There are plenty of compelling reasons to upgrade to the CS3 version of Illustrator. Adobe has made some significant interface changes, updated important components and added innovative features, such as Live Color, a complete colour-exploration environment that makes it easy to develop and experiment with different colour themes.

In addition, no matter what hardware you're using, you’ll notice some performance improvements when you're scrolling and zooming, and you'll see faster screen redraws when you're working with very complex documents. But there's still a little room for improvement, especially in the program's basic colour-picking facility.

Interface changes

Illustrator's interface has been updated to match the rest of the CS3 programs' - its tool palettes (now called panels) sit inside docks that can be expanded or collapsed, allowing you to better manage screen real estate.

The redesigned Control panel further reduces on-screen clutter. Introduced in Illustrator CS2, the Control panel has been expanded to include more options and tools.

For example, when a path is selected, the Control panel now provides options for selecting similar objects and aligning those objects. When a point is selected, the Control panel provides all the anchor-point controls that you used to have to access from the main Tools palette. Adobe was very smart about what it put in the Control panel and you'll probably find that, after a while, you use it for more of your parameter selection than the customary palettes and dialog boxes.

The actual selection process has been improved by changes in the visual feedback that Illustrator provides as you mouse around your illustration. When you pass the Direct Selection tool over a control point, the control point enlarges so that you can easily see and select it.

While this may not sound like much, you'll get accustomed to the change very quickly, and you'll soon realise how helpful - even luxurious - it is. Of all the program's new features, Illustrator CS3's easier-to-see anchor-point highlighting is the one you'll encounter most often, and it's a great idea.

Illustrator CS3 also introduces Document Profiles, preset parameters that allow you to create documents configured for a specific final output. For example, the Video And Film profile gives you a 1,920x1,080-pixel document in RGB colour. This feature can save you some hassle when you're ready to output your illustration.

The interface changes Adobe has made are significant, but longtime users don't need to worry about a burdensome learning process or changes to familiar keyboard shortcuts and commands. It's easy to adopt the new features into your workflow.

New drawing tools

Illustrator CS3 is the 13th version of Illustrator and, as you'd expect after all this time, its drawing tools are very powerful and refined. Adobe has made a few significant additions to longstanding tools in the program's toolbox.

A new Eraser tool lets you modify existing parts of your illustration just as you would in a paint program. Pass the Eraser tool over an object, and the tool will automatically alter and reshape it so that it looks partially erased. Like the Paintbrush tool, the Eraser tool makes creating organic, painterly objects easy - you use a simple painting interface, and you don't have to think about paths and anchor points.

While Illustrator has long allowed you to align objects, the new version also lets you align individual points, a great way to align just one side of a group of objects, for example.

The new Crop Area tool makes it easy to crop down to a specific rectangular part of an image. In the past, you had to draw a rectangle and create a clipping mask to crop an image. If you need to quickly output PDFs and other documents that are cropped to a specific size, the Crop Area tool is a great addition.

In previous versions of Illustrator, working on a single object in a complex document required that you perform lots of locking and hiding to isolate the path that you wanted to edit. Illustrator CS3's new Isolation mode provides a good alternative to this type of housekeeping.