Should we tell Adobe how bad the Illustrator UI is for drawing with beziers?

Type designers have known for a long time that Adobe Illustrator’s tools for manipulating beziers aren’t very good. Fontographer, Fontlab, Glyphs, and Robofont have all done much better. Making matters worse, most other vector editors are based on Illustrator, so there’s no good alternative that isn’t a font editor.

Lately I’ve been seeing lots of designers complaining about how bad the Illustrator tools are. Have we reached critical mass that we could get dozens of signatures on an open letter telling Adobe that their vector editing tool’s primary feature—editing bezier curves—needs to be redesigned?


  • There is always Corel Draw :) and it has always excelled in vector drawing so far (sorry no Mac's here). I also find Inkscape very interesting these days, but only because the DIY-python-tools. But I have to admit, dough Corel is really superb, for super precise work, nothing beats a professional font editor - it really depends on what do you want to achieve.

    A little off-topic, but so far, from all the vector tools I have used and I have to admit that I have used/tried a lot (no to tell all) of them, the most interesting and innovative one was Creature House Expression - its skeleton based vector tools were and still are (after so many years) unbeatable and after Microsoft literally "destroyed" this little gem and not to tell that the patent for the technology is nowadays open, no one of the "great" corporations have even remotely tried to imitate/adopt the idea - i would love to see that implemented in font editor - draw anything and map/morph it on anything.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,541
    FWIW, Illustrator's drawing tool was really good in the first few versions (in my opinion). Somewhere around version 9, it started to feel less precise and more fiddly and has gotten gradually worse since then. It's possible that this perception comes from increased use of font editors on my part.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 277
    Illustrator started out as an internal Adobe font editing tool. When it got "productized" things started to go downhill... ;-)
  • Alex MichaelAlex Michael Posts: 23
    edited June 2016
    Out of curiosity, what are some specific issues people have with Adobe's toolset? I have plenty of my own gripes, but I'd be hard-pressed to list them off the top of my head. They're generally the kind of less-than-conscious hiccups I roll with as they arise in the course of a larger task. They bug me in the moment, only to be forgotten in the next. I'd really need to pay diligent attention to provide any useful feedback.
  • The main issue is that illustrator never has (and probably won't anytime soon) given you any control of your beziers, making precise drawing impossible. I like to adjust my handle coordinates by the number when finetuning, but Illustrator's flaws force me to do the final edits in a font editor. A full overhaul isn't needed, so I doubt there is need for a new product. But numerical control of nodes/handles, or being able to delete single handles would be a quite welcome.

    Since you pay quite a hefty fee for their programs, a good "please note" wouldn't be that out of order. I'd happily contribute. However, I don't expect any wonders, since the majority of Illustrator users don't see the bezier UI as a problem.
  • Nick CookeNick Cooke Posts: 172
    I'm still using Freehand which has the same functionality as FontLab. I refuse to use AI as it takes much longer to do anything. It was a sad day when Adobe put Macromedia out of business. 
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited June 2016
    @Arthur Reinders FolmerYou can remove one handle, this has been around forever. All you need to do is pull it back to the anchor and it's gone. However there is the issue of not being able to stretch n pull the handle based on numbers which would be nifty.

    With regards to the topic, I don't think it was designed in mind to be a font editor. Lettering took off in the last few yrs and as a result everyone's relying heavily on Ai to do the dirty work. Now when you look into glyphs or fontlab VI the UI is obviously nicer & for anyone who uses Ai extensively, you can actually sort of make the switch because it's almost similar drawing tools only that font editors have more precise ways to control it and I personally like it. A lot of us would've made the switch to Glyphs 2 yrs ago if it had a windows version which it doesn't, as for Fontlab the UI up until V was just not quite the same. I think with fontlab VI, you're going to see a ton of people who do lettering switching over and may even see a lot of them converting it to a font because why not. Reason for the switch, foremost being it'll be available in windows & two, for the tools of course. There's also that nifty tool called Fontself that works within Ai, their features so far are very limited but if they do add more, then it makes it all the more easier to simply stick to Ai, I personally won't but pretty sure there are people who will because of the convenience factor.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,913
    edited June 2016
    Out of curiosity, what are some specific issues people have with Adobe's toolset?

    Illustrator can’t select individual handles and manipulate them in discrete increments. Illustrator can’t move a node between two handles without moving the handles. And deleting a point in Illustrator causes a curves to collapse. To me these three make it unusable.

    With regards to the topic, I don't think it was designed in mind to be a font editor.

    Illustrator sucks for drawing things other than letters. It’s less noticeable because bad curves stick out less in a complex drawing, but they’re still bad.

  • Is this worth the trouble? Cultivons notre jardin.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,433
    edited June 2016
    I bought Illustrator the day it came out (at a MacWorld conference).  At the time I loved it beyond belief.  Understand that until that time, my drawing tools were ruling pen compass, triangle, T-square, and brush.  The AI tools then were so simple and clear and were decent through AI-8.  That was nearly 30 years ago.  The drawing world has come quite far since then. Having said that, today, I never use it to draw type or logos or art with critical curves because, by today's standards, it sucks compared to other tools.  With that, I hope we can put to rest this discussion since AI is now irrelevant as a type design tool.
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited June 2016
    Illustrator can’t select individual handles and manipulate them in discrete implements. Illustrator can’t move a node between two handles without moving the handles. And deleting a point in Illustrator causes a curves to collapse. To me these three make it unusable.
    You mean Ai can select individual handles but can't manipulate them using numbers? 
    As for deleting a node and the curve collapsing I think this is expected behaviour also this seems more of a subjective thing if you prefer it didn't collapse. What if I wanted it to? 
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,541
    The non-collapsing curve thing makes more sense for type design. You are generally trying to make paths with as few nodes as possible, to keep the file size down and to ensure speedy rasterization. The ability to preserve a curve if possible when deleting a node helps with this. 

    There is usually less reason to optimize curves in this way for a drawing in Illustrator.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,980
    I abandoned Illustrator 25 years ago, when it became bloated with featuritis. Till that time, it was great, but afterwards geared towards fancy effects, not basic drawing, which paradoxically became more complicated. I found myself drawing long wordmarks in Fontographer glyph cells—then I would import into Illustrator to add color etc.

    I had hoped, back then, that graphics software would evolve towards snap-together modules (rather than monster applications)—there was some talk of that. However, I now have the Creative Suite, most of which I rarely if ever use.
  • What I'm wondering is, in terms of editing color fonts, can font editors learn anything from Illustrator et alia? Related: what about layering?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,433
    Hrant, I think the layering and color fonts thing is not a mystery to the type software community.  I would bet that one of the new young developers out there now could teach us all a thing or two about it and not be encumbered by large corporate culture.
  • edited June 2016
    AbiRasheed The solution is known, but found the 'moving the handle to the node' to be extremely tedious if you had to do it many times. Also an accompanying issue is that you can't "reattach" a handle this way without messing up your curve again.

    I have plenty of issues with Adobe programs (I'd like to customise what nonsense fills each UI panel thank you very much) but those aren't going to be up for change until a true competitor comes along forcing a change. More bezier control doesn't strike me as that impossible on the other hand.

    Since I mostly do illustration-type, I still love Illustrator for what it does, it is almost limitless in it's node count and handles extremely intricate drawings without any issue (unlike font editors which quickly cap out near the 2k mark). But for finetuning: The flaws mess with your workflow. I'd like more control to do proper logo/identity-type production: Creating the designs and reworking them other sizes and uses. Especially since uses such as embroidery, lasercutting and polymer, all need their own, precise adjustments.
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 242
    edited June 2016
    As a graphic designer first, and a messer-around-with-type-design-guy second, I love Illustrator's basic, free-form approach to manipulating beziers. I've used Illustrator daily since Illustrator 1.0 back in the '80s, so part of my comfort with the interface, I suppose, stems from my longtime familiarity with it.

    Yes, it definitely lacks some of the specific niceties needed for designing typography, and it completely lacks the necessary features for actually building fonts, but that's not the core audience Illustrator is meant for. Personally, I find Illustrator a far more flexible environment for the initial stages of type design and some aspects of editing shapes than any font design software I've used. When I'm working on a font, I'll almost always have Illustrator open, and I'll routinely bounce back and forth between the two in order to take advantage of the capabilities of both.

    As for other graphic designers complaining about Illustrator's interface, the only ones I'm aware of who do that regularly are beginners who struggle with learning vector-based applications and those still caught up in pointless reminiscing about how much they loved FreeHand. There are plenty of things I'd change about Illustrator, but most them have to do with application bloat; very few are related the basic interface and drawing tools. I do agree, however, about the need for Adobe to change how Illustrator collapses curves when points are removed. That behavior has annoyed me for years.
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited June 2016
    @Arthur Reinders Folmer it's tedious maybe because you're having to do it so many times? You could streamline that process by using the right node and the right handle(alt) when drawing out your initial outlines. As for reattaching a handle yes it can be a problem because it disturbs the other handle as well but there's a solution to that too. Assume node 1 is the one you edited and has only one handle now. Instead of adding another handle via alt+P, you instead add an extra node 2 with your new handle however you please right next to your node 1, now grab node 2 and place it right on top of node1 and it should snap, unite the two. Once united, you have only 1 node now and your handles are back. Bam! done. With regards to identity design/branding, I don't know what more control do you need but I personally think it's doing a great job, it's got everything you need for that sort of thing. 
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,913
    You mean Ai can select individual handles but can't manipulate them using numbers? 

    What I meant is that AI can’t select handles and manipulate them with the keyboard. Handles can be dragged, but not actually selected. 

  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited June 2016
    @James Puckett  yes you can actually by selecting the path the handle is facing. You'd have to click that path using the direct selection tool and then use the keyboard shortcut for scale + incrementing using ← ↓ →  which is a hack as far as I'm concerned because there's still very little control as to the angle of the handle or length. But there's a plugin called xtremepath that does that for you, you can set in the angle & length of the handle, even copy the path and replicate it for other paths. Its got a few features to edit paths symmetrically/numerically but I haven't played with it enough to address some of the other issues I brought up like numerically adjusting a single handle, etc. 

    Edit: So I played around with it a bit, here's a [gif], it was quick and dirty but hope that'll make sense. This was using the Xtremepath plugin and it is capable of measuring the angle/length of the handle, among other things. The UI is a bit ugly but it does the job though. 
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited June 2016
    Edit: Slightly better [gif], you can replicate the handle length/angle from another path segment(like in the gif, black is the original, blue is the copy) or if you need to customize it numerically then you input those values for length/angle and it does it for you without having to drag the handles. All in all I should be thanking you for bringing up this topic because I just found a solution to a problem that's been bugging me for close to a yr or more insipite of having this plugin for 2-3 yrs now. I thought there was no way around to numerically adjust handles accurately in Ai but I guess there is one now. This is gonna help my workflow a helluva lot more.  
  • Paul van der LaanPaul van der Laan Posts: 238
    edited June 2016


  • There is always Corel Draw :) 
    I second that. Corel is very good for drawing vectors, but they effectively surrendered the field to Adobe when they pulled out of the Mac market. Back in the day you could even export your vectors to TTF. 
  • Mike HendenMike Henden Posts: 5
    edited October 2022
    Does Adobe give the proverbial 'rats arse' about people lamenting the loss of Freehand? Why should they? When they brought Freehand for the SECOND time they made sure it was dead. So the majority of users wanting to produce vector images are stuck with Illustrator -- a pig of a programme that hasn't improved since 1993.

    In the mid '90s Adobe brought Aldus, programmers of PageMaker and Freehand. As they had no page layout software, Adobe lost no time slapping their badge on PageMaker (which promptly dissolved into a crock of shit -- PageMaker 6 was chronically unstable and Pagemaker 6.5 was even worse -- it would actually destroy files as the user was watching -- bye bye PageMaker, hello Quark Xpress). Even laying complex documents out in Macromedia Freehand was better than using PageMaker!

    But Freehand? Adobe already had a vector graphics programme that was supposed to be going somewhere. So they sold Aldus Freehand back to the original developers –– Macromedia. And, of course, we know what happened next. Macromedia took off, while Illustrator stagnated.

    Which not quite as polished-looking as Illustrator, Freehand was always much more intuitive and user-friendly, it only got better. By the time the last version came out in 2002 it was vastly ahead of its rival. Yes, Adobe updated the Illustrator GUI but that was it. Even now, in 2022, Illustrator does not perform as well or have the same ease of use as Freehand did 20 years earlier. Yes, that's right, 20 whole years. That's multiple lifetimes in terms of software evolution. And when Apple Computer took the Macintosh platform from the Motorola PowerPC chip to Intel, that was the final nail in Freehand's coffin. Without further development, Freehand was dead. Sure, there was a counter-revolution named Free Freehand and hints at a possible antitrust case. But in the end Adobe simply offered everybody on Free Freehand a free update to Adobe Creative Suite (which included Illustrator CS) and they all went home.

    At the end, why would Adobe even care? They have long since eliminated any serious competition to Illustrator. The only way they can continue selling the product is as a subscription to a bundle of more useful products (InDesign, Photoshop, Dreamweaver etc). Users are forced to use a crap programme that has become the industry standard because there's nowhere else to go. And while Adobe periodically update the Illustrator startup splash screen and add odd little widgets that users only discover by accident, that's it. They've won.

    And the Graphic Designers and Illustrators of today and the future can only dream of what has been lost.
  • the good old days
    As an Adobe Illustrator power user, I am not sure you have explored all the depths of the program. I have been using it since version 9 and and it is the best program for me. This is by me:
     What you are describing are the hurdles at the start of the learning curve, which certainly can seem daunting. But, when you really get into the minutia and the wonderful ways in which you could manipulate the vector artwork, a whole new world opens. I have started my career by increasingly more difficult vectorizations, including ukiyo-e and photorealistic vectors. Illustrator certainly performs well, crashes less often then when it used to on my old, weaker PC, and saves my work after crashes. So maybe the issue is also horsepower, if not in your case, then certainly in other cases.

    Considering using Adobe Illustrator for type design, there are some unwanted features like it hiding the handles into the anchor, which can cause many problems in the font editor after that. But Adobe is not obligated, neither can it prevent all the strange errors that can occur after using its products in combination with other programs outside of the CC suite. I imagine it must be like synchronizing the wheel turning of 20 cars - something is bound to break down. Then people point to this one thing and free associate general conclusions about the whole company (and its staff). But they disregard the rest.
    But using Illustrator for type design is also something that I find to belong to the start of the learning curve. Nowadays I, and many others, draw my fonts directly into the font editor, be it Glyphs or FontLab. I would usually rely on AI only for the H, O, n and o, and everything after that is developed in FontLab.

    Adobe Illustrator has inherited an interface and tools from the times of Bill Clinton, but changing everything would mean that
    - old users would have to re-learn everything, and keep relearning with each new iteration
    - old files would have to be adjusted to the new standard, and there are literally billions of them. And the migration may not be painless. Adobe staff has to synchronize the wheels not only for the present moment and hardware, but also back in time. How they are able to do this is beyond me.

    What is more likely to happen is that, when everything gets too clogged, Adobe will develop a substitute or buy off some upstart and finally kill off Illustrator in its present form. Figma might be a better program but I never could see it fitting into the Adobe legacy model and interface. They might wish to develop it, but most likely it will be killed off simply because it's so hard to integrate.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,433
    I am an "old user" since version 1 in 1987. I loved the interface in Version 8 best for its clarity.  They have added a ton of stuff since then and had to mesh what the could together.  Today, for serious pen too drawing I use Glyphs and before that, FontLab.
  • Never used Freehand then? :)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,433
    I tried it decades ago but did not like the interface.
  • Mike HendenMike Henden Posts: 5
    edited October 2022
    True, Aldus, and then Macromedia, didn't do much about the Freehand interface, and Illustrator always seemed to look a bit cooler. But IMHO the overall user experience in Freehand is much better than Illustrator. And I'm not just writing from a 'new user of Illustrator' perspective.

    I'm sorry to say I've had to use Illustrator on an almost daily basis since my 2005 G5 Mac died in 2013 and I upgraded to a Mac Pro. Yes, I can get it to do what I want and sometimes it's relatively effort-free. Other times, like today, stuff just doesn't work well. I'm drawing some forms today which have some fairly intricate Bezier curves, and these are looking somewhat lumpy and glitchy due to the Illustrator interface. Curves are snapping to whatever and I feel a general lack of control, like 'close enough is good enough' as far as Illustrator is concerned. My resulting frustration, and a consequent Google search, led me to this forum.

    Interestingly enough I remember being very impressed with the Bezier curves tool when Illustrator introduced it back in version 3. Freehand 2, which I was using at the time, had nothing like this. Aldus introduced it in Freehand 3, and it was smoother than the Illustrator version and easier to use (even though it visually looked a bit cruder). Always was better than Illustrator's equivalent, and no doubt, given Adobe's attitude these days, always will be!

    In summary, while Illustrator can do some tricky shit, Adobe never quite got the basics right. They had a chance of taking some of Freehand's superior features across when they brought Macromedia but they simply killed Freehand instead. And now, with no serious competition, there's no need to fix things.
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