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Knowing the fundamentals of drawing and reshaping paths is only part of the story. In Illustrator CS4 One-on-One: Advanced, the second of the popular One-on-One series, computer graphics expert Deke McClelland covers some of Illustrator's most powerful and least understood features. He shows how to merge simple shapes to create complex ones with the Pathfinder palette, as well as align paths to create schematic illustrations. Deke explains how to paint fluid, multicolor fills with blends, and the new and improved gradient tool. He explores seamlessly repeating tile patterns, blobs and brushes, and imported images. He also dives into one of the deepest features in all of Illustrator, transparency. Exercise files accompany the tutorial.
Recommended prerequisite: Illustrator CS4 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts and color settings for Illustrator from the Exercise Files tab.
In this exercise, I'm going to show you a few different ways to clip an entire layer to a single path outline and it turns out to be pretty darn easy once you learn how it works but it's also a little weird, as you'll see. I have gone ahead and save my progress so far as Ready to mask.ai and I'll tell you what I would like you to do. Just to simplify things, let's go ahead and twirl the Vectors layer closed for now and turn it off, so that we can focus our attention on the Backdrop layer. You should also unlock the Backdrop layer by clicking on its lock icon to make it go away.
All right, then I'm going to twirl the Backdrop layer open. Then notice all the objects in the Backdrop layer extend outside of the artboard. They just end up ending wherever they end willy-nilly throughout the illustration and that might be okay. If you plan on just printing the artboard and you want a full bleed, then you would want some extra room here so that the artwork can bleed beyond the edges of the trimmed pages. But let's say that we are not interested in a bleed and we are not interested in confining the size of our printed artwork to the artboard. We want it to extend beyond the artboard for whatever reason. But we do want to constrain the elements on the Backdrop layer to this rectangular area that's currently defined by the artboard.
Well, I have gone ahead and drawn this rectangular path, right here. It's just called Path inside the Backdrop layer and if you meatball it, you can see that it's this path outline right there. And just to make it abundantly clear, let's go ahead and bring up the Fill for this object and then I'm going to go ahead and set it to like a shade of green, so that we can see this object. The reason that we have this bright blue region at lower left inside of the rectangle is because of the gradient layer. That's a function of that gradient set to the lighten mode and if I turn- off gradient, you'll see what I mean.
There is the solid green rectangle without the gradient and there it is with a gradient. All right, anyway, my point is that the Fill and the Stroke assign to what will be the clipping mask don't matter. So if I were to go up to the Control palette, and change this stroke to something ridiculous like 40 pt, like this, it's still going to completely drop away in just a moment. And again, we get this gradient effect because of the gradient layer right there. All right, here is how you go about assigning this path outline as a mask for the entire Backdrop layer. The first thing you do is make sure nothing is selected. That's the easiest thing. You can have objects selected inside of your artwork but it's better off if you don't because you can run into some errors every once in a while. So press Ctrl+Shift+A or Command+Shift+A on a Mac to deselect everything.
Then make sure that the Backdrop layer is active inside the Layers palette, so whichever layer you want to mask needs to be active, then make sure the mask itself is the top object in the stack. If anything else is at the top, even in the entire sublayer, it's going to mess up the effect. So make sure that path outline is at the top as it is. Then drop down to this first icon here at the bottom of the Layers palette that says Make Release Clipping Mask when you hover over it and just click on it. And notice just like that the Fill and Stroke attributes disappear inside the illustration window. You can see that this rectangular path has become a clipping path, thereby clipping everything below it and the area that's shown in white is the opaque area, the area in gray is the transparent area and then, of course, everything in the Backdrop layer that extends outside of that rectangle drops away.
All right, so let's try gain with the Vectors layer, except let's see a few variations here. I'm going to twirl close the Backdrop layer, lock it down again, twirl open the Vectors layer and go ahead and show it by bringing up its eyeball. All right, then notice we have got this boundary layer at the top. It's the exact same rectangle but before we just replay the exact same steps because it's the same thing all over again, let me show you some things that can go right and wrong about whole layer clipping masks. I'm going to drop down here to this circular path, remember that's a circle that I used to demonstrate opacity masks, a few exercises ago. Go ahead and grab it and drag it to the top of the stack like so.
Now were I to turn that path outline on and select it, I drop down here to the bottom of the Layers palette and notice that this guy is dimmed. What in the world is the reason behind that? I mean I have even identified the path that I want to use is the clipping mask. Well, what you haven't done is you haven't identified the layer and that's just the craziest thing but that's how it works. So notice, even if nothing is selected, so I'll just click outside in this nether region of the artwork and even if the top path outline is turned-off, it's hidden. Watch this little icon down here at the bottom of the Layers palette, see how it's currently dimmed, which makes sense given that the active path is no longer visible but watch it. If I click on the Vectors layer, that's what it takes. That icon becomes available to me once again. That's because I have identified the layer itself that I want to clip. That's all you need to do, have nothing selected, have a path at the top of the stack and then go ahead and click on this icon.
Now notice that here inside of the Layers palette, this circle is now named Clipping Path and it has gray on the outside of the circle and white on the inside of the circle so it is the mask. However, if you look here in the illustration window, there is no indication that any masking has occurred. The thing is that the mask is currently hidden so it's inactive. As soon as you click to bring up its eyeball right there, then we assign the mask to the artwork and that results in putting Sammy inside of a kind of circle, so he looks like a little weeble or something along those lines. Anyway, as charming as that is, that's not the effect I want, so let's say you want to swap that mask out with a different mask. Well, here is how you do it.
You drag your new mask into place, for example, this boundary I'm going to go ahead and put it at the top of the stack, so whatever you are going to use as a clipping mask has to be at the top of the stack at the outset and I'll show you what I mean by at the outset in just a moment. But anyway, put it at the top there. Again the icon is dimmed because the wrong thing is active, go ahead and click on the Vectors layer to make it active instead and then notice that the Make Release Clipping Mask icon is available. Now why is it call Make Release Clipping Mask because if you already have a clipping mask going, then when you click on it, it's going to release that clipping mask and notice what happens, as soon as I click on it, the circular clipping mask goes away. And in fact, the name of that circle switches from clipping path back to path and now we are seeing white on white instead white on gray.
Now then, drop down here again and click again in order to make that boundary path, the clipping mask, just like so and notice now boundary is the clipping mask and everything fits inside of it including the portions of the bench that were previously extending outside of the rectangle or the portions of the keyboard that were previously extending outside and so on. Now then, what did I mean by the fact that the path has to be at the top of the layer at the outset? Well, from this point on, you can move it to any location you want. Now that you have assigned it as the clipping mask, you can move it down the stack. You need to keep it inside the layer but you can move it to a different location if you want. And that location can be all the way at the bottom of the layer. It can be all the way to the top of the layer. It can be anywhere in between. And that, my friend, is how you assign a clipping mask to an entire layer inside Illustrator.
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