Phantasm was Astute Graphics’s first Illustrator plug-in. It gave Adobe Illustrator users the ability to work with colour settings the way they did in Photoshop. With curves working on transparency, Phantasm today isn’t obsolete. Far from it. The plug-in also gives you the ability to create vector halftones from an illustration both for printing and creative purposes, as well as ink and plate controls.
Phantasm’s most appealing feature for designers must be its capability to control individual channels including transparency (alpha) and spot inks. You can adjust the profile of drop shadows and glows for a much more realistic or creative result. Prepress and printer specialists will like the prepress options such as white overprint removal and rich black conversion that are easily set with Phantasm.
With Phantasm you can set brightness/contrast much like it is done in Photoshop. Now this may not sound like much, but it’s easier and more intuitive to set brightness and contrast than to have to tune colour values and evaluate those against each other to get a good balance.
Curves include individual RGB/CMYK/Spot and Alpha controls. When applied to drop shadows, for example, curves (which also have pencil drawing mode) can lead to creative results by experimenting.
Vector halftones must be what sets Phantasm really apart. Obviously, you can use it to set a rasterisation pattern for printing very large posters, but you can also use this as a creative feature. Vector halftone has everything a full-blown halftone app has, including FM (stochastic) patterns, separation settings (for printing) and dot types that include lines, selected Illustrator symbols and characters. By combining different patterns, separations dot types, tint adjusts and dot gain, you can create wildly different artwork.
Phantasm’s Hue/Saturation/Lightness option with Colorise mode is sometimes easier and faster to set than having to juggle with Illustrator’s colour settings, while Levels gives you more or less the same capabilities as Curves, although with somewhat less granular control.
For printers, I believe options such as Safe CMYK (with an option to exclude pure black), Ignore spot colours, Convert colorised bitmaps, Auto Rasterise, Black/White colour cut-off, Rich black to user-defined colour, Overprint control and Gradient Accuracy are of great interest. Especially in a growing market of package printing, Phantasm can save much time.