The incredibly important Adobe Illustrator story


When Adobe Illustrator first shipped in 1987, it was the first software application for a young company that had, until then, focused solely on Adobe PostScript. The new product not only altered Adobe’s course, it changed drawing and graphic design forever.

Watch the Illustrator story unfold, from its beginning as Adobe’s first software product, to its role in the digital publishing revolution, to becoming an essential tool for designers worldwide. Interviews include cofounder John Warnock, his wife Marva, artists and designers Ron Chan, Bert Monroy, Dylan Roscover and Jessica Hische.

It is hard to truly appreciate the impact Adobe had on the world of computing. In the video embedded below, you’ll meet John Warnock, the co-founder of Adobe, and watch as the invention and evolution of PostScript and Adobe Illustrator unfolds.

Absolutely brilliant. [Hat tip to iOS Dev Weekly]

  • Moeskido

    I bought Illustrator before I even bought my first Mac. A shame that company is no longer being run by the engineers who created it.

  • pxlated

    Am on a really slow connection so will have to watch the vid later but a couple things…

    Back before Postscript became generally known I read about it in some techie pub, found it interesting and called Adobe. John Warnock himself answered the phone. We discussed what Postscript was about and he set me a set of binders with “everything you’d ever want to know” about Postscript. I called him back and he explained that the only way to get Postscript working on an actual device was to write your own device drivers. Obviously I wasn’t anywhere near capable of doing that so the manuals just sat on my bookshelf. At some point I threw them out. Would be a collectors item if I’d just hung on to them. Before Illustrator there was Freehand. I was a big FH fan and used it every day. At the time (in my opinion) it was far superior to Illustrator but IA eventually took over, especially when Adobe also had Photoshop. IA & PS became the industry standard. Freehand was history.

    Agree with Moeskido – Adobe now reminds me more of the Quark of old. The suits took over.

    • Moeskido

      Quark, HP, probably a bunch of others. As the line from “Nixon in China” goes, “Founders come first, then profiteers.”

      I remember hearing about PostScript, knowing that, while a brilliant conception, it’d be something I’d never want to have to learn. Then I heard about programs like Freehand and Illustrator, which meant someone else had made the tools I’d actually want to use.

  • Scott Falkner

    I always wish each version of Illustrator is the last. It is so bloated and buggy. So many features are half-baked or poorly implemented, and never improved. It can do so much and has a lot of great features, but it is so far past its prime.

    Look what Adobe did with pageMaker. They could not make it competitive with QuarkXPress, even with their deep pockets and bundling deals with Illustrator and Photoshop. The only viable option was to scrap it and start fresh with a modern and extensible program. InDesign is the result and, unless you’re Quark, we are all richer for it.

    If Illustrator had any decent competition, like FreeHand, there might be incentive to dump it and start fresh with something lean and stable. Instead we have this old dresser with 19 layers of paint, so the drawers stick and it has a funky smell.

    • Paul Rumens

      I feel the same. We (my company) are hanging on to CS6 as the new features, while nice, are not what we want. If Creative Cloud 15 had the tag line “doesn’t crash” we would upgrade in a heart beat. The forums are filled with know bugs that never get fixed.

      • Moeskido

        Creative Cloud is an brilliant and cynical way to push out minor updates of mature products and call them significant revisions. And the new kiddies who can barely do arithmetic will wet their pants at the prospect of more-frequent New Stuff.

        • DanielSw

          The cynicism is all yours.

          The point is that the updates come as part of the subscription. Some are minor, but this latest update (CC 2014) was a major one. They (and we) don’t have to wait for a major update, nor do we have to save up or scramble around to come up with $600 or so to get one. They all just come as they’re ready. Lots of collateral benefits as well.

          But then, they’re rather squandered on the cynical, aren’t they.

          We’ve been enjoying them for going on two years now.

          I wonder if they’re concerned at all about you complainers’ petty protests.

          • Moeskido

            Yes, you’ve made your point in a previous conversation about how much you adore the subscription-software business model.

            You’ve also made your point n many other conversations about how easily you dismiss and insult people who disagree with you.

          • DanielSw

            Just speaking up for a good company, its founders, and its thousands of dedicated employees, all of whom you insult with your incessant and childish rants.

          • OK, that’s enough. Get back on topic or drop the subject all together.

          • DanielSw

            Thank you, Shawn, I will.

            This video included a short clip of John Warnock’s original video which accompanied one of the first versions of Illustrator. You could really tell how excited he was about his new product.

            I was excited then, too, almost thirty years ago. And I’ve been pleased to use the tool ever since to make my living with it these three decades.

            My first big customer was a college textbook publisher for whom I drew thousands of graphs and charts for its many titles on business and economics subjects. Interestingly enough, the designer I worked for back then and I have crossed paths often over the years since, and she still comes to me for the occasional Illustrator job.

  • DanielSw

    I bought Adobe Illustrator for $500 in April of 1987. In the video, John Warnock said it came out earlier that year. I remember the big green slipcase it came in along with the manuals, installation floppies, and the VHS tape which had John’s “one take” video introduction on it.

    I had bought the “Red Book”, PostScript Language Reference Manual, ©1985 which described the language, and the “Blue Book”, PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook, earlier and had done some playing around writing simple PS programs which, when downloaded to my Apple Laserwriter, magically output those gloriously pristine smooth black lines and shapes and halftone screens.

    When I started to play with AI, I soon realized that it was simply a graphical front end for the language.

    I’ve used AI almost daily since then, upgrading soon after each new version came out. And now with AI CC (2014), it’s soooo much more capable with so many wonderful tools and functions.

    Sadly, some would-be users never get past the pen tool. Too bad. It’s an admittedly strange tool to master, but it’s the price of admission to all of AI’s riches beyond. Those who “hate” Illustrator of any version tacitly admit their non-comprehension of the program’s fundamentals, as all of the new features are built upon them.

    I am forever grateful to John Warnock and his Adobe team, past and present, as well as to Steve Jobs and his Apple team, past and present for making the whole desktiop publishing era possible back in the day, and for maintaining and enriching those technologies today and in the future.

    • Gwenjo

      I am astounded every single day by the ease and complexity of Adobe Illustrator. How two men came up with this amazing tool is beyond my comprehension. Thanks to them for bringing the world of design that much closer to the masses and allowing them, if they choose, to design absolutely anything their minds can come up with.