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Astute Graphics Phantasm CS

Color adjustment tools for Adobe Illustrator By Dave Nagel
Summary: Phantasm CS is a plugin for Adobe Illustrator (CS or CS2) that provides a complete set of color correction effects to Illustrators toolset. Effects are live and fully editable, and they can be applied to a wide range of object types, including regular shapes, groups, meshes, gradients, type, embedded raster images, Live Trace objects and even objects contained within envelopes. This is a great suite of effects, one that really could be considered a missing core feature of Illustrator.
Manufacturer: Astute Graphics (
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows (Adobe Illustrator CS or CS2 required)
Price: $37.50
Users: Graphic designers, illustrators
Recommendation: Strong Buy

If you sat down and compiled a wish list for Adobe Illustrator, chances are that a suite of robust color adjustment tools would make it somewhere in the top five. It's such a basic, fundamental feature that you'd think somebody on the development side would have crammed it in there by now. (Give them time. Illustrator's only 20 years old. They'll get to it eventually.) But fortunately, Astute Graphics has come along with an affordable and robust solution to fill this void: Phantasm CS.

Phantasm CS is a plugin for Adobe Illustrator CS and CS2 that provides seven individual color adjustment tools. These tools can be used as live effects or as filters. And they can be applied to any type of object in Illustrator. (More on this below in the "performance/workflow" section.)

The individual effects aren't revolutionary by any means. You've seen them before in other programs. But they do add functionality to Illustrator that was sorely missing. Tremendously valuable functionality. Phantasm CS is just one of those things that, once you start using it, you can't imagine living without.

To begin, there's the all-important Hue/Saturation. It allows you, of course, to modify the hue, saturation and lightness properties of an object's color. It lets you colorize an object (or image). It lets you choose whether you want to apply the adjustment to fill, stroke or both. And it includes features for preserving spot colors, generating safe CMYK (designed to optimize ink levels in color-corrected objects when the document is in CMYK mode), removing overprint and converting colorized bitmaps (modifying the underlying graphic to match the document's color mode).

The one addition I would have liked to have sen for this tool would have been a visual representation of the hue spectrum above the hue slider. Not a major missing feature, but I like visual cues, and I don;t think it would have been difficult to insert.

Next up is Curves. This one, as you'd expect, provides an interactive curves editor for both raster images and vector objects. Generally you wouldn't find this too useful for vector objects, but this can be applied to gradients, meshes and Live Trace objects as well as rasters, so you'll definitely find some uses for it. It also provides all of the options noted above for the way in which the effect is applied.

It also includes a Brightness/Contrast effect, which also provides the same options as the other filters.

The Desaturate effect includes an option for standard desaturation and a "gray tone" effect. The two images shown below (beneath the interface shot) illustrate standard (left) and gray tone.

The Invert filter is straightforward. You can invert an object's colors as well as the colors of any of its appearance attributes (such as other effects that have been applied to the object).

The Levels tool lets you perform standard levels adjustments.

And then, finally, there's the Shift to Color effect. This lets you pick a color and tint an object with that color to varying degrees. A small adjustment produces a light tint, while a 100 percent adjustment converts the element to a solid color.

Pretty basic stuff, really, but these tools are so vital to the graphic design process that you just have to be thankful that somebody brought these to Illustrator in this form and at this price.

The strength of Phantasm CS--aside from the base functionality it brings to Illustrator--s the way it integrates into this program. It's just seamless. You really couldn't ask for a set of adjustment tools to work this flawlessly.

First of all, Phantasm CS gives you the choice of applying these adjustments as effects or filters. As effects, the adjustments are live and can be changed at ay time during the design process. As filters, they can be applied with minimal processing overhead. It's nice to have the choice.

Second, these effects can be applied to any type of object in Illustrator: shapes, groups, meshes, gradients, type, embedded raster images, Live Trace objects and even objects contained within envelopes. For example, here's a piece of type with a gradient fill embedded within an envelope with a Hue/Saturation Effect applied to it.

And here's a Live Trace object with a Curves adjustment.

So it just works.

And, of course, you have to appreciate all of the niceties that have gone into this, like the options discussed above for preserving spot colors, converting bitmaps, etc.

As for performance, I have no complaints. In fact, I'm running Illustrator on my MacBook, and therefore in emulation, and I noticed no lag whatsoever.

Likewise, I have encountered absolutely no problems with the software, even though, again, I'm running this under Rosetta.

The bottom line
Phantasm CS brings to Adobe Illustrator functionality that really should have been there all along: real color adjustment tools that remain fully editable and that can be applied to any type of object. What's more, it offers this functionality for a really modest price: just $37.50. There is no way I can give this software anything short of a Strong Buy recommendation.

Phantasm CS is available now for Mac OS X and Windows for Adobe Illustrator CS and CS2. It sells for $37.50. For more information, visit

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Related Keywords:adobe illustrator, color, adjustment, correction, gradient, mesh, plugin, plug in, effects, filters, Graphic designers, illustrators


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