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From humble beginnings, Adobe Illustrator evolved into graphics powerhouse

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When it launched three decades ago, Adobe Illustrator had more than its share of critics and skeptics. Designers are now using the program to create roughly 6 million graphics every day.

The tool that helped usher in a new era in digital design is now celebrating 30 years — and 180 million graphics crafted every month. This month, Adobe Illustrator — now Illustrator CC and part of the Creative Cloud — will have officially been around for three decades.

Publicly launched in 1987, Adobe Illustrator was received with mixed reactions — some called it magic, while others said it was the end of good design. “Everybody said, ‘You’re going to ruin good design because now anybody can do it.’ But with Illustrator, the cream rises to the top,” said John Warnock, Adobe cofounder. “The creativity is in the designer. The creativity is the person who uses the tools.”

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At Illustrator’s launch, it was a novel tool that allowed artwork to be both more precise and easily adjusted. The program evolved from PostScript, the precursor to modern desktop publishing, which used computer programming to describe a design on a page. It was, of course, limited to computer programmers, not graphic artists.

Illustrator allowed artists to create without knowing code by using a set of tools and drawing on the screen. Graphics and layouts went from hands-on cutting and pasting with actual scissors to the digital definition of cut and paste. At the earliest launch, however, Illustrator didn’t even have an undo button.

Adobe says Illustrator has evolved from that early version to the current Creative cloud option largely through user feedback from forums, events, and focus groups. The latest version incorporates the ability to create content across varied screen sizes and mediums, with an “export for screen” option and Scalable Vector Graphics. The pause in the workflow to share graphics and style guides is being shortened as Creative Cloud access expands.

Illustrator is also creating spinoff programs, like Adobe Experience Design, a platform the company is currently beta testing for putting design, prototyping, and sharing websites, plus mobile apps, into one program.

Designers are now using the CC program to create roughly 6 million graphics every day.