Macromedia FreeHand is perhaps the most popular software used by cartographers. I've been using it since 1990. Why do cartographers like it so much?

  1. Styles - For me, this is the biggest reason. Maps are symbolic. Every bit of ink on the page has an explicit meaning. You don't simply have a brown line, for example, you have a contour line. Indeed, the fact that it is brown, and 0.005" wide is incidental. FreeHand, through it's graphic and text styles, allow cartographers to define symbology, and by doing so, allows them to attach meaning to graphics.
  2. Layers - This is no longer such an issue. Adobe Illustrator finally got layers with version 5. However FreeHand has had them from the very beginning, and still does them better.
  3. Custom PostScript - In FreeHand, you can create procedural graphics through a UserPrep file of PostScript routines. This enables complex stroke and fill operations.
  4. Text handling - Many maps have a large amount of text, and FreeHand is superior to Illustrator at creating and manipulating text.

There are many other things to like about FreeHand, but those are the hilights, for me at least.

Close and Smooth Xtras
I have had a couple FreeHand Xtras (plugins) written to help deal with data from GIS systems in FreeHand version 8. I have decided to release them as shareware. If you use the software, please register! "Close" allows a user to close multiple paths in one operation. "Smooth" applies continuous curvature to multiple FreeHand paths. Read more about them,

Both Xtras for Mac OS9 and earlier (PowerMac only)

Both Xtras for Windows (32-bit for Windows 95/98, WinNT, Win2000, WinXP)

Both Xtras Carbonized for Mac OSX and FH 10 (stuffit archive)

PPC Close Xtra for Mac OSX and FH 9

PPC Smooth Xtra for Mac OSX and FH 9

You can find out more about FreeHand from Macromedia You can join the FreeHand mailing list also - put "subscribe freehand-l" in the message body.

After FreeHand version 7 came out, I decided to assemble a small group of cartographers to develop a set of suggestions of improvements for future versions. To see the report of the FreeHand Wish List Study Group, click here. While many of the ideas are more than a little out of date, the majority of them are still useful food for thought.