Design insights & tutorials.

Review: Phantasm CS plugin for Adobe Illustrator

Not many Adobe Illustrators are aware of the plug-in functionality of Adobe Illustrator. I don’t believe it’s promoted very well. There’s not a good one-stop shop to find plug-ins in one place, with reviews and user feedback. And it’s a shame, because there are many killer plug-ins out there for Illustrator.

Today I want to introduce you to a plugin that in some ways goes beyond my notion of a plug-in, since it adds so many features that you wouldn’t ever expect to be able to do within Adobe Illustrator: Phantasm CS.

Developed by Astute Graphics, Phantasm CS can best be summed up by saying it offers Photoshop-esque functionality to Illustrator. Want to apply Levels? Check. Need to access the Curves? Got it. Need to adjust Hue/Saturation? Bingo.

Phantasm CS is available for both Mac and Windows running Adobe Illustrator CS2, CS3, CS4 or CS5, and offers the user an insane array of extremely well-implemented features that you may have since long given up on having within Illustrator. To be honest, I haven’t used Phantasm CS very much because my mind says “you can’t do that in Illustrator”. With Phantasm CS, you can.

The main feature set that is available across all three versions includes the following:

  • Brightness/Contrast
  • Curves
  • Desaturate
  • Duotone (including monotone, tritone and quadtone)
  • Halftone (vector)
  • Hue/Saturation/Lightness
  • Colorize mode
  • Invert
  • Levels
  • Shift to Color
  • Swap Channels
  • Temperature/Tint

Applying any of these is easy enough: select the art you want to tweak, then head to the Effects menu and then to the Phantasm CS sub-menu. From there you select the effect and a dialog box comes up, with the option for basic or advanced settings.

Convert your art to grayscale, whip up a color vector halftone (seriously!), convert your colors to a duotone, adjust levels, curves, brightness/contrast — everything you think you need to do in Photoshop is now at your fingetips in Illustrator and remains editable vector art. It’s freaking cool.

And the effects don’t stop at vector art, you can also edit and tweak embedded images if you spring for the Studio or Publisher version upgrades.

If you are a seasoned Illustrator user, trust me you will have a tough time getting used to the fact that you can do all of this right within Illustrator. As I mentioned above, your brain will tell you “can’t do that” and you will need to re-learn that you now have the capability. That’s probably the biggest learning curve for Phantasm CS.

Phantasm CS has a trial version which gives you basic Brightness/Contrast control as either a Filter or Live Effect. This trial version does not expire and any Brightness/Contrast Live Effects saved with your file remain completely editable in both the trial and full version.

Astute Graphics has an extensive features page on their site so you can learn in-depth about everything Phantasm CS has to offer. Pricing starts at just £49.00 (approximately $75/€58) and for what you get, this seems more than reasonable.

I highly recommend you head over to the site, download the trial and give it a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
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  • Simon H.

    Thanks for the extensive review. Is it part of your workflow now?

  • Marco

    Great review George and I believe this is awesome plug-in. I would really like to see it applied in a work environment, particularly in the screen printing industry. I would like to see if the combination of color separation and halftone controls can act as a reliable alternative for film output. It would be comparable to one of those Photoshop action based programs like “QuickSeps”.
    Anybody has any input or direction on this?

  • Adam

    Yea, this is way cool. CS6?

  • Blaz

    I don't get how this is a review.

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  • Hiren

    This is a great plug-in, it becomes more easier with workflow as you do not have to keep switching to photoshop, which in turn saves time and money.

  • Nicholas van der Walle

    Hi Marco – I'm Nick from Astute Graphics – the company which produces this plugin (many thanks to George for the kind review!).

    I know we have many screen printing customers, but sadly I've never seen in detail the artwork they've produced (I've seen the Halftone effect used for the graphic on shirts, etc., but this isn't what you mean).

    The only thing I'd warn about is that you shouldn't think of the Phantasm CS vector Halftone tool as a direct replacement for a RIP's halftone process. If you halftoned a dimensionally large document at a high resolution, you'd simply create too many vectors for Illustrator to handle efficiently. Having said that, there are customers who do use the Halftone tool on smaller areas of artwork at high resolution, some using it to produce security screens.

    Perhaps of more interest would be the full separations tool which I do know is used by screen printers to fully separate the artwork (including spot inks). This allows them to work in any particular separation before output.

    If you want to see what some customers have produced with the Halftone tool, here are two AG blog posts that may be of interest:

    Hope this is of some help.

  • Rock_Daddy

    Marco, I was actually thinking the same thing. I work in the apparel industry and do a lot of simulated process screen-printed art myself. By the looks of the video on their website, this plugin could be a big benefit for creating more accurate separations over the action based programs, if you are indeed able to select specific spot colors and control ink coverage. I'd like to see or hear some more input because between that function and the cool design effects included, it would be right up my alley.

  • choppre

    Wow never heard of this plugin, its pretty good

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