FOTD 21: Fireworks 8 – Feature Frenzy

A week or so ago we took a look at one of the new/updated panels in Fireworks 8 (the Image Editing panel), and today I’m going to run down several more that you’ll find useful once you get version 8 in hand- the Auto Shape Properties, Special Characters and Align panels, and the new Add Shadow command in Fireworks 8.


First up, if you were a fan of Auto Shapes in Fireworks MX 2004, you’ll want to check out the added flexibility/precision the new Auto Shape Properties panel will afford you in Fireworks 8. Simply call it up from the “Window > Auto Shape Properties” menu option:

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The new Auto Shape Properties panel

In a nutshell, the Auto Shape Properties panel gives you direct, numeric input control over the properties of your currently-selected Auto Shape – in this case an Arrow object, as well as allowing you to insert a new Auto Shape into your document at any time. It works directly with the Auto Shapes noted below:

  • Arrow
  • Beveled Rectangle
  • Chamfer Rectangle
  • Connector Line
  • Doughnut
  • L-Shape
  • Pie
  • Rounded Rectangle
  • Smart Polygon
  • Spiral
  • Star
  • Add Shadow (new Command- see below)

The editing interface presented in the Auto Shape Properties, of course, will differ based on the currently selected/inserted Auto Shape (all three Rectangle Auto Shapes share the same ‘Rectangle’ editing interface, however).

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The Rectangle Auto Shape Properties

As an added bonus for the Rectangular shapes, you can also opt to either ‘lock’ the shape corners in order to edit their properties in synch with one another, or edit each corner’s properties separately. The ‘Corner Style’ toggle buttons allow you to change between Rectangle styles (Standard, Bevel, Chamfer) either on a corner-by-corner basis (if the ‘Lock’ is disabled), or as a group.For radial objects, you can even specify segments of the object- by degree (FAR easier than creating these types of cuts by hand!), illustrated here with a Doughnut shape:

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Unsegmented Doughnut Auto Shape
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Segmented Doughnut Auto Shape

And except for the Connector Line, all Auto Shapes still behave and act as they did in Fireworks MX 2004. On that note, the Connector Line Auto Shape was updated for Fireworks 8, however- it now snaps to an object, directly below a control point- making charting/wireframing/flowcharting much much easier as well! I honestly didn’t use Auto Shapes much in the past, but can see myself using them much more now that I can quickly edit and/or initialize them to exact dimensions.You may have noted that Fireworks has been rather limited in cases when you needed to set special characters in your image text- you usually had to copy the character from another application, then paste it into Fireworks directly (or use other, less pretty ‘hacks’) to get the extended characters inserted correctly. That little annoyance will plague you no more…

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The new Special Characters panel

… with the new Special Characters panel in Fireworks 8.Just click the appropriate button, and insert special/extended characters as needed. If this limitation ever got in the your way of your project workflow speed before (especially when doing international sites, in my experience), you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say this is a long-needed and very, very welcome new panel addition to Fireworks. ;-)The Align panel also got a facelift, mostly to make it more consistent with the rest of the application:

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The new Align panel
(Canvas and Anchors modes, respectively)

… considering I use the Align panel constantly, the added consistency in Fireworks 8 is a very welcome aesthetic improvement. If you haven’t explored the Align panel before, you should make a point of doing so when Fireworks 8 ships- it’s a very flexible panel for getting your designs perfectly lined-up and crisp- the ability to ‘cascade’ alignment to downstream/upstream anchor points is very useful, for example.Another new feature (actually, it’s a specialized new Auto Shape, from my perspective), is the ‘Add Shadow’ command (found via the menu option “Commands < Creative < Add Shadow…”). Rather straightforward, simply select an object on your canvas and apply the command, and you’ll get this new Auto Shape applied to it:

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Our starting ’8′ Autoshape
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The “Add Shadow” Autoshape applied

From there, simply manipulating the direction/perspective handles and gradient color/dispersion will let you quickly apply- and customize- a cast shadow on your Fireworks drawing objects. This is a serious timesaver- in vector apps I’ve gotten used to simply making a copy of the object, skewing and offsetting it, shifting it to a lower layer and then adding the gradient fill to simulate the shadow’s falloff- but with this command it’s a pretty point-and-click experience. For example, changing the perspective of the shadow is a one-click job:

shadowtest_edited.png
Modifying the shadow perspective

You’ll still want to use the Drop Shadow effect for drop shadows (even, isometric shadow simulating the object/layer ‘hovering’ above its background), this command/Auto Shape will cover the rest of your shadowing needs.So as with the last two Fireworks FOTDs, this feature of the day is actually a few rolled into one- as there are really so many little (but important) updates that I fear they’ll get overlooked once you see how much faster and expressive – especially on Macs – Fireworks 8 is. Hope you had a great 3-day weekend, and I’ll see you back tomorrow for another feature highlight!