The year that was and the year that will be

The year that was and the year that will be

7 minute read

As Astute Graphics hurtles through its 17th year of developing ground-breaking tools and solutions for vector designers around the world, here's a look at what's taken place in 2023, plus some of our plans for 2024.

Something we don't shout about enough, which will change in 2024, is the number and frequency of updates across all 21 plugins. In 2023, we proved to be more prolific than ever, adding over 30 new features. Highlights include major releases such as the well received Reform Text tool through to every-day essential functions including Gradient Forge/Gradiator panels and AG Layer Comps. Then there were the myriad of minor additions at the request of subscribers, many of which appeared in public beta merely days following the request.

When the inevitable Illustrator 2024 appeared at Adobe MAX in October, we were prepared as always. Requiring a little more updating and testing than normal, we still managed to have all plugins released within a week of Adobe's update. Not quite a record for us, but close.

Naturally, stability and quality remain top of our agenda, leading to the speedy release of over 80 fixes throughout 2023. Many of these are very minor and obscure issues, but each bug is treated as high priority, something we are very proud of.

All the plugin changes in the year, 221 if you're counting, were made available through our unique Astute Manager. This is the unsung hero of the Astute Graphics ecosystem. It is the only visible part of a huge development platform that allows us to support and deliver our vast array of plugins to many thousands of subscribers simultaneously and with minimal hassle. A topic for full conversation in the future, the complexity and extent of our "continuous integration" (CI) system that began life around 10 years ago and is now used and maintained by six engineers, is one of our Crown Jewels. With minimal steps, any one of our engineers can build a new version of the software which can be deployed to the world within an hour. Each time a plugin is built, it's simultaneously created for the 4 latest versions of Adobe Illustrator on both Windows and macOS and made seamlessly available through the Astute Manager in a single "update" click.

If the Astute Manager is one of our Crown Jewels, the display cabinet also houses our other gem: our vector technology, "AG Tech". This long-running development allows Astute Graphics to develop magical tools and features that are class leading. This includes vector path offset (with its unique ability to offset closed AND open paths to a very high level of accuracy), Smart Point Removal, boolean ("Path Finder" in Illustrator speak), vector brushes, path reshaping, block shadows and more. Most of this technology is utilised in different or indirect manners within our Illustrator plugins, but is actually a system-agnostic library, meaning that it can run on desktop machines, servers and mobile devices. Due to development time invested into it, plus the significant daily use by our subscribers, it must be one of the most thoroughly tested, stable and high quality independent vector libraries in existence. The potential of this has not gone unnoticed within Astute Graphics...

On the topic of potential, what is in store for 2024? With artificial intelligence being the hot topic of the past year, we see our new wave of editing functions come to the fore. Whereas AI-generated artwork can often spark inspiration, the vector results from technology previews such as Adobe Firefly-based traced artwork generated in Illustrator 2024 is far from production quality. We need to help professional designers control and edit the machine-made artwork, which often differs in construction methods from human designed artwork. We're on the case.

But it's not just plugins, vector design tools and functions that will be key to a user's experience and potential in 2024. We have long identified the need for our subscribers and trialers to have quick access to curated training and learning material. Sure, we have many hundreds of videos to help, plus a quickly growing array of shorts on our popular Instagram and growing TikTok accounts, but we knew we needed to go further.

Mid-2022, we embarked on a major new documentation project. Traditionally, we never produced written manuals for our products, so catching up with 17 years of developments has been an epic task. Not content with providing a series of endless pages, we wanted to build a more intelligent learning resource. After a huge amount of work on the part of colleagues, we recently made our Docs sub-site public. Not complete and in beta, being continuously developed, this custom-made system is currently being connected up to all our plugins, allowing users to interrogate the panel's functionality directly in Illustrator, automatically providing the relevant information in the Astute Manager. Not only that, but the connection is also going to be offered in reverse, where a tool can be located directly from the Astute Manager. This will be a huge step forward for all users who, we are aware, are only familiar with a fraction of the tools they have access to.

Staying with the Astute Manager and 2024, the major new release which appeared around October 2023 is the first of four stages that will be rolled out. With the initial stage mainly being a behind-the-scenes technology advancement, such as being able to play videos directly in the Astute Manager for learning purposes, the next stages is where it gets interesting for users.

The second stage centres around the aforementioned learning improvements and is set to be live mid Q1 2024. Later in the year, we extend the functionality of the Astute Manager to store and retrieve settings and then resources such as texture packs. With an increasing number of team users, we want to make synchronising resources and settings simple.

We hoped some of these things would be ready in 2023, but we want to get things right first time. There's a time and place for getting things out there quickly and fixing things equally quickly, but when it comes to core services, we can't risk taking shortcuts. This is also leading us to creating an official programme for beta testers, extending the existing public beta access for active subscribers.

Astute Graphics has truly embraced our move to the subscription model. When we changed over to SaaS in 2019, we always knew the key benefits were not to emulate Adobe and others blindly, rather to take full advantage of a system that allows us to spend our time improving a service in every way for every user. Getting updates out there in double-quick time is always welcome, but so is the ability to cater for smaller, more niche subscriber requirements in a matter of days. By not having to spend significant time and resources on considering how users need to pay for individual upgrades, we have heavily re-invested into skills, technologies, learning and support.

I wish to personally thank all those who supported Astute Graphics in 2023 and continue to do so in 2024 and beyond. You are literally our most loyal customers, with our highest ever re-subscription rate having now been achieved. On behalf of all my colleagues, thank you.

Nicholas van der Walle

Founder & Chairman

More Reads...

Herman van Boeijen makes a spider droid

Herman van Boeijen tells us how he used DynamicSketch to make this Spider Read more »

Ending support for Illustrator CS6

The time has finally come for Astute Graphics to end support on all Read more »

Creating an ‘IT’ inspired poster with Stipplism

Clowns always seem to be the theme of some sort of horror movie. Some of Read more »