Adobe's numbers are down on the back of a delayed release, but finally the company's application collection Creative Suite 3 is here. So should design heads be reaching for the wallet? We take a closer look.

Broken down into two skus the Design package comes in two variants; Design Standard and Design Premium. Design Standard comes with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat 8 Professional giving you most of what you need to get idea to paper, to the printers and out the door.

For the multimedia bunny, Design Premium (reviewed here) comes with Photoshop Extended, the company's new supped up Photoshop, Flash and Dreamweaver allowing you to take those paper ideas and put them on the web at the same time.

Since the last Creative Suite a lot has happened over at Adobe, mainly that they bought Macromedia, hence the inclusion of Dreamweaver and Flash over GoLive. And as you would imagine the company's Web Collections benefit more from this marriage than the design one. Macromedia fans wondering where Freehand is in this list will be upset and heartbroken to know that it's no more.

"The primary focus is on illustrator", Adobe told us at one of our briefings on the new product lines.

So what's new and exciting? Photoshop Extended has plenty of features, but none that you'll probably need for everyday use if you are photographer or designer.

Photoshop Extended seems to be about reaching industries outside the core remit, such as doctors, architects and 3D modellers. There's the counting tool for example for doctors that will enable them to extract quantitative and qualitative data from images, while architects, medical professionals and scientists get increased support for specialised image formats, while 3D modellers get the ability to image map flat 2D images onto a 3D object at the press of a button.

As for tools we might actually want to use, the company has added non-destructive smart filters that allow you to apply the filters that you know and love, but without all the hassle of having to save and backup before you try something else. It's simple, but a great new edition.

The other useful tool, especially for photographers, is something called Automatic layer alignment and blending. The system allows you to overlay a number of similar images and then mask out the bits you don't need. Been there done that? Well where the new tool comes in, is that it will automatically blend in the layers saving you a lot of time.

Design isn't all about image manipulation, but about drawing graphics as well as so in steps a new improved version of Illustrator. New to the mix is a live colour feature that allow you to change colours of your design quickly by opting for one of the many pre-arranged colour groups based on the 23 classic colour-harmony rules such as complementary. Don't worry, Adobe hasn't gone all basic and controlling, you can add whatever colour you like and it does the rest.

Also usefully is full Flash integration from within Illustrator. This includes integrity of critical elements in your illustrator artwork being maintained in Flash, with intact paths, and correct anchor point positions, as well as gradients, clipping masks, and symbols, and layer details.

For those who work both online and offline this is a massive step and one that should save you plenty of time.

Keeping with the paper theme, InDesign has to be the programme that has had the least done to it of all the packages. It's more tweaks than major overhaul. However one nifty feature we do like is the ability to create pages within pages. A bit like PHP coding where you include page elements into other pages (it's how this site is programmed) InDesign now allows you to create pages that you can use as modules - say contact details, or templates, over and over again in the document and when change just one document an the whole lot changes. Brilliant.

Talking of the web, The Design Premium package also gets Dreamweaver and Flash with Adobe hoping to appeal to multimedia publishers who want to take one to the other in an easy step.

Dreamweaver, like every other application included in the package gets its fair share of new features. Most notable are Spry support acknowledge Ajaz's Web 2.0 popularity on the web and a browser compatibility checker built-in that will automatically highlight possible problems as it finds them rather like word does a spelling mistake.

Flash on the other hand Adds ActionScript support, that interactivity with Illustrator and Device Central which allows you to see how your designs will work on virtually and device be it a PDA or mobile phone without having to own the device. Pulling from the list of hundreds of Flash supported handsets you can see your design and how it will cope with the processor speed or memory allocated out of the box. Put your beautifully crafted game on a cheap old Nokia and you can watch it chug along, put it on a top of the range Sony Ericsson and you get the picture.

Verdict

If, you’re a straight out of the box paper publisher then the Design Standard rather than the Design Premium is probably the best option - the main difference here is the inclusion of Photoshop Extended (which you won't need) and whether you see yourself working on the web.

As a package, the Design Premium does all is sets out to do, and in our opinion is a worthwhile upgrade or investment if you want to get your work done with little to no fuss.

Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium is due out sometime Spring 2007.

Top Marks, although you will have to pay for it.