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Using Flash CS3 Professional to import Photoshop and Illustrator files

by Rich Shupe

As a Flash® developer, one of the features I've long yearned for is a better way to get Adobe® Photoshop® and Illustrator® assets into Flash. In fact, since Photoshop and Illustrator have been my primary graphics workhorses for almost as long as I've been creating assets on a computer, this has been my fervent wish for years.

I can easily recall the many hours I spent converting detailed layered PSD files to individual assets, exporting one layer at a time — including each and every background, UI element, and multistate button — and painstakingly recreating the design in Director®. I happily remember how my life changed when MediaLab released PhotoCaster Xtra, which somehow managed to import PSD files into Director with all layers, transparencies, and registration points intact.

Unfortunately, I also remember the big step backward I had to take when faced with the same situation in Flash. Worse yet, this dilemma was exaggerated by the fact that I coveted the same functionality for vector graphics that originated in Illustrator.

Slowly, solutions began to surface. Adobe added an exporter to Illustrator that could export layers to separate SWF files for Flash import. MediaLab came to the rescue again with the PSD2FLA Photoshop plug-in. Alas, even though these tools were project-savers (and believe me, I owe a debt of gratitude to the wonderful engineers responsible), the workflow never seemed to be quite as good as it could be.

Fast-forward to 2007, however, and a new day is dawning. Since the day Adobe announced its proposed acquisition of Macromedia, I've been anxiously awaiting the next version of Flash, which would no doubt offer better integration between Flash and my favorite graphics applications. Now that Adobe has released Flash CS3 Professional, I'm happy to report that we've gained many such features, not the least of which are the new Photoshop and Illustrator importers. (Check out the video tutorials included with this article.)

Gone are the days of exporting to standard formats and importing with sacrifices. Today designers can work in their Photoshop and Illustrator comfort zone and still collaborate with Flash developers, thereby speeding up production merely with improved asset preparation. Better yet, the only asset required is the original native PSD or AI file, which can now be imported directly into Flash while maintaining its fidelity and many of its features.

Flash can now preserve all the layer, registration point, and transparency information of the original file during import. Type can be transferred as editable text or rasterized into bitmaps or vector outlines. Layers can be merged, restacked, renamed, and even converted to movie clips, complete with instance names. Photoshop layer styles can be automatically recreated as Flash filters. Illustrator designers can even create Flash symbols and text elements, complete with instance names within Illustrator. We can even set asset compression on a layer-by-layer basis (complete with dynamic size estimates for each setting) during the import process, and those are only a few of the features of the new Photoshop and Illustrator importers. Take a look at the videos below.

I guess my analytical writer's veneer is peeling, and my enthusiasm is getting the better of me. I'll conclude with a prediction that could be viewed as either conservative or brash. I believe that the improved collaboration between Creative Suite® designers and developers — typified by the PSD and AI import workflows — will dramatically improve productivity. And when creators can focus more on their work and less on their workflows, quality abounds.

I hope these two videos demonstrate the power and effectiveness of the Adobe Flash CS3 importers for Photoshop and Illustrator. For additional video tutorials on Flash CS3, check out my Flash CS3 Professional Essential Training series at lynda.com.


Rich Shupe is founder and president of FMA, a full-service multimedia development and training company in New York. He teaches Flash, Director, JavaScript, digital video and audio, and more in FMA's state-of-the-art training facility.