Illustrator CS6 : What’s New

Illustrator CS6 was released recently and I’ve been using it for my client work. As I work in my usual routine, I’m experiencing some of the small improvements that have been made to the new version. The new darker interface is not my favorite, but switching to Medium-Light in Preferences makes it easier to work with while I’m getting used to it. Eventually I may adopt the default interface color, but this is one of the most striking changes to the program that Adobe says will make it easier to focus on the art. I’ll be spending more time with it before I can say whether I agree!

However, here are some of the small improvements to Illustrator CS6 that are already improving my workflow:

Layers can be renamed by double-clicking on the name, saving you from opening dialog box. The same holds true for a lot of other items you assign names for, like Artboards and Brushes and Swatches (in list view).

Transparency Panel now has a dropdown menu to select opacity percentages. It’s faster than the old slider or typing a number.

•New Make and Release Mask buttons on the Transparency Panel, to save you from using the options menu when working with Opacity Masks. For more info on Opacity Masks, watch my tutorial.

Gaussian Blur has become faster and the effect previews instantly as you make adjustments. It’s located in the Effect menu under Photoshop Effects, Blur. This is a feature I will probably use a lot more now than I used to because of the instant previewing and the speed boost. Once you’ve set the level of blur you want at the edges of your shape, you can always go back and make adjustments by clicking the link to the effect in the Appearance Panel.

•By default, the color panel is collapsed and so you will need to visit the options menu to set the panel to display the names or formula information for the current colors. You can also stretch the Color panel and see a much larger spectrum to select color from. The swatches for None, White and Black are in a different position and in RGB mode there is now a field for hex codes.

Among the things I’ll have to get used to: I like the improved Color Panel, but with the change to the interface color overall, it’s going to take me some time to get used to the Swatches Panel. Only in the lightest mode can I see the swatches against a light gray background. In the default darker interface, swatches sit on a darker background and the default small size swatch is smaller than it’s been in previous versions. So this is a change my eye will need to adjust to.

The Type cursor and the Pen Tool cursor have changed. The type cursor now has both a pointer and a text insertion icon that changes based on what you are hovering over. The switching takes some getting used to, and I wonder why they felt it needed to be changed.

Save For Web now limits you to 2 preview images, rather than 4. This may be more efficient, but it will take me some time to understand in the context of my work.

Those are some of the small things I’m noticing as I work in Illustrator CS6.

Of the major improvements, the most exciting is the new repeat pattern feature and the speed boost underpinning the program. I’m going to take up the new pattern feature more later.


Also, Live Trace has been renamed as Image Trace and the settings dialog has changed. The new version is noticeably faster on larger tracings. New options include a preview eyeball icon for flashing the original image off and on, and the option to choose Abutting or Overlapping paths for your tracing result.

If you trace a lot of full color images like photos, you will notice you get a better tracing result with the new Image Trace. If you use the feature like I do for tracing your pen and ink drawings, the improvements won’t make much of a difference. I am looking forward to exploring more with detailed color images though, because the limitations in earlier versions made tracing only work well for certain clearly defined images.

Gradient Strokes is another big new feature that I’m excited about and I’m looking forward to seeing how I might incorporate it into my work.

Overall there are some nice improvements in this version, along with some changes to the interface that will take some time to get used to.

Some of the features that came along in Illustrator CS4 and CS5 have become so integral to how I work, that I wouldn’t want to be without them now. Those CS4 features include: Multiple Artboards, Improved Appearance Panel, Transparent Gradients, the new Gradient Annotator and the Blob Brush. In CS5 I discovered I can’t live without the Shape Builder Tool, Stroke improvements and Width Tool. The CS5 Draw Inside Mode has been helpful too.

In time, I’ll find out which of the new CS6 improvements I can’t live without. It all depends on what you use the program for – Illustrator has so many tools and features to explore. Happy exploring!


  1. I want to have the new version of Adobe Creative Suite. Thanks for the reviews on AI.

  2. Laura, are you now used to the darker background in CS6 now or do you still prefer the lighter background to work with colour?

    • I’ve become used to using the default darker interface color now, and I like it, although I usually keep the canvas white. I think it was just a matter of adjusting to it over time and now it seems normal to me.