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Illustrator Insider Training: Rethinking the Essentials is the first installment in a series of courses designed to show experienced Illustrator users to how master core features and build art more efficiently. Adobe Illustrator has evolved dramatically over the years, and many creative professionals may be missing out on features that have been added to the latest versions. This course takes a fresh approach to core concepts, such as paths, attributes, object hierarchy, groups, and layers. Advanced techniques such as combining multiple effects and customizing textures are also included. Exercise files and a free worksheet are included with the course.
My overall goal for this entire training course is to teach you how to read an Illustrator file. We all open up Illustrator files and look at them because they're graphics. What we've seen throughout the entire title, just how much information we can put inside of the Appearance panel and inside the Layers panel, and it's learning how to read that information which really gives you the power to not only create new things inside of Illustrator, but perhaps more importantly, how to open up other people's files or open files that you may have worked in the past and not only reverse-engineer them, but also see exactly how they're built so that you can make changes more efficiently, and perhaps more importantly, figure out what's going on when something seems to be going wrong.
More often than that, I get questions from people asking, why does Illustrator this just this one time and seemingly when I do the exact same thing other times it behaves differently? Or why, when I tried to open up this one file, this one file doesn't print, or this one file doesn't seem to behave the way that I expect it to? Now when I open up an Illustrator file, the first thing I start doing is kind of taking a look at the layers and the appearances to see what I'm dealing with. So I refer to that as reading an Illustrator file, seeing what the information is, without worrying about information about like, hey, what the actual colors are, or so on and so forth.
I actually want to see the structure and find out about the presentation of that artwork as well. So let's take a look at this example right here. It's called directions_2. It's a file that I have. And if I look at the Layers panel, I see that there are three layers here: Background, Roads and Tracks, and Labels. I'm going to open up the little triangle just to reveal all the information inside of it. Now right away, the Layers panel is starting to speak to me. I'm seeing certain things inside of my document. For example, a quick scan of the target circles says I'm pretty okay here, but right away I see that the Main Street and the Train Tracks have complex appearances apply to them. Great! I know that I can look in that direction if I have any issues there.
Now I notice a few other things here as well. For example, where it says Labels here, there is a group that has a dashed underline. Well, what does that mean? In fact, if I look here at the Background layer, I'm going to twirl down here this Garden group, and I see that over here there is another text element that appears that it has an underline underneath it. Upon close inspection of the Layers panel, I can also see that there are solid lines that separate each entry here inside the Layers panel. However, in this group called Garden, these elements are separated by dotted lines.
All these things are significant. They actually mean something. The Layers panel gives you all the visual cues that really help you understand what's going on inside of the document. Now I've already may have to start clicking on any of these elements, because just by looking at this, I can tell you what's going on inside a document. A dotted underline here, or a dashed underline, means if that object, or that element, has an opacity mask applied to it. If I twirl down the group here, I see the elements inside the group, but the only way for me to even know that that has something changing its appearance is the fact it has a dashed underlined.
In fact, if I want to know where that is inside of my document, I'll just click on the right side to select it and I'll see, oh okay, this a flower- pot here and this was used to actually create kind of a reflection of this piece of artwork right here. So if I'm having issues, or trying to understand what is happening in this part of the file, or if I need to make some changes to it, I know that I'm dealing with an opacity mask right here. By the way, if I do click on the piece of artwork down here, you can also see that in the Appearance panel, yes, my group is targeted, but the Appearance panel also lets me know that the appearance is being affected now by an opacity mask.
Now if I look down over here in the Background layer, I can see that this object here, it's a photograph, it's called glories.psd, that's the image that's right here. In fact, I can click on this to select it and see that image, but if I see an object that appears above it and that object has a solid underline, that means that object is currently set as a mask. So that means that anything that appears beneath it is being hidden by that mask. Or at least the visibility of that artwork is being controlled by that mask.
Now, how do I know which elements are being controlled by the visibility? Well, anytime that you see a mask, and we see underline here, anything that has dotted lines means that those are elements that are being affected by that mask. So right now, because glories.psd and Clipping, which is the rectangle that is masking that image, both have dotted lines, I know those are all encompassed within one mask. Now, if I click on the triangle to reveal the contents of this store icon right here, or the actual store element, which is this group right here, I can see that the logo has a drop shadow applied to it, and that's being applied at the group level. And by clicking on it, I can read that information and see the exact setting for the drop shadow by going to be Appearance panel.
So if you notice the way the way that I'm actually walking through this document is not on the actual artboard itself. I'm actually walking through by selecting elements and reading elements that appear in both the Layers panel and the Appearance panel. In my opinion, that really is not only the most efficient way to reverse-engineer artwork, but it's also the only accurate way that I know to do it as well. So by spending time with both the Appearance panel and the Layers panel, we see that we get two tremendous benefits. First of all, we get to build art in a more efficient way, and we've definitely seen examples of that throughout this entire training title.
Perhaps even more importantly, it allows us to grow as Illustrator users, because when we start opening up other people's files, we learn how to reverse-engineer with they built and we in turn learn new things and become more experienced. As a side benefit, no longer will Illustrator provide you with a tremendous amount of frustration by trying to figure out how certain files actually work, or why certain files don't work as you expect them, and when faced a trouble about why certain files maybe don't print, how you can actually go ahead and fix those issues.
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