One of my favorite tools in Adobe Illustrator is the Free Transform tool, but it does have a few quirks in more recent versions of Illustrator. Say you have a shape made of two rectangles, one of which is rotated 90° from the other, and both rotated some random small amount. With one rectangle selected while using Adobe’s Free Transform Tool, all is well.
Now select the second rectangle and the bounding box is no longer rotated with the selection.
With ToolShed’s new Transform tool, the bounding box is always rotated to match the topmost object, so you can transform these rectangles as though they were one object. One way around this would be to use the Square Up plugin to square the objects along their dominant axis, but that’s now an unnecessary step.
If you press the shift key while rotating, ToolShed’s Transform tool will rotate only the bounding box, which makes it easy to stretch your art along any angle you wish!
Using Adobe’s Free Transform tool, I often grab the handle on a side to stretch it a bit taller or wider, but then it goes all cattywompus. Using the Free Transform tool on more recent versions of Illustrator requires us to first lock proportions by clicking an icon in another tiny palette that, it seems, is always hidden behind other panels. In addition, grabbing a corner to rescale it often seems to rotate the art instead of scaling it. Ain’t nobody got time for that! ToolShed’s Transform tool doesn’t skew and doesn’t rotate from a corner, so for most purposes, you can work more quickly and with fewer surprises.
Remember, you can download ToolShed and try it out with a thousand trial uses that don’t expire before you have a chance to seriously test it. They don’t expire at all!
If you create technical illustrations, you probably use CADtools. I use it, and wouldn’t consider doing the work that I do without it. There are times, however, when I wish I had tools that are a little less technical and let me work more visually. Then again, I still need precision, especially when it comes to getting the pieces of a technical drawing correctly oriented to each other. I have drawings, of course, that show these spatial relationships in top and side views, but how does one translate that to Illustrator artwork?
I established a couple of rules for my plan. OK, guidelines, but firm guidelines. I really don’t want to measure things and type numbers into dialogs. Even worse, I don’t want to then have to do math on those measurements to account for foreshortening and other factors. Over time, a method of achieving this slowly took shape.
It all hit critical mass when I met Ron Kempke. Actually, he found me, asking if I could write a plugin that simplified entering into Illustrator the equations he’d worked out over decades of doing technical drawings. His samples were definitely cool, but it was a real stretch for me to grasp the meaning of Sigma, Psi, Beta, Gamma, and an assortment of Greek characters he used to define these concepts. After a few conversations and exchanges of annotated diagrams, it looked pretty hopeful for translating those equations into C++ code, then wrapping a user interface around it to let illustrators like lazy me use the math without having to think about it. And not just for isometric, but for any off-axis view one may want.
The gist of the idea is that illustrators identify common reference points in each view of their drawings that refer to the same point in 3D space as well as a point in the axonometric view that’s comprised of those drawings. As a result, we can make some otherwise cumbersome things happen quite easily.
Artwork projected to a corresponding plane can be created in place so that the adjoining surfaces automatically meet where they should.
Artwork can be created wherever it’s convenient, then moved or modified by dragging a tool a corresponding distance and direction on an ortho view.
When one reference point is moved, all other reference points are automatically moved accordingly so relationships between them last.
A few other tools are included to round out the package:
Axo Rotate tool allows you to rotate an object within the axonometric plane it’s in. The tool displays a protractor for that plane, and allows you to press Shift to constrain the rotation to increments of 15 degrees.
Axo Scale tool can scale an object along the X, Y, or Z axis.
Axo Draw tool draws lines constrained to the current axes, automatically concatenating them as you go.
The Axo Tool that defines and moves reference points also moves selected art or individual anchor points constrained to the nearest axis.
I have too many panels hogging my screen space, so I don’t want to add still more. No problem, you can collapse the panel to just the projection options and do your projections with menu commands.
Navigating menus is too slow, and I want to work quickly. No problem, part of the purpose of having menu counterparts is to enable keyboard shortcuts. This makes the process very quick!
Scrolling around a large artboard between the various views is cumbersome with or without AxoTools. No problem, AxoTools adds menus for quickly going to any of your defined views, and using keyboard shortcuts, that’s now very fast.
Can I define my axonometric view in CADtools and use AxoTools to project and position my art? Yes, AxoTools can import the axonometric settings from CADtools 11.01 or later. AxoTools was designed to complement CADtools by providing a more fluid way to work, alongside the precision of CADtools.
Can AxoTools export my projected art to a 3D file format? Sorry, no, AxoTools is not real 3D for Adobe Illustrator, but its tools for projecting and moving art make it a lot easier for technical illustrators who need to think 3D in a 2D environment.
AxoTools is now available on the plugin download page, available for Illustrator CS6 and CC for Mac and Windows. I hope you find it as indispensable in your workflow as I find it in mine!
Have you ever placed dozens, maybe even hundreds, of text objects in an illustration, then found that many of them needed to be edited and replaced? That situation just got a lot easier!
A new plugin is now available for beta testing, code-named TextSync.
To be honest, it would be nice to have something for Illustrator like Adobe’s InCopy for InDesign, and this isn’t that. But if you frequently place callout text into Illustrator documents and then find that editors without access to Illustrator want to change it, this plugin can save a lot of time and hassle.
Say you’ve created a map or diagram with many callouts, all carefully located and even formatted with character styles. Maybe it’s just too crowded and the item descriptions need to be rewritten by an editor to be more concise or just using a different approach. Normally, our best option would be to copy and paste each item, then reformat character styles for every one.
With the TextSync plugin, you can export all text objects or only the selected ones, either point text or area text. The tab-delimited text file it creates can then be opened in a word processor or spreadsheet for editing. If each text object contains a bold head, italic subhead, and description, your spreadsheet would show each callout as a row. The first column can be ignored by the editor, as it contains the XMLID of the text object the text belongs to. The next column would be the bold head, then the italic subhead, then the description. Tabs and returns from the text objects are indicated by “<t>” or “<r>” markup and can be freely added to or removed from the text.
When the text is imported back into the Illustrator document, the plugin first locates the text object with the item’s corresponding XMLID. Then the object’s text is divided into blocks based on its character formatting, and replaced with the blocks of text extracted using the same method.
If there is no corresponding XMLID, all format blocks in the text are combined and a new point text object is created in the visible document view.
To try TextSync, just download it here for Mac CC 2019 or Windows CC 2019. Please let me know if you have any problems, suggestions, observations, or even an idea for a final plugin name! If the plugin happens to crash, please include your computer’s crash report. All who respond will be given a free license to the release version.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this!
Update (9-10-19): TextSync is now released, available for Illustrator CS6 through CC 2019 on Mac and Windows (32- and 64-bit).
Stabilized Pencil tool adds a “leash” to a pencil to smooth its motion, similar to Photoshop’s smoothed brushes. Keep sharp corners where you want them and smooth the broad strokes. Pulling the pen point begins with a slight buffer, and a ring around the pen point indicates that there’s “slack” in the leash, so your stroke won’t start with a jerk. The new path is simplified according to settings you choose. If the new path is drawn at the endpoint of another, it’s then automatically concatenated into one continuous path.
Customize its behavior by double-clicking the Stabilized Pen tool icon to access its Preferences. There, specify a leader length (or 0 for none) and path smoothing settings to match Adobe’s Object > Path > Simplify option. You can also choose whether to display the onscreen help text and annotations. Press the Alt/Option key when releasing the mouse button to skip the path simplification — the “high res” path can then be simplified later.
The ToolShed plugin has three tools and seven functions. I hope you find it useful. There’s a pretty good chance I’ll be bringing more tools to the shed in the not-too-distant future, which will make it an even better value.
Adobe’s Pen tool is great for smooth free-flowing lines, but sometimes the curves we draw need to be real circular arcs. One could, of course, create an ellipse, constrained to equal width and height proportions, then trim and place it into position. And if the paths need to be tangent, well, it just takes a little patience and careful prodding.
Now there’s an easier way. The new Tangent Arc tool in the ToolShed plugin creates circular arcs of any radius, from a minimal curvature to nearly a complete circle, with lines that are constrained tangent to another path, or to the end of another path. Arcs are automatically concatenated to each other, so there’s no need to go back and join them later. A guide line shows the trajectory of an arc’s endpoint to guide your positioning for a smooth transition to the next arc, or for a tangent straight line you make by pressing the Alt/Option key. If you press Shift, the angle of the straight line or arc is constrained to increments of 15 degrees.
The ToolShed plugin is priced at only $15 for a collection of 10 tools, and with more tools coming soon it’ll become an even better value.
This tool has made parts of my work easier, faster, and more fun. I hope it does the same for you. Download the plugin and try it before you buy it.
Have you ever needed to offset an open path in Adobe Illustrator and after running Illustrator’s Object > Path > Offset Path… function, needed to clean up a lot of extra paths? It happens to me, too, several times a day, sometimes several times per hour. Or at least it used to!
The ToolShed plugin now includes a menu item Object > Offset Open Path… that lets you offset an open path with another open path, just as it did through about version 6, and on nearly all other illustration or CAD software. Create additional offset paths by increasing the “Number of offsets” and see the result of your settings with the help of a live preview before you commit to the changes. Fine tune your values by pressing the arrow up or down keys along with shift, Alt/Option, and Ctl/Cmd modifiers for larger or finer steps. You can even customize the values of those steps to save in your preferences, working in points, mm, inches, whatever your preferred measurement among Illustrator’s options.
There’s even an option to choose “Offset mirroring” to add offset paths to both sides of a path.
For even quicker results, try the Path Offset tool to drag an equidistant path and use the up and down arrows to add intermediate steps or Alt/Option to mirror offsets to both sides of a path. If the modifier keys are too cumbersome to remember, optional context-sensitive help text following the cursor can remind you of your options.
It also works on closed paths, so it can serve as your all-purpose path offset tool. Of course, this is in addition to the six other functions already bundled in ToolShed at the same insanely low price!
It’s only $15 for an individual license for all tools in the ToolShed plugin, or free for Productivity Pack licenses.
You’ll probably find this most useful if you sometimes need to clean up CAD or GIS files, or tidy up artwork done by “other” people.
On an endpoint or intermediate anchor point to delete it
On a path segment to add an anchor point
On an endpoint or intermediate anchor point to make it a corner point and collapse its handles
On a control point to make its anchor a corner point (no change in the location of the control points)
On a path segment to make the adjoining anchor points corner points and collapse the control handles for that segment
On an endpoint to extend its control handle
On an intermediate anchor point to make it a smooth point and rotate the control handles to become tangent
On a control point to rotate it to become tangent to the adjacent segment’s control handle
On a path segment to make its anchor points smooth, extend the control handles, and rotate the handles to become tangent to adjacent beziers
On an endpoint does nothing
On an intermediate anchor point toggles it between a corner and smooth point
On a control point toggles its anchor point between a corner and smooth point
Don’t want to memorize modifier keys? No problem, just select the option to display help text showing your options for whatever you’re doing!
So, essentially, clicking adds/deletes points, shift clicks make things angular, Option/Alt clicks make things smooth, and shift-option toggles them.
When the tool’s cursor is over a selected path, its control handles will be highlighted even if Illustrator currently doesn’t display them, and anchor points will be marked with a square for corner points or a circle for smooth points.
Dragging a control handle adjusts it, constrained to its original angle.
Dragging a selected anchor point will move it, constrained to the path’s tangent angle, even if it’s under other art objects.
Shift-drag a control point or anchor point to constrain its movement to each increment of 45 degrees.
Drag a segment to find another path to assimilate and a smoothed segment will be added connecting the two paths.
Available now for Adobe Illustrator CS6 through CC 2018, Mac or Windows. From $10, or FREE for Productivity Pack licenses.
ToolShed adds an assortment of functions (including some free ones):
Radiant creates a group of lines fanning out like a pie chart at equidistant angles. Again, a preview allows you to adjust the number of divisions to match your art.
Latitude Lines creates a series of parallel lines distributed as though they were evenly spaced and wrapped around a cylinder (or globe). Use the live preview from the settings dialog to check your art before committing with the OK button.
Scale Proportionally scales an object based on the proportion between two values. Say you have a map and you know that the distance from one point to another is 16.7783 miles. You can draw a line between those points and enter the distance you’d like your scale of miles to be, and the selected line will be scaled accordingly.
Unscale Art can be used when, say, you’ve scaled a bunch of objects and one of them shouldn’t have been scaled. To return it to its original size, the plugin will figure the inverse of the scaling factor to restore it to its original size (or at least very, very close).
Scale Stroke Weight will quickly scale the line thickness of selected paths by the percentage you enter without having to futz with settings in your Scale dialog.
Minimum Stroke Weight will find all paths with a stroke thinner than your minimum and set the width accordingly.
More functions will likely be added to this plugin over time.
Please download it to try it out. There are 100 trial uses, and the Scale Stroke Weight and Minimum Stroke Weight will continue to work for free after the trial of the other functions is used.