Hello. I am looking to get familiar with a design tool used for creating digital media. Specifically I will be creating assets for web pages as well as sprites for mobile gaming. I am a software engineer so I have some limited experience using PS, Flash, etc. There seems to be a lot of overlap in terms of functionality between PS, FW, and IL. Since I will be investing time to learn Illustrator (which will be considerable) I wonder if it's the best tool for my needs.
If I would like to create icons, banners, sprites (.png) should I learn Illustrator? Or should I be using something like FW?
My advice would be to learn as much as you can on as many programmes as you can.
It’s better to be good at everything rather than specializing yourself into a corner.
Like Scott says, you can do a lot of thing using a lot of software.
Illie and Photoshop overlap to a certain extent and also function well as a pair but they are far from being your only options.
If you are smart and asked your question sort of backwards you would hgave a better answer. But I suspect you knoiw this already.
You should know Fireworks first and become very familiar with it you should learn Illustrator in a similar way that Flash users learn it as a way of creating high end graphics to be brought into Flash .
This way you can get the benefits of bothe programs when you need Illustrator use it and then bring the results into FW and then do what you have to and then export and optimize it for your needs for the web. If you hard code or use Dreamweaver you will have a really good optimized work flow with Fireworks your work flow for creating art work might often be better in Illustrstor but not always.
So in the end Fireworks Illustrator Photoshop Flash and believe it or not InDesign especially if you are going to go with html 5 which you eventually have to do anyway.
I am looking to get familiar with a design tool...wonder if it's the best tool for my needs.
If you intend to be the creative designer/illustrator, you simply need to become fluent with creating and manipulating both raster-based and vector-based graphics. Photoshop and Illustrator generally correspond to those two hemispheres of the digital graphics world, but so do alot of other softwares; the tools don't have to be specifically Photoshop and Illustrator. The need is not really software-specific. Sure, you've got to pick your poison and buckle down and read and work through the documentation. But always concentrate on understanding the underlying principles of what you're doing so that you do not become entrapped by (and fearfully dependent upon) specific software brands.
Specifically I will be creating assets for web pages as well as...mobile gaming.
Understand, while Photoshop and Illustrator can contribute static graphics to those arenas, they are deeply rooted in print graphics. They were both established in the "desktop publishing revolution" of the mid- 80s, along with their several direct competitors.
That is not a bad thing. You (like many) may think yourself so web-focused that print is irrelevant. That may give you a false sense of comfort, but it's just not true, and alot of people have found this out the hard way. Fact is, businesses don't just advertise online; paying clients market online, in print, in signage, video, and all other media. The much-predicted "death of print" is as mythical as the "paperless office." (Let me know when you see one.)
Bottom line: Artwork has to be consistent across media, and it simply makes more sense to design for print first, and then repurpose for web; not the other way-'round. It's easy to "dumb down" print-ready static graphics for re-use on the web. You have to recreate web graphics for print.
I will be investing time to learn Illustrator (which will be considerable) I wonder if it's the best tool...
Web-centric features were increasingly tagged-on to Adobe apps as the web emerged. That kind of "me, too" development is less problematic for raster imaging programs, because when it comes down to it, they're still just about creating individual images.
But vector drawing programs are "object-based"--a document is comprised of a stack of individual and independent vector, raster, and text objects. This kind of "object orientation" makes them fundamentally more amenable to programmatic functionality. Turning a print-centric vector drawing application into any kind of elegant web-centric one is not a simple matter of attaching more and more web-centric features. That kind of piecemeal development results in cumbersome and confused interfaces; a grab-bag of poorly-integrated features. That's Illustrator in a nutshell, and it's largely why newcomers (both print- and web-centric ones) struggle so with it. Illustrator really does make vector artwork seem more difficult than it really is. And Illustrator's interface is very weak in programmatic, data-driven, or web-coded functionality.
Plus, print-capable programs are simply more involved because of the range of functionality they must support, so poorly-integrated design can make them feel all the more intimidating. Among its historic peers in the vector drawing class (FreeHand, CorelDRAW, Canvas), Illustrator in particular has a very unintuitive interface. But it dominates the market share (in the US, at least), so it becomes a self-fullfilling prophesy as newcomers assume it is "the safe bet" just because of its presence. That's folly, as conventional-wisdom often is.
There seems to be a lot of overlap in terms of functionality between PS, FW, and IL.
The functional overlap between those particular three apps may seem redundant, but it really isn't; it's more about convenience. The oppposite side of mere functional "overlap" is true functional integration. There are programs out there which:
Two examples are Canvas and Xara Designer Pro. You're not going to get the full-blown raster functionality of Photoshop in those programs, but for the kinds of content you mention, either one of them could serve as your mainstay.
Realize: Most of Adobe's main web-centric offerings (GoLive. Dreamweaver. Flash. Fireworks.) were merely acquired. Adding a few data-exchange and jump-to "hooks" between radically different programs created from concept by different (and competitive) companies, giving them similarly-styled window dressing, bundling them in the same pretty sales box and calling them a "suite" does not necessarily make them truly integrated.
Macromedia, on the other hand--even before the web--was all about electronic on-screen final delivery and moreover, programmed interactivity. Macromedia Director, with its own scripting engine (Lingo), was its original mainstay. Macromedia was the interactivity innovator.
Fireworks was Macromedia's answer to the perceived need for a "drawing tool for the web." It is a vector-based drawing program, but it was created to provide a vector-based creation environment for graphics intended for the web, but rendered to PNG, which is an RGB-only raster format. Yes, Fireworks can embed its native vector content (which only Fireworks can understand) inside a PNG file (as could any other program designed to do so). But that content is simply ignored by a web browser. The browser simply displays the raster rendering. And if the PNG is opened, modified, and re-saved by some other raster imaging program, the Fireworks-native content simply goes away.
So yes, you would likely find FIreworks to be a much less tedious learning curve than Illustrator. It has a more intuitive interface (what doesn't?), and it is expressly web-centric. But while it lets you design with vector Bezier paths in an object-based environment, it lacks print-centric functionality (for example, it doesn't know didly about color separation), and it's still really all about rendering to an RGB raster format.
Flash is also web-centric, not print-centric. Its native drawing tools are also vector-based. But its drawing tools are a world apart from those of the general-purpose vector drawing mainstream. Flash's drawing engine began as a truly innovative vector drawing interface (SmartDraw), which created paths in a more freeform "paint like" way, and generated quadratic Beziers (as opposed to the cubic Beziers of programs like Illustrator), re-rendered them to screen resolution on-the-fly and effectively "autotraced" them on-the-fly during editing. Macromedia acquired this and adopted it as the drawing and layout interface for what was really primarily to become an animation timeline and scripted interactivity program. So the behavior of Flash's drawing tools is radically different from mainstream vector drawing programs. For example, in Flash you can actually connect more than two path segments at a single point. When vector objects overlap, they automatically perform boolean unions and punches. A cubic drawing interface was later effectively "overlaid" in the editing environment, but it's still quadratic curves that exist in the final SWF. In the end, as soon as the drawing requires a certain amount of detail and/or accuracy, Flash users commonly switch to a drawing program to create vector-based artwork and import it to Flash. When they do so (whether they realize it or not), Flash converts the incoming paths to its native quadratic curves. It's just often less tedious to draw the original basic paths outside Flash.
Moreover, Flash (aside from Flash video) is all about vector scaleability and interactive animation for the web and (though too-often overlooked) standalone applications. It's highly programmatic, with its own scripting language and interface. So Flash is in a purpose-specific league of its own, and one of the few true innovations since the beginning of desktop graphics; great and empowering to know but it's a whole other class of study, not a substitute for a general-purpose vector drawing program.
For primarily web-centric stuff, you really don't even have to spend any money. Open-source Inkscape is a quite capable vector drawing app that can create your "icons, banners, sprites," etc. Many web content developers don't even mess with Adobe's conventional-wisdom apps.
Xara Designer Pro is a reasonably priced and unintimidating general purpose vector drawing program that has done a particularly good job of integrating web/print applicability in a single clean interface.
I wonder if it's the best tool for my needs.
The best tool? Illustrator is general-graphics mainstream, but primarily in print. It still enjoys its market position mainly because it has an Adobe label on the box. But comparitively speaking, it's very archaic especially for web work, and especially for new paradigm (i.e.; programmatic) web work. If you don't believe it, do a search in this forum for questions about how to add a simple hyperlink in Illustrator.
Read Adobe's web blogs and white papers on HTML5 and the near future of web technology (but read with a healthy skepticism regarding Adobe's claims to "leadership" in such matters). But by all means don't read just Adobe's pronoucements on what's coming. Then compare to the current actual state of Illustrator.