Why Illustrator is more relevant than ever

 Illustrator CS6 is here, and I’m excited! I’m no designer; I pretend to be one sometimes, but I’m really not. What I can sometimes call myself, though, is a technologist; and what I see in Illustrator CS6 excites the technologist in me. Let me tell you why, I think, Illustrator is important, and why, in this time and age it is more relevant than ever.

Size does matter


John Warnock

Dr. John Warnock

Let’s start from the beginning, a good place to start. 25 years ago, John Warnock created Illustrator. In the years that followed, print was the dominant medium and size was important. You wanted your artwork on a postcard as well as a billboard on Times Square. Vector graphics were the way to go; Illustrator was the tool of choice. Of course, it helped that Adobe also pioneered PostScript®—used together, they provided a pretty exciting package that helped designers push boundaries.

The infant web

Flash forward to the infant web: Illustrator lost some of its sheen and appeal. It became a niche tool for designers and illustrators. The early internet was mostly raster.

Raster vs Vector

Folks consumed most content within the browser. GIF/JPEG ruled the roost for a long time, mainly because that’s what worked really well on those slow and unreliable dial-up connections. Internet was like the wild-wild-west, and the pioneers were happy with what they got. Then bandwidth exploded, Moore’s law and economies of scale made powerful computers available to more and more people, a better image format was needed. PNG emerged the winner: raster was, and in most cases still is, good enough.

Adobe SVG

Adobe’s SVG format was, I think, a little ahead of its time. Average folks didn’t really care about vector graphics and graphic fidelity just yet. Why would they? They were still used to crummy text. The web didn’t even have proper typography! If you saw bad typography everywhere, would you complain about pixelated graphics?

Size does matter. Again.

In the era ushered in by the Apple iPhone, HTML5 and then by the iPad and a plethora of Android devices, we’re now completing a circle. Size is relevant again. Just like you wanted to scale your design from a postcard to billboard, now you want the content to scale from an iPhone to a giant 104” HDTV, and everything else in between. (plus that postcard and that billboard.) Needless to say, the consumers now expect fidelity.
Infant tablets were happy with raster images. PNGs worked fine, just like GIFs had for the infant web. The early tablet and smartphone processors, were able to display images just fine, but didn’t pack enough punch to draw vector graphics. To give consumers the illusion of speed, technologists probably decided that PNGs are just fine.

Image Courtesy: Adobe Canada blog

As we found out recently, after the retina display was launched, we also need to account for platform and device fragmentation. For example, PNGs that worked well on the iPad 2 started looking really crummy on the retina display. Higher resolution PNGs break compatibility with older hardware, and require significantly higher bandwidth. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but to remain relevant, we’ll surely need infinite resolution pretty soon. (If you didn’t already, now you know the Illustrator team’s blog is http://blogs.adobe.com/infiniteresolution/)


Don’t predict the future, unless you know. But it’s safe to hazard an educated guess.

Manufacturers are adding multiple cores, and faster RAM. You have more processing power in your pocket than NASA had in 1969#1; we can aim higher than the moon! We need to ensure pristine content on any class of device: phones, tablets, computers, TVs, or the emerging content-consumption devices such as smart-watches, smart-glasses, and whatever inventors will dream up next. Who knows, how soon you’ll be reading the morning news on your coffee cup?

To be successful, the content will have to be scalable. Which output format will finally prevail is open for discussion. We’ll need to wait a while to find out.


Whether content will be HTML5, SVG, PDF, Flash, or something else entirely, I don’t know. But it will be created in Illustrator, that I’m sure.
Illustrator has evolved immensely in the last 25 years. And today, it is poised to transform the world’s content, yet again: one path at a time.


 It's probably true, but I can't be sure; Apollo 11 had a 2.048 MHz CPU.


  1. #1 by Mehul Kanani on April 30, 2012 - 9:07 pm

    illustrator is one of my favorite production in Adobe Designs.

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