Adobe Flash Tutorial

Adobe Flash is a well-known multimedia software platform for the creation of various types of content, ranging from animations, rich internet applications, desktop and mobile applications, to mobile and browser games.

Adobe Flash can utilize text, along with vector and raster graphics to create animations, video games, and apps. Adobe Flash also allows for audio and video streaming. On top of that, it can capture keyboard, mouse, microphone and camera input, making it suitable for all sorts of multimedia projects.

A Brief History of Adobe Flash

A product called SmartSketch published by FutureWave Software in 1994 was the original precursor to Adobe Flash. In 1995, FutureWave published a new version of SmartSketch in an attempt to challenge the vector-based web animation Macromedia Shockwave technology. It named its solution FutureSplash Animator.

In November 1996 FutureSplash Animator was acquired by Macromedia, who in turn rebranded the FutureSplash Animator and released it as Macromedia Flash 1.0. Macromedia significantly upgraded the Flash system, adding support for movie clips, actions, alpha transparency and many other features in the 1996 to 1999 timeframe. Flash was no longer a mere media tool. From then on, Flash was promoted as a web application platform rather than a humble graphics solution.

ActionScript

The first version of ActionScript was released in 2000, along with Flash 5. ActionScript 2.0 followed soon, released with Flash 2004 MX, adding support for object-oriented programming. Flash 8 was the last version of Flash released by Macromedia. It introduced graphics filters, new blend modes, and advanced features for FLV video.

The turning point came In 2005, when Macromedia was acquired by Adobe Systems, along with the full Macromedia software product line, including Flash, Authorware, Director/Shockwave and Dreamweaver.

Adobe Flash CS3 Professional was released in 2007, introducing ActionScript 3.0 programming language supporting modern programming practices and methods. In 2008 Adobe released Adobe Flash CS4, adding advanced animation capabilities to the Flash editor, similar to Adobe After Effects, and basic 3D object animation.

However, by 2008 it became clear that Flash was nearing the end of the road. The technology did not adapt to the mobile revolution, so Apple decided to drop Flash support from their mobile operating systems. Steve Jobs was a particularly vocal critic of Flash on mobile, which he saw as resource-hungry and inefficient. Google followed suit and removed Flash support on Android 4.1 and all subsequent Android releases. Apple's and Google's decision effectively doomed Flash and made it clear that its days were numbered.

But the Flash saga did not end there, at least not completely. Adobe Integrated Runtime (Adobe AIR) was also released in 2008, as a runtime engine that replaces Flash Player, introducing access to the file system and various input devices.

Adobe AIR went on to be voted as the Best Mobile Application Development product at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for two consecutive years – 2014 and 2015. It's still going strong, but ultimately it's not Flash.

Adobe Flash Features

Adobe Flash allows you to create entire websites, or separate animations and navigation items.

Basic features of Adobe Flash include vector-based drawing tools, media effects, and simple and complex interactions, and these basic functions are very popular. Creating simple graphics and illustrations using Flash drawing tools is easy, and saving them as vector images creates smaller files and uses less bandwidth.

Vector-based images created in Flash can be easily animated in Flash, and complex animations can be programmed using the ActionScript programming language. Flash animations can also include sound and video, and user interactions can be added to control the animations. Buttons, menus and complex programmed effects can also be used.

Flash websites (or parts of websites) are browser independent — they will look the same in all browsers. On the downside, if the Flash player plugin is disabled in the browser (or not installed at all), Flash elements will not be invisible.

Adobe Flash Components

An Adobe Flash Component is generally a user interface widget, for example a button, a checkbox, or a menu bar. Many pre-built components are available in Flash, so developers can simply drag components into their project and use them.

A Flash component can be manipulated using ActionScript or configured by setting its parameters in the property inspector.

In addition to the components included in Flash, third-party components can be installed and used. Alternatively, developers can create their own custom components and use them.

Drawing

Drawing in Adobe Flash is very similar to using modern photo editing software, with support for layers, vector graphics, a range of different blend modes, and so on.

It is similar to Adobe Photoshop in many ways, with the addition of a timeline. In Adobe Flash, your drawing area is called a "stage," and you draw and add layers to the stage.

Adobe Flash has two drawing models — merge and object.

The merge model will erase shapes below your new drawing, while the object model draws shapes as separate objects that can be arranged — moved to behind or in front of other objects.

When you are finished with your design, it is a good idea to convert your drawing to a reusable graphic symbol. This will add your drawing to the library so you can reuse it if it's ever needed again.

Adobe Flash can import and use various graphics formats, both vector-based and bitmap-based. In other words, using clipart or existing graphics is easy. Using vector formats is preferable since vector graphics can be scaled without loss of quality and the file sizes are significantly smaller. Of course, vector graphics are no substitute for bitmaps in some use-cases, but vector graphics have a number of inherent advantages over bitmaps in most situations.

Video

Support for video files was first introduced with Flash 6 in 2002, and has been updated ever since. As a result, numerous video formats are supported in Flash.

Adobe Flash can handle video in two main ways — as an external video linked to your Flash clip and played from it, or as an embedded video in your Flash file.

Embedding a video is useful if you need to integrate the video with the rest of your content, or if you are timing an animation to match video content. When you embed a video, it will first be encoded to the old Flash FLV format, and then you can place it on the timeline and use it with your other content.

However, bear in mind that embedding a video means that it will be copied into your Flash movie, hence the size of such a Flash SWF will be significantly larger, and therefore will affect the load time.

Character Design

Adobe Flash has great support for character design and animation, as its predecessor was designed specifically for such applications.

The first steps would be to draw a character from scratch, or to import existing graphics. Most cartoon-like characters are created in Adobe Flash using basic shapes such as rectangles, circles, and ovals combined with drawing models mentioned earlier, different blend modes and colors.

After completing the character design, you can move on to animating your character using the timeline. Adobe Flash uses keyframes to store information about character transformations over time, and animates the character accordingly. Transformations are limited only by your imagination, they can be a simple change of position of the character, or a more complex transformation of position, size, color, effects, etc.

Adobe Flash used to be a very popular choice for character design animation, so you should have no trouble finding a lot of quality tutorials online.

Unicode

Adobe Flash offers great support for rendering text in various languages and character sets, so developers can build localized applications with ease.

Flash versions 7 and beyond support text or external text files in the 8-bit Unicode format (UTF-8), and in the 16-bit Unicode (formats UTF-16 BE and UTF-16 LE).

Flash FLA files can be configured to display text in different languages depending on the language of the operating system that plays the content.

Buttons are interface components that add simple interactivity to Flash projects. Any object can be a button, however, Flash provides built-in button types that include the typical mouse-over, mouse-out and mouse-click states and/or animations.

Creating a button is easy. Either draw an object and make it a button (convert to symbol and choose "button"), or use a button from the built-in library and customize it to suit your needs.

Links in Flash are usually created using a simple text box. With the text box selected, locate and double-click the "Go to web page" code snippet in the Code Snippets panel. Use the Action Panel to enter the desired URL for your link.

Adobe Flash Resources

Just a few years ago, Adobe Flash was very popular and widely used on numerous websites. However, due to lack of support on mobile platforms, the focus shifted to HTML5 a few years ago.

However, Flash is still used, although not as widely as prior to 2010, so learning the Flash basics still makes sense in certain niches.

In case you'd like a refresher course, or master Flash from scratch, this free tutorials is a good starting point:

Tutorials and lessons dealing with specific tasks in Adobe Flash are also easy to find, thanks to the vast popularity of Flash.

Adobe Flash Books

Hundreds of books covering various aspects of Adobe Flash are out there, so if you prefer reading a real book over video tutorials and online lessons, we singled out a few titles:

  • Adobe Flash Professional CC Classroom in a Book (2014) by Adobe Creative Team and Russell Chun, offers an official training series from Adobe Systems Incorporated, developed with the support of Adobe product experts. Purchasing this book gives you access to the downloadable lesson files you need to go through all the projects in the book, and to electronic book updates covering new features that Adobe releases for Creative Cloud customers.
  • How to Cheat in Adobe Flash CC: The Art of Design and Animation (2014) by Chris Georgenes, shows you how to solve problems quickly and develop creative projects, practical applications, in step-by-step tutorials. Chris Georgenes shows you how to work from the problem to the solution — from the viewpoint of an animator.

Due to the sheer volume of Adobe Flash resources out there, it's hard to list books and tutorials covering specific topics, but you should be able to find them online with relative ease. It all depends on what you need, be it video, cartoonish animations, or a swanky presentation with cool vector graphics. Therefore, our advice is that you seek out topical resources on your own since you're in a better position to find the perfect resource for your needs.

Conclusion

A decade ago, Adobe Flash was huge, but industry trends conspired to make it a lot less appealing. At a time when more and more people are turning to mobile platforms for most of their computing needs, Flash is simply no longer competitive in the mainstream market.

However, it's still used in some niches, and the underlying principles behind Adobe Flash should help you master the next generation of technologies, namely those compatible with iOS and Android devices. The abundance of Flash resources means you can easily find enough free online resources to become proficient in some aspects of Flash design, and apply these lessons elsewhere.

That said, Flash is definitely on its way out and its relevance is dwindling fast. In all likelihood, Flash will become a footnote in tech history by the end of the decade. Don't get all emotional, though, because the basic principles behind Flash are still alive and kicking in next-generation technologies.

Flash opened the floodgates for content-laden interactive websites and web apps. Unlike Flash, they're not going anywhere — they're here to stay, and that is probably its single biggest contribution to the tech world.


Further Reading and Resources

We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to Flash and graphics development:

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