Adobe Illustrator file formats explained

When you save files from Illustrator, the three main choices you have for print production work are Adobe Illustrator Document (.ai), Illustrator EPS (.eps), and Adobe PDF (.pdf). The following is a brief rundown of the formats you can choose to save your files as when using Illustrator.

Adobe Illustrator Document (.ai)

This is Adobe’s native Illustrator format, and only Illustrator is able to read this file format. The data contained in the file is based on PDF, but it isn’t a format that Acrobat can read correctly. When saving in .ai format, you retain all your editability and transparency in your file. When you save your file as an .ai file, Illustrator includes a PDF 1.4 composite preview inside the file in an unflattened form. The .ai format is the best format to save your file as for internal use while you’re still working on the file, as well as for placing into Photoshop or InDesign. The .ai format is my preferred method for saving files, as I use InDesign for my page layout. However if you use Quark XPress, you’ll have to stick with the older .eps format explained below.

Illustrator EPS (.eps)

This long-standing file format, which is short for Encapsulated PostScript, is supported by most all standard graphics applications. Unfortunately, .eps files do not support transparency, so files you create that contain transparency are “flattened” so other programs can import them. When you save as an .eps, most effects are expanded and text may or may not be broken apart in order to flatten the file – however Illustrator saves a copy of the file in .ai format inside the .eps file so that you can edit the file later in Illustrator if you wish. The .eps format has been widely used as the “standard” file format for saving artwork to be used for print production work with Quark XPress for many years, but recently began loosing love from users due to its large file size and lack of support for transparency. Personally, I no longer use the .eps format. Since the introduction of InDesign and Smart Objects in Photoshop, I find the .ai format for flexible and the file sizes more manageable.

Adobe PDF (.pdf)

We all know what a PDF is. When you save a file from Illustrator as a .pdf file, Illustrator saves the data so that any PDF reader can understand and display the file. Thankfully, Illustrator saves a copy of the file in native .ai format inside the PDF file which is unflattened for later editing – as long as you remember to leave the Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities checkbox ticked as it is as a default. If you uncheck that box, the file size is drastically reduced, but so are your options for editing the file later. Text will be virtually uneditable, effects are flattened, etc. I generally don’t recommend saving your files as PDFs from Illustrator.

Illustrator Template (.ait)

This format is exactly what it says. It’s a template format for Illustrator that allows you to save your file as a template for using as a “building block” for later files.

SVG Compressed (.svgz) and SVG (.svg)

SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics and is an XML markup language for describing two-dimensional vector graphics, both static and animated and is an open standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium. The SVG format can contain vector shapes and paths, raster graphics (images) and text. The SVG format is mostly used for Web-based work, and is beyond the scope of this article, so I won’t bother to go into it here.

Export options

Illustrator also allows you to “export” your file to nearly a dozen other formats (which also means it can read them) such as .jpg, .png, .swf (Flash), .bmp, .tif, .txt (text format), .wmv (Windows meta file) and .dxf (AutoCAD Interchange Format). Overall, Illustrator has a lot of flexibility in the formats it saves as, allowing you to maximize the file use in other applications.

InDesign shortcuts for scaling, shearing and rotation

Did you know that you can Option + Click an object with the Rotation tool in Adobe InDesign to bring up the Rotation dialog box? You can also hit Option + Click with the Shear tool to bring up the Shear dialog box. And for scaling you have an added option of Option + Clicking with the Scale tool and not only bringing up the Scale dialog box, but in that dialog you have the ability to automatically make a copy of the object and scale that, rather than the original. And don’t forget, InDesign uses the spot you Option + Click as the reference point for these options. So for instance, if you Option + Click on the bottom right selection handle of an object with the scale tool, InDesign keeps the bottom right of the object where it is and scales from all sides down or up from there.

Work in RGB, view in CMYK

One thing I believe helps me get the results I see on screen when a job is printed is to work in the CMYK color space to begin with when starting a design job that includes images. Before I start adding or changing color or adding elements, I’ll switch to CMYK Preview mode in Photoshop. This gives me the added bonus of being able to use all of Photoshop’s editing and filter features that are only available in RGB mode. By doing this, I know what my image is going to look like when it’s converted to CMYK before printing. If you forget to switch to CMYK, or at least use the CMYK Preview mode, you run the risk of falling in love with the beautiful vivid color in your image, only to see it washed out and flat when printed.

Changing your brush in Photoshop

When you’re working with the brush tool in Photoshop there are a lot of shortcuts to make it a bit easier on you. The following shortcuts assume you already have the brush tool active. You can jump from one brush to another in the brush list simply by using the Arrow keys on your keyboard. Once you have a brush you like active, you can make the selected brush larger or smaller by using the Left [ and Right ] Bracket keys. If you have the Brushes drop down menu from the Control palette open, you can have it automatically close when you select your brush simply by double clicking the sized brush you want. This ONLY works in the Control Bar drop down menu, not the palette. Once you have your brush selected, you can use it to paint a straight line by holding down the Shift key. And if you really want to get some cool effects with your brush, go to your brushes palette and select your brush, then turn on or off some of the Dynamic Brush settings (the check boxes to the left of the brush.

Working with a copywriter: an interview

One of the misconceptions many new designers have when they start out in an ad agency is that they will work alone in a plush office taking client supplied copy and photos and designing the next great ad. In reality, you’ll be working as a team with a copywriter tossing ideas back & forth about the text for the ad, as well as the overall design. That’s because any great ad has to speak to a viewer with words and pictures, at least most do. Some ads are pure text and can be quite successful and creative. Others offer only a word or two with a stunning visual to get the message across, such as Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. At first it can be difficult learning to “share” the design process for someone used to freelancing or working for a firm with an in-house design shop. Working with a copywriter doesn’t mean you won’t have to write copy, it also doesn’t mean you’ll have 100% control over the design. In order to shed some light on the subject, I asked former R&R Partners Senior Copywriter, Steve Yamamori, for some brief but helpful insight. Steve has worked with clients such as Cox Communications, YMCA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, National Bank of Arizona, Anti-Tobacco, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, Valley Metro and several non-profit clients. He’s also an Emmy and Addy Award-winning copywriter, so he knows his stuff! CG: Steve, tell us how you got into the ad business?

Steve: I had worked in account management for over five years when I got a unique opportunity to work in the creative department. It’s been about four years and I’ve been writing ever since. Having worked on the account side previously has given me some fantastic insight into how my account reps and the client are thinking. I feel it’s important to “get into their head” before I begin writing, and knowing how and what to ask the client has helped a great deal.

CG. What is your role in the creative process?

Steve: In a creative department, regardless if it’s in a traditional agency or client side, sooner or later you’ll come face-to-face with a real life copywriter. My suggestion is not to make eye contact and hastily make it for the door. Actually, a copywriter can come in really handy. Having a creative-minded partner working with you on a project can help you bounce ideas off one another and come up with better ideas that are simple and smart. Two heads are almost always better than one. As for the process, the team (the art director/designer and the copywriter) usually meets with the client and/or the account team. A creative brief is then written and the team gets to work. There are a lot of ways teams concept together, some stay together the entire time, while others will separate, think on their own and then come together and hash out their concepts. Either way, ideas are shared, split, dissected, killed, dreamed-up, etc. It’s not always the copywriter with the headline and the art guy with the visual. It’s a partnership and anything can spark the next great idea. Even the worst shit makes excellent fertilizer. So ideas are dreamed up and the best get presented to the client. What happens next is heaven or hell depending on luck, or which way the wind blows.

CG: That’s a bit one-sided, don’t you think? Is working with a copywriter that important?

Steve: James J. Jordan Jr. a famous ad man described his concept of “Power Copy” this way, “The heart and power of advertising is copy…A very few words so skillfully targeted, so clear in their positioning, so vivid in their articulation and so memorable in their identification with a given brand, that they, all by themselves, become not only what people remember about the brand, but also the most important part of the brand’s identity and people’s principle reason for buying the brand.” I offer you the following: Think Different, Just Do It, Have a Coke and a Smile, True, Where’s the Beef?, Like a Rock, The Choice of the New Generation, What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas – all ad slogans that really need no visual to get their message across. They’re embedded in consumers’ mind and have lasting appeal. Of course we add a visual to these famous slogans and it only serves to strengthen their position and meaning. None of those award-winning slogans were written by a copywriter or an art director, they were written by great creative teams of writers and art directors, and it’s important to not only understand that, but to embrace it and use it for all it’s worth!

CG: Any other profound statements for the readers, Steve?

Steve: That’s it, simpleton, we are good, and you, in the black with the goatee, are bad.

Photoshop’s Layer Mask in brief

When working with layer masks in Photoshop, you start out with black as the color that hides and white as the color that reveals. To switch these without using the Toolbox to set your foreground color, press the X key on the keyboard to toggle the painting color between black and white.

Top ten Web design mistakes… year after year

Jakob Nielsen’s survey results of the Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005 is an old article, but proves to me to be an interesting read. While it may seem pretty straight forward, these were the same mistakes that are mentioned year after year. And yet designers continue to make them. The oldies continue to be goodies – or rather, baddies – in the list of design stupidities that irked users the most in 2005. Each of the following is discussed in various amounts of detail at the site:

  1. Legibility Problems
  2. Non-Standard Links
  3. Flash
  4. Content That’s Not Written for the Web
  5. Bad Search
  6. Browser Incompatibility
  7. Cumbersome Forms
  8. No Contact Information
  9. Frozen Layouts
  10. Inadequate Photo Enlargement

I believe the problem is that there are too many people who got a cheap PC and a copy of (Insert cheap consumer-based Web design program name here – GoLive and Dreamweaver don’t count) and now believe they’re “designers.” But the problem also lays squarely on the head of true designers who over-design their sites. We’re so worried about “how it looks” that we forget that someone else (who usually doesn’t care how it looks) is actually trying to read it! I don’t 100% agree with each statement in the top 10, but all are completely valid and you SHOULD pay attention to them because it can make or break your site.

25 Words that can hurt your résumé

Resume tips I’ve been looking at a lot of résumés at the office lately, and I’m highly amused by the lack of common sense, communication skills or creativity at all. People actually believe all those “how to write a résumé” books that basically make your résumé look like 10 million other résumés – which are the brainchild of a typing instructor from 1952!!! Be creative!!! And for heaven’s sake, PLEASE read this brief article about some things that just kill your résumé!

Pricing essentials for designers

Following up on my previous post about how much to charge, I have another link on the subject. When figuring out how to charge a client for creative services, designers have several different pricing models to choose from. How do you select the most appropriate one? This article by Shel Perkins expains each category of pricing, including:

  • Time and Materials
  • Fixed-fee
  • Licensing: use-based
  • Licensing: royalty
  • Hybrid
  • Free

Designers: How much to charge & how to get paid

One of the most often asked questions by new designers, part-time freelancers and those wishing to make a go at freelancing full time is what to charge. It’s a tough spot. Charge too much and you don’t get the work, charge too little and you end up with a bad taste in your mouth from eating frozen burritos 3 times a day. What I find the most is that most designers don’t charge enough. I’ve heard of people doing entire Web sites for $1,000, brochures for $300 or charging a whopping $25 an hour. This is insane! Here are some helpful hints on figuring out what you should charge: How Do You Rate?, by Neil Tortorella This article is pretty in-depth and covers all the bases with regards to taxes, lifestyle, etc. The Art of Business: Finally, a Design Contract for the Little Guy, an interview with Shel Perkins and Jim Faris, members of the AIGA, which discusses the benefits of getting a contract with a client. Ms. Perkins is largely responsible for drafting the official AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Graphic Design Services. Freelancers: Get Your Money, by Rachel Goldstein A great little article covering the most important part of pricing a project, which is getting paid!