The newer, larger, higher-resolution displays are certainly a wonderful development for every illustrator and designer. For plugin developers, it also means we have to create icons and images used in the UI at several sizes including 100%, 150%, 200%, 400%, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no direct support for displays running under Windows that work at 125%. The problem is that panels display at 125%, but the controls within it are still scaled at 100%.
One workaround is to simply set your display to 100% in the Windows Setting > System > Display. This makes the few problematic panels display correctly, but this probably isn’t the setting you want for everything you do on your PC.
Another option is to override the DPI setting only for Illustrator. To do this, locate the Illustrator.exe app in the Programs folder, right-click its icon, and select Properties. In the Properties window, select the Compatibility tab, then click the button to Change high DPI settings. In this window, check “Override high DPI scaling behavior.” The interface isn’t as sharp as it would otherwise be, but some users may find this an improvement until a better method is available.
A better option for many is to let Adobe Illustrator take care of it. This dialog usually has a slider for UI scaling, where the smallest setting usually works best. If yours has the two radio buttons as shown here, set Illustrator’s User Interface preference to Scale to Higher Supported Scale Factor. With this setting, you won’t have to mess with the compatibility settings or deal with a blurred interface. If you normally have your display set to 125%, this can be very helpful.
If you have any tips to share, please submit them!
We’ve come to pretty much take for granted how quickly plugins work, regardless of the complexity of the calculations and manipulations they may do. Concatenate is designed to handle everyday small jobs, but also take on tasks that simply aren’t practical otherwise. Sometimes imported files can contain many layers and a gazillion paths. Seriously, I’ve worked with files containing over 200 layers and over 2,000,000 objects. Yes, two million paths! I kid you not.
Pre-CS6 versions of Concatenate had a progress bar and could be cancelled if things were moving too slowly, or if you’re just impatient like me. When the developers’ landscape changed with CS6 and CC, there were a few things that took a while to work around, and the progress/cancel feature is now back. The progress bar is nice, but the option to cancel an operation that’s taking longer than expected can be a lifesaver, like an emergency brake, escape pod, ejection seat, or special super-powers when life gets complicated.
Helpful tip no. 1: If you have a very complex file, it’ probably helpful to select one area at a time to concatenate.
Helpful tip no. 2: You can simplify the assimilate process by hiding or locking layers that aren’t relevant.
Concatenate 16.1.1 is recommended for all users, especially those who may forget to save before trying ludicrously reckless things. You can trust me on this…
Newer versions of Illustrator CC have tools that allow you to draw casual rectangles and it automatically converts them to nice, square objects. But what if you’re working with customer-supplied art or something that had been distorted by previous transformations? You probably won’t start with something as sorry as the image shown here, but it’s not a problem if you did.
Using the Square Up plugin for Adobe Illustrator, simply select “Vertical and horizontal” from the popup menu and click the Go button.
Almost instantly, your path(s) will become nice and square!
What if your art is rotated, and you want it to stay that way? No problem…
Just select “Object’s dominant axis from the popup menu and the plugin will calculate the general angle of your art.
If several objects are selected, all of them will be squared to the same angle.
When placing many rectangular shapes where several may need to be at the same arbitrary angle or each a bit different, the Free Transform tool is really helpful.
After dragging duplicates of the same rectangle around, you may notice it’s a bit skewed. I found with the newer versions of Illustrator that constrained transformations are no longer a given, and accidentally distorting a rectangle is unfortunately easy.
It’s no problem with Square Up, though. With the click of a button, the art is re-squared and the bounding box’s rotation is set to match the rotation of the art. If you do technical or production art, this could be a real timesaver. Go ahead and give it a test run. The trial period is based on usage, not time, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put it through its paces and try out the other modes, such as aligning to the AI Preferences constrain angle or just collapsing the control handles to remove all curves from the path.
You can find it here, and download the one for your platform and AI version. Can this be made easier to use, or more flexible? Feel free to say so. Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed. I’m an illustrator, too, so as Red Green says, “we’re all in this together.”
Some of you may recall a plugin called Proof Block. It ranked even below the Alien Palette in popularity, although I’ve used it myself at my day job for over 20 years. For the most part, it was little more than a small form to be initialed by people proofing various drafts of artwork prior to publishing. I was inspired to write it by the recurring problem we had of a copy-and-paste version that would sometimes peek back at us from a QuarkXPress graphic frame. My solution was to create a “proof block” layer, place the form on it, then the plugin set it to printable when opened in Illustrator, but non-printing and not visible when closing the document. Crisis solved!
Perhaps you’d still like something like that. It’s really not that difficult to write a script to draw the lines, boxes, and text, but I’m a staunch advocate of using a script, not a plugin, for that now. My proof block script today does everything that the plugin did, and much more. First, we have a document naming convention so the script can discern the magazine name, date, story code, and even look up the editors on its staff. It handles dates, keeps track of proof iterations, and even stores a record of the revision history in the document. When I save the document to the art server, the script saves a copy to the correct folder on the editorial server. If it’s a first draft, it fetches the illustrator’s name from Outlook, looks up the designer’s email and alerts her that art is available to place in InDesign. When the art is approved, it’s marked as such and the related editors, art director, and designer are notified.
In addition, scripts check for missing fonts, placed art that should be embedded, look for RGB colors in a CMYK document, and more. It’s also much easier to revise than a plugin. Since everybody’s needs and workflow are quite different, it wouldn’t be useful to anybody to share my script, but I will share my enthusiasm for scripting it as one component of a larger process. I promise that once your custom script is used, you won’t look back.
Someday there’ll be a plugin to find and remove duplicate/redundant paths (perhaps I’ll write it, or perhaps there already is but I just don’t know about it). The most important decision in doing that, as I see it, is deciding which path is the primary one and which paths or segments are superfluous. The best way I found to identify and weed them out is to set all suspect paths’ opacity to about 40% to make overlapping paths pretty obvious. Be careful not to set the layer’s opacity instead, as that would cause all paths to become equally translucent, defeating the purpose of this exercise. In this screen capture of an imported GIS file of railroads near Trenton, New Jersey, the pale green lines farther north are single lines that show their increased density where they cross. If it were only always this easy.
The document info panel tells me that there are four open paths and three closed paths in the red east-west section, which explains its darker shade. In a map, multiple lines usually indicate multiple parallel tracks, so they’d rarely have exact duplicate segments, just similar slightly-offset paths. Sometimes cartographers would want to show parallel lines by exaggerating their spacing, especially if the lines are owned by different railroads. If it’s double track or a passing siding, it may be more detail than the map warrants. When one path is sufficient, I found it easiest to locate and pare these path pile-ups down with Smart Guides on, but feel free to use whatever method works for you (who’s to know—who’s to judge—does that really matter?).
What if the cleanup is just too much busywork?
Sometimes, as much as we’d like to optimize our art, there are times when thorough cleanup just isn’t practical. I’ll often simplify the paths by 98-100% to remove the “jaggies” from areas such as rivers, highways, and railroads that should be smooth curves, clean up the problem areas that show, and let the rest go.
Finally, remember to set your path opacity back to 100% and you can rest easy, knowing that you at least know what’s in there and have cleaned up the most egregious offenders.
Sometimes we scan and trace a large image in Adobe Illustrator, so large that has to be imported in pieces. You probably start out as I do, sizing, rotating, and shearing the first piece of the series so it fits.
When importing the second scan, you want it to match the first piece as accurately as possible, but what if the first piece needed stretching and twisting to fit? How can anybody perform exactly the same series of operations? I’d found myself “transformed” into a corner once too often and found a way around that dilemma, then built it into the options in the flyout menu of the Nudge Palette plugin for easy access. It’s all based on a property found in every art object in an Adobe Illustrator file called a transformation matrix. A series of six numeric values (named Tx, Ty, A, B, C, and D) define the location, scale, rotation and shearing of an object, and we can make it work for us. Here’s how: Select the first raster object and copy its transformation matrix. Next, import the new image and paste that matrix into it. Bam, it snaps onto the first image.
The images are stacked, though, and need to be stitched together. If there’s a bit of overlap in the images, an easy way to quickly align the two images is by pressing “5” to set the new, still-selected image’s opacity to 50%. Now overlap the images so they match, and press “0” to set its opacity back to 100%.
Repeat this process with every piece you have that make up the whole scanned image, and you’ll have a composite that fits (assuming all of the pieces were scanned at the same orientation).
You can also use this technique to replace a carefully-positioned image with another, with the same transformations as the original. This technique has saved me a lot of time, especially with images that required significant manipulation to fit.