After installing the Adobe Creative Suite on a new MacPro and getting down to business on it, I noticed that a native Illustrator file (.ai) placed in my InDesign document was not displaying correctly. The first clue was that the transparency of the placed file wasn’t displaying at all in my InDesign document – that is to say, the artwork had a white bounding box around it. Fortunately, I remembered that I really hadn’t checked my Options in the Illustrator Save As dialog box when I saved the file. If you’re experiencing the same issue, it’s easily fixed. When you save your Illustrator file as an .ai file, make sure you have the Create PDF Compatible File box checked.
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.
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.
Veerle has a great tutorial on how to create a ribbon in Adobe Illustrator. This is one of the most difficult techniques to master for many beginners to Illustrator, but Veerle’s tutorial makes it easy with clear instructions.
In case you haven’t noticed, strokes, drop shadows and other effects don’t count toward the measurement of an object in Adobe Illustrator. If you draw a one-inch by one-inch box and add a 25pt stroke to the box, the measurement palette still shows the object as one-inch by one-inch (regardless if you have strokes set to “Inside” in the stroke palette) – even though you know it’s wider… that is unless you have the “Use Preview Bounds” box checked in the Preferences under the General section. Then any measurements you take will include strokes, drop shadows and other effects.
Did you know that you can specify what items appear in the Control Bar of Adobe Illustrator? Some items you may never use, so you can turn them off by clicking on the fly-out menu in the far right of the Control Bar next to the Go to Bridge icon and selecting which items you want to appear. While I think this is a handy thing for Adobe to include in Illustrator, I would love it if they would allow a little more control over it such as the actual placement of the items in the Control Bar itself. Who knows what Adobe Creative Suite 3 will bring, perhaps more control over the UI of all their apps is in the works. In any case, it’s nice to be able to have the customization option available to you.
You may not know this, but when you use raster-based effects or filters such as drop shadows, etc. in Adobe Illustrator, the default for the output of those effects is a low-res 72 dpi. When using Filters, you must change the raster settings BEFORE you apply the filter. When using Effects, you don’t have to adjust the raster settings until you’re ready to save the file for output. You can access the Document Raster Effects Settings under the Effects menu.
Envelopes are what Adobe Illustrator calls the shapes you use to distort objects. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to the Effects>Warp menu when you have an object selected. You can create your own Envelopes and use them on virtually any object in Illustrator other than graphs or guides. Here’s how: Select one or more objects on your page. Now go to the Object>Envelope Distort menu and select a method for distortion from the menu. Once applied, you can continue to the edit the original object, and you can edit, expand or delete the Envelope at any time you desire. The only thing you can’t do is edit an Envelope shape and the object in the Envelope at the same time.
One of the most confusing things to do with Illustrator for new users is working with Compound Paths, which are responsible for taking two solid objects and combining them to make one of the objects a “hole” in the other. Let’s say you want to make a donut. You first draw a larger circle, then draw a second smaller circle over the first one which will be the hole. Now, simply select the objects and go to Object>Compound Path>Make. That’s it.
When you’re working in Illustrator and you want a little “rougher/hand-drawn look” to your type, try converting the type to outlines then convert your stroke to an outline as well. First, make sure your type has a stroke applied. Then select your type with the Arrow tool, go to Type>Create Outlines (or Command + Shift + O). Then, go to Object>Path>Outline Stroke. This will essentially make the stroke of the type a different object completely. Now comes the fun part. Use the Direct Select tool (the white arrow tool) to select the stroke outlines and move them however you wish. You can achieve even better effects by grabbing the bezier handles and stretching them. For even more effect, you can go to Filter>Distort>Roughen and use very small amounts in the dialog input boxes to achieve greater “hand drawn” appearance.