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New Features in Flash 8 Professional, Part 4First you sweep the floor, then you make the scrapple
We've gone over three relatively large sections so far (here are links to part 1, part 2, and part 3 in case you missed them), so in wrapping up our grand tour of Flash 8 Professional's new features, it's time to think small. This article aims to be the dumping ground, the Larry King stream-of-consciousness column, the veritable scrapple, if you will, as we attempt to round up some of the "little" features in Flash 8 Professional and give them mention all at once. And with the very real potential for numerous health code violations, it's much like the scrapple-making process itself. So let's get started.
And I like to do drawr-rings
One of the nagging weaknesses in earlier versions of Flash were the drawing tools, but with Flash 8, things are looking up. No, you're not going to get the equivalent of an Illustrator-like program or anything like that, but there are some definite improvements.
For instance, Macromedia has introduced an entirely new way to draw (new to Flash, anyway), which it calls the Object Drawing Model. The best way to illustrate this is through an example. Let's say I'm working on a couple of very artistically challenging circles (fig. 1, left). In previous versions of Flash, if I happened to deselect the blue circle and then select it again to move it (or otherwise transform it), I'd be left with a cutout of where the blue circle was inside of the red circle (fig. 1, center). In Flash 8, toggling the Object Drawing mode in the toolbar before I start drawing (fig. 1, inset) creates a truly independent object (more akin to what happens in Illustrator), so objects can be moved around while drawing without the cutout effect (fig. 1, right). Of course, the old way is still the default, and can come in handy if you're trying to do cutouts, but it's nice to have options.
Flash 8 also adds a couple of really nice capabilities to its previously lame handling of strokes. For one, Flash finally offers different types of caps and joints, which are accessed through new options on the Properties panel (fig. 2).
Now, if you squint your eyes and direct your attention to a couple of portions of the Properties panel that I so helpfully darkened in Fig. 2, I'd like to highlight two more things that are improved in Flash's stroke handling: hinting and scaling.
Stroke hinting helps out in those situations when you have a thin line that happens to be sitting at a sub-pixel location. In earlier versions of Flash, you were pretty much stuck with a blurry, gray, 2-pixel approximation instead of a sharp 1-pixel line like you may have intended. Stroke hinting is designed to clean those types of lines up, resulting in nice-n-crispy strokes more often.
Stroke scaling is extremely helpful for those who want to change the size of an object, and especially so when using multiple instances of a symbol. Let's say I want to take a 100x100 pixel square with a 5-pixel stroke and change its dimensions to 150x200. Pre-Flash 8, the stroke scales with the rest of the square, with sometimes disastrous results. But now, the new Scale menu (fig. 3) allows me to keep the old behavior if I want ("Normal"), but also lets me set the stroke to stay the same size throughout ("None"), or scale relative to the horizontal or vertical scaling of the parent object.
The last of the drawing-related improvements I'll mention have to do with Flash's handling of gradients. There's now a focal point control inside the Gradient Transform tool (fig. 4 ? the arrow), which allows you to change the point where the gradient originates. The remaining tools have also been updated with little itty-bitty icons to more accurately reflect their functions.
Plus, you can now add up to 16 color blends inside a single gradient. Fig. 5 shows a really ugly (but illustrative) example.
There are also several modes to handle gradient overflows (fig. 6), so when you use the Gradient Transform tool to scale a gradient inside the boundary of the object, you're not simply stuck with a simple repeat of the last color in the gradient (although that behavior is still available, and is now called "Extend").
And finally, gradients can now be applied to strokes (fig. 7).
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