Reviews, VFX

Astute Graphics Stylism brings back “flow” when working with Illustrator

Stylism is a new Adobe Illustrator plug-in by Astute Graphics, which allows you to create Adobe’s Live Effects using a simple real-time annotation system. Adobe’s dialogue window driven system isn’t bad, but it stops your “flow”. Stylism, on the other hand, makes creating and changing Live Effects extremely easy and incredibly fast — and changes update in real time.

With Stylism you can create a feathering, drop shadow or other effect quickly and with full control at all times over the results. If one keyword would characterise Stylism, it would be “real-time control”. If I were allowed to give you one reason to buy the plug-in, it would be “flow”.

When you want to apply a Live Effect in Adobe Illustrator (I’m using CS6 to test Stylism), you must select the effect from the menu and then change the effect’s parameters in a modal dialogue box. A modal dialogue box is a window that once it is open, forces you to work with the elements in the window before you can go back to your main task — in Illustrator’s case, your art.

Modal dialogue windows are bad for your workflow and for that mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity — which we call “flow”. Modal dialogues interrupt. Stylism — and all other Astute Graphics Illustrator plug-ins for that matter — doesn’t.

The plug-in allows you to see in real time what your effect will look like and you can experiment with the infinite number of settings, options and combinations using handles and assisted by “annotations”. The annotation system consist of dynamic information boxes that move along with your cursor whenever it’s relevant. You’re never in the dark about what you’re doing and where it will lead you.

That, in my opinion, is what makes Astute Graphics’ range of plug-ins even more appealing than the time savings you can expect from using them. Your creativity isn’t hampered in any way, quite on the contrary.

Stylism’s effects

Stylism lets you create and alter the drop shadow effect, as well as feather, glow internal/external, free distort, free transform, offset path and blur effects. While all these effects can be entirely unique, you can also create combinations of them right from within the Stylism palette. For example, clicking the shadow effect button and subsequently clicking the feather button will create both effects, one on top of the other. A combination of effects can be saved as a preset in the Stylism palette, saving even more time and avoiding interruption of your ideas even more.

Stylism Free distortion

However, if you want certain effects to apply in a specific way — for example, a drop shadow should apply to the object when it’s been distorted already — then you either need to think ahead or take a trip to the Appearance palette and drag the effect layers to re-order them and get the result you want.

Stylism also works seamlessly with Phantasm, the very first and therefore oldest plug-in from Astute Graphics. Phantasm includes an image alpha feature that you can manipulate with a curve, effectively — and sometimes dramatically — changing the looks of a drop shadow, a feather effect, etc. In the Stylism palette the curve is enabled when you have Phantasm installed.

Contour curves that you particularly like can be saved as a preset as well. You can later recall them with a click on the appropriate curve well in the Stylism palette.

The hardest part when working with Stylism is remembering the modifier keys, but in almost all cases the modifier keys follow the OS’s, so the “Shift” key stands for adding, holding down the “Command” key when dragging makes for a slow drag, etc.

Stylism Transform, rotate and distribute

Last but not least: Stylism doesn’t create effects that are outside Illustrator’s. In fact, if you start working on an effect using the standard Illustrator tools and then take a look at the Stylism palette, you’ll notice the corresponding buttons have been selected. Which basically means you can mix the workflow of the two.

Stylism costs €35.00. At the very least, try the demo. You won’t regret it.