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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
There is usually less reason to optimize curves in this way for a drawing in Illustrator.
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.
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.
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.
What I meant is that AI can’t select handles and manipulate them with the keyboard. Handles can be dragged, but not actually selected.
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.
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.
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.
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.