Freehand, it’s a graphic designer thing…

Having been forced to use Adobe Illustrator for a couple of projects I have just had a taste of the ‘other side’. To paraphrase Michael Johnson (of London design consultancy Johnson Banks), “My name is Simon Watson and I have a confession, I still use Macromedia Freehand”.

In the beginning, when I first used a vector based illustration package on my Apple Macintosh SE, there was quite a wide choice. But the two main packages were Adobe Illustrator 88 and Aldus Freehand 2. I chose Freehand because it allowed you to work in preview mode so you could see exactly what you were doing. In Illustrator 88 you had to work in outline mode (where everything was shown as ‘wireframes’) and then switch to preview to see what the heck you had done, then switch back to outline to continue working. Madness.

So I stuck with Freehand. Freehand was purchased by Macromedia but they still developed some really cool features like multiple pages of different sizes in one document, simple colour management and replacement, it was a program that ‘just worked’ and allowed you to ‘think on-screen’, not worry about your tools, you could just get on with designing and artworking.

Then Adobe, maker of Freehand’s only real competition, Illustrator purchased Macromedia. And I knew that was it. Why bother developing Freehand? And they didn’t. The last version was ‘MX’ (essentially version 11), and that was built in 2003. It still works though, even under Snow Leopard, there are a couple of font quirks, but I can work around that. However I live in dread of a system update breaking Freehand for good. It’s not that Illustrator is a bad program, but IMHO it lacks the ease of use, and several features (still!) of Freehand. And in the spirit of competition I think Adobe should sell the code to Freehand, or make it open source so that Freehand could be developed. Remember we are supposed to be living in the free world, where competition is good. So how about it Adobe?

You can read an excellent article on Freehand here on the Creative Review website. And on Johnson Banks brilliant blog here.

And if you are a designer still working with (or yearning to go back to) Freehand, then join the “Free Freehand Organisation” at


Why Freehand can still teach Illustrator a few things:

And for ‘anoraks’, below are some splash screens from Freehand through the ages.