By Hal Hinderliter

Proficiency in the dark art of prepress once required expertise in a bewildering array of applications; there was QuarkXPress and Pagemaker and Photoshop, but also Freehand, Streamline, Suitcase, Trapwise, INposition Lite and a host of others. Now that prepress has become premedia, the twenty-first century skill set centers on color management, PDF workflows and automation. For most shops, these tasks are made easier by the integration and powerful tools found within Adobe’s Creative Suite software bundle.

The latest iteration of Adobe’s flagship offering brings a welcome raft of user interface improvements in addition to an impressive batch of new capabilities. Among the standout improvements: Illustrator’s new perspective drawing capability for simulated 3D environments; imported 2D artwork is automatically mapped to the perspective grid for perfectly skewed results. For a productivity boost, Photoshop now runs in 64-bit mode on both Macs and Windows, speeding the manipulation of large documents by as much as 1000%. Spot Healing functionality has been improved, and is joined by a new content-aware Fill command based on the same technology. Upgrading to Photoshop Extended brings the ability to create 3D models by extruding content; the new "puppet warp" feature can create bendable shapes using custom-placed pins.

Both applications benefit from the new Brush engine; in Illustrator, the "bristle brush" simulates brush angles using vectors rather than pixels and is compatible with latest Wacom tablet’s 6-D stylus. The Mini-Bridge is a new floating panel found within InDesign and Flash as well as Photoshop and Illustrator, which integrates with Adobe’s new “CS Review,” an online creative review (proofing) service. Clients use their web browser to access the review site, which offers annotation tools for comments that become visible within InDesign documents.

While these print-centric features make CS5 a no-brainer upgrade for any creative professional, it’s the expanded set of tools for e-books, digital publications and Rich Internet Applications (RIA) that seems destined to redefine premedia. These new or expanded options come at a time when Apple’s iPad and other e-readers are causing seismic upheavals throughout the publishing world; CS5 users will be able to embrace these multiple distribution channels using little more than their current skill set.

“We've been focused on reducing the time and cost of creating content, for both interactive and traditional print documents,” points out Chris Kitchener, InDesign Product Manager. “CS5 leverages the existing knowledge of graphic design personnel to deliver these results more efficiently, across more media types than ever before.”

As might be expected from the nascent EPUB specification, InDesign documents exported to this e-book format are attractive to read but ultimately static in presentation.

Venture into the world of Flash-based RIAs, however, and you’ll find an amazing array of options to be explored. CS5 allows designers to make richer interactive documents with Flash video, sound and animation, controlled through the new Object States panel. The Animation Panel for InDesign has all the motion presets that Flash users know and love, which can now be applied to page transitions, objects and text content. The new Media Panel supports Flash video, letting you scrub thru video and even set the poster frame right within InDesign.

For graphic arts service providers who bemoan the changing nature of the marketplace, Adobe is extending the rare opportunity to painlessly expand from ink-on-paper into the new world of digital communications. From a base of print production knowledge, the graphics professionals who help get ink onto paper can now easily push pixels down any series of digital “tubes.” Publishing across multiple channels is fast becoming the norm for many print buyers, so printshop owners should quickly reach out to grasp Adobe’s lifeline over to this new world.