ps. Ai is better, but when I do designs for screen, I often find Fireworks much easier (and faster) than even Illustrator. In Fireworks, you think “objects”, not “layers”. And you click and edit instantly! In Fireworks, Pages/Layers/States help immensely. In Fireworks, vectors are true vectors — Ps is much more bitmap-oriented app, but for screen design, vectors are much better and much more powerful!

    There’s much more, but if you try Fireworks and check some of the cool resources that can be found online about Fw, you’ll see for yourself…

  5. chris says

    Does anyone know of any 3D plug ins for fireworks CS5? I need to make quick bar graphs and other stuff with 3D, wtihout drawing them all myself. Freeware? Software? Anything?

  6. says

    Hi Chris,

    There are a few options but nothing really exciting IMO. First, there’s a few built-in 3D autoshapes in Fireworks. Open the AutoShapes panel and look at 3DBox as well as Cube, Cylinder and Tube. The advantage of those is that they are 3D shapes and are editable.

    Another option is Aaron Beal’s 3D Rotate command: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/fireworks/articles/3d_rotate_command.html This one is all about giving perspective but won’t extrude objects. Great for images though.

    Another command that fakes a simple extrude is 3D Objects: http://192.150.18.60/cfusion/exchange/index.cfm?event=extensionDetail&loc=en_us&extid=619334# That one is older (2002) but still works in CS5.

    The last one I can think of is Senocular’s Extrude Path command: http://senocular.com/fireworks/extensions/?entry=559 This is also an older command (2005) but the UI is better and you can come back to an object later and modify the settings by re-applying the command which is great. It only works on straight path objects though so you’ll need to ungroup rectangles or AutoShapes.

    But all of those will give pretty “square” results not in line with current graphic design trends.

    IMO, if you have a CS suite and not just Fireworks, you’d be much better off creating the 3D stuff in Illustrator using the 3D effect (Adobe Dimensions repurposed as an AI effect). This will give you far more flexibility, full editability and much more realistic looking results. You can then copy-paste the result in Fireworks if you need to.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Cliff says

    I’m just switching from Illustrator to Fireworks for web design and I’m loving it. Wanted to comment that you are spot-on with your colour recommendations. I just discovered and am astounded by how limited FW color palette options are.
    In Illustrator I’d taken global swatches for granted. I assumed that all Adobe design apps had decent color palette options, but I was very very wrong. Anyway, so far everything else about FW is great. I’m not going to switch back to Illustrator, which really isn’t cut out for web design. I just know that I’m going to be frustrated by FW’s crappy palette every time I work on web designs, and that’s depressing…

  8. says

    Hello Cliff!

    Thanks very much for commenting! Yes, you are right that Illustrator is not quite ready for Web design yet. It got a little closer in CS5 but there are still many annoyances starting with the entire slicing and Web images optimizing/exporting workflow. Slicing images in Illustrator (and Photoshop) is a highly aggravating process for me. Fireworks had that workflow nailed back in version 1.0…

    But yes, the color features as well as the other stuff I mentioned in the article are annoying too. Especially since I’m spending quite a bit of time in InDesign lately. Going back to Fireworks can be sobering but, despite its flaws and limitations, it’s still the best at what it does. It’s just sad that it was never marketed properly by either Macromedia nor Adobe. If it had been, it might have gotten the ressources it needed to evolve at the same pace as AI, PS and ID. Very happy to see new converts though, that is encouraging :)

  9. says

    The colour palette panel has a color replace option for up to five colours. You need the find and replace panel open at the same time though and it can be a bit buggy.

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