Back when art was automatic - 1988!

by Tom Davis

Adobe Illustrator is the digital skill that separates the wheat from the chaff.

We recently moved offices. What a painful process. Picking through everything you put somewhere and deciding what goes and what goes away.

I found a stack of very old newsletters from Adobe dating back to 1988. The advertisement below was on the back of this large format newsletter. This was introducing what was essentially version 2 of Adobe Illustrator. I had been using Illustrator 1.1 and any improvement was welcome. Illustrator has never been accused of being “intuitive.” Remember this was the early days of desktop publishing. (For our younger readers, "desktop publishing" was when the graphic arts began their digital conversion - it is pretty much all digital now.)

Adobe Illustrator Ad

I love the hyperbole in the headline. It makes you wonder what features the next 16 versions of the software could have added. As it turns out, the art was not quite as automatic as the headline implied. Actually, the art has never been automatic and still is not. Regardless of its advances Illustrator remains a difficult program to use well.

For all my sarcasm, Illustrator remains an incredibly powerful graphics application.

Now part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of applications, it is most likely ignored by a huge percentage of current users. One reason for this is that most Web development has focused on "pixels" to create the low resolution graphics that comprise the Web - think Photoshop. Illustrator is all about using "vectors" to create resolution independent images. (None of this concerns photographs, which must be pixels.) Many designers today do not really understand its strengths, which can require a certain amount of education to understand.

Illustrator’s vector may rise again.

The dominance of Photoshop may be shifting as high resolution screens are starting to exceed the resolution of laser printers. So the problem facing Web designers becomes figuring out how to provide the higher resolution graphics when they are needed without slowing down page loads. This is where Scalable Vector Graphics come in. SVG support continues to expand in modern Web browsers because it allows lightweight graphics files to render at whatever resolution the screen can achieve. Drawing for SVG is a natural for Illustrator.


Because Illustrator's drawing methods were so difficult to grasp, they included a VHS video in the box for the first two versions. Below is the version that got me started with Illustrator. The presenter is none other than John Warnock, one of the founders of Adobe and a key player in digital publishing technologies we take for granted these days. I love the old VHS tracking error at the bottom of the video frame... those were the days.