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Covering a wide range of topics, from advanced masking to chart creation, Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics reveals a whole new level of power, creativity, and efficiency with Illustrator. Instructor Mordy Golding explores how to work with Live Paint groups, get the most out of the Live Trace feature, and take advantage of Illustrator’s wide range of effects. He also discusses advanced transformation techniques, powerful 3D functionality, and important color concepts. Exercise files accompany the course.
In Illustrator, we know that we can clip the contents inside of a vector path by using a mask. However, we are always dealing with a vector path that becomes that mask. As such, your masks will always have clean sharp edges which you might expect out of a vector application, but there may be times when you want to create a mask that has a soft edge to it; either a feathered edge or you want to create some kind of effect like a vignette, for example. In those cases, the vector clipping mask just won't cut it. Well, besides the clipping mask and a layer clipping mask inside of Illustrator, there is also a third type of mask called an opacity mask. In fact, an opacity mask in Illustrator works the exact same way that alpha channels work inside of Photoshop.
So before we actually see the feature here of an opacity mask inside of Illustrator, let's hop over to Photoshop for a second and see exactly what an alpha channel is. Now I have a photograph here inside of Photoshop and I have a layer, which is currently set to Layer 0, meaning that this layer can contain transparency inside of it. It's not a background layer. Well, I know that I can go over here to the bottom of the Layers panel and turn on a mask for that particular layer. I can then choose the Gradient tool here inside of Photoshop and then simply click-and-drag the final gradient. Right now, I'm working inside of the mask itself. So I'm now using that gradient as a mask, but you can see really what happened here.
Photoshop is using this artwork here as a mask for the photograph but because this image itself is actually a channel inside of Photoshop, it supports 256 levels of gray. So unlike the clipping mask, which is either white or black, meaning I can have two distinct modes. Either I see artwork or I don't see it. An alpha channel, which support for the shades of gray, allows me to have pixels that are somewhat see-through or transparent. That's what allows me to have these gray bearded effects as masks. Of course, the benefit of working in this way is that as a mask, I can still continue to edit the contents out of the mask or I can edit the mask itself.
For example, I'll hold down the Shift key and I'll click on the mask itself to disable the mask and I can see that the image is still there. I haven't deleted any of the contents of that mask; I have simply hidden a portion of it. Shift-clicking on the mask again makes it active. So now that we see that, let's go back into Illustrator and apply that same concept here using an opacity mask. Now one of the great things about opacity mask in Illustrator is how powerful they are. The downside is that Adobe did a really good job hiding this feature, but don't worry, I'll tell exactly where it is and how to take advantage of its power.
So let's take an example here. So I'm going to use the regular Ellipse tool inside of Illustrator to create a mask for this photograph. I'm going to hold down the Option key or the Alt key on Windows to actually click-and-drag out to define the shape from its center and let's make a shape just about over there. Now right now, I could use this as a mask but my mask will actually get clipped to this hard edge, but I want to create a soft edge here. So I'm going to go to the Effect menu, I want to apply a feather. So I'm going to choose Stylize > Feather. Let's go ahead and click on the Preview button and let's this being a little bit softer, maybe around 30 points. Now I have a nice soft transition here. I'll click OK.
Now here is the thing; if I were to go ahead now and click on the actual image in the background, so now I have both the oval that I have created here that has the feather effect on it and the image behind it selected. If I were to create a regular clipping mask right now, Illustrator will use the path itself. Even though right now I have a feather effect, that gets ignored because the path itself becomes the mask. Instead, I want the appearance of the path to become the mask. I want the actual path with the feather to define the mask for the photograph. So to do so, I'm going to use an opacity mask. Once the objects are selected, I'm going to go over here to the Transparency panel and you will notice over here that I have a thumbnail, not much different than the thumbnail that I see inside of a layer inside of Photoshop. Right now, the area that appears just to divide it, this is blank, but that's going to change in a moment.
I am now going to over here to the flyout menu or the panel menu of the Transparency panel and I'll click to actually access its feature called Make Opacity Mask. So this feature really does not appear anywhere else, not inside of a menu. There is no tools for it. It's simply accessible only through the panel menu of the Transparency panel. I'll now choose Make Opacity Mask. You could see now that anything that was white allows me to see the image through it and because the mask itself is using an alpha channel or the values of the actual effect that I have applied to that object, that becomes the mask.
So my mask now has a soft transition, not a hard edge. Now for a moment here, let's take a look at our Transparency panel. I now have the artwork that I basically had created before, which is the image. Plus, you can see now that I have a new icon here which is, again, very similar to what I have seen inside of Photoshop. Photoshop displays the mask just to the right of the piece of artwork inside of the layer. Now that I have actually created my opacity mask, there are a few things that I can do to edit that. First of all, you will notice that right now, there is a thick black line around this piece of artwork right here but not around this edge over here. That means that right now my artwork is the part of the mask that's selected, but if I click over here on this part of the mask, notice now the black line switches to this side. Now, I can actually edit the mask itself.
So with a regular clipping mask, I had the two icons that appear in the control panel over here. Those actually now are replaced by these two by clicking or toggling between these two squares or thumbnails in the Transparency panel. For example, if I wanted my mask to have more of a feather effect, I can simply click on the mask itself. Now my oval is selected, the path itself. Notice that in my Layers panel, it says right now, Opacity Mask. I don't even see anything else in my file. The image is not even currently available right now. I'm only working or you can think about an isolated just the mask itself.
So I can click on the Feather effect to edit it and basically adjust it, maybe I want to do 50 points. Now I can adjust that feather at any time. Now I'll go back to the image here and I'm working with the artwork, I can move the artwork around, but notice that the mask and the image moves together. If I want to reposition the artwork inside of a mask, I can simply un-click this Lock icon here and that allows me to move the actual photograph around but notice that the mask is staying still. Likewise, if I now click on the mask itself, I can move the circle around but now the photo doesn't move. The photo remains stationary as I move the mask around. As soon as I'm happy with the positioning, I'll go ahead and I'll click on the artwork and toggle that Lock icon back again. This way the artwork and the mask will always move together.
Now there is one thing that I do want to point out about opacity masks. Sometimes when you are working inside of Illustrator, it may be difficult to find out where these opacity masks exist. Well, if you look at your Layers panel, you will see that over here, this wave rider image has a dash line that appears underneath it. Now we already know that a solid line, an underline inside of the Layers panel indicates a mask. Well, anytime you see an entry in the Layers panel with a dashed line underneath it that indicates that object currently has an opacity mask applied to it. You will also notice that in the Appearance panel, the group here also appears with a dash line underneath it, indicating the opacity mask.
At any time if you want to release the mask, go back to the Transparency panel and choose Release Opacity Mask. So on review, it's really important to understand that as opposed to a clipping mask, which uses the actual vector path as the mask itself, an opacity mask uses the appearance of that path to define its mask. Now it's important to understand that because at the end of the day, you can use anything in Illustrator as an opacity mask, even a photograph. So let me zoom out here for a second. I'll delete this shape that I have created here and I just have the photograph itself. I'm going to use my regular Rectangular tool. I'm going to draw a rectangle of the exact same size as the image here and I'm going to color it, let's say, this purple color right here.
Now I'm going to take this color, I'm going to send it to the back of my stacking order. So now if I look over here, I have an image in the front and I have this purple color in the background. Let me press Undo to move that back. I'm going to simply click-and-drag to select both elements. So if I were to create a mask right now, remember that the mask is always made out of the topmost object. So if I were to choose to create a mask right now, what becomes the mask? The purple rectangle or the photograph? The answer is that the photograph becomes the mask and a photograph, of course, has pixels inside of it. Rather than using the overall shape of the image, an opacity mask will use the luminosity values of each pixel in the file to define its mask. Because my background image is purple, my result is basically going to be a variety of different shades of that purple.
So again, I have both objects selected: a purple rectangle and the image on top of it. I'll go to the Transparency panel flyout menu and I'll choose Make Opacity Mask. Here I'll choose to actually invert my mask and now I can see that I have kind of created this monotone effect. What I actually have selected in Illustrator, right now is a regular plain vector path. However, that path is masked by a photograph. Again, think about that photograph right now which is acting as an alpha channel to mask the rectangle itself. So you can see easily see that there is a tremendous amount of power hidden inside of these opacity masks.
Now that you know how to use them, you could bring some of the power that exists inside of Photoshop right here inside of Illustrator.
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