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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of Illustrator's drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
In Illustrator anchor points are a good thing. After all they allow us to create our graphics. However, having too many anchor points can cause problems. For example, let's take a look at some of the artwork in this file. I'm going to zoom in on these two icons right here. Notice when I click on this shape right here, I have a certain number of anchor points that appear along the path. However, when I click on this flower over here, I can see that I have many more anchor points. As you become more familiar with using anchor points you'll also become more efficient in using them.
But there are two specific consequences when it comes to actually using too many anchor points. First of all, the more anchor points you have, the large your file size is. After all Illustrator has that many more anchor points to keep track of. More importantly however having more anchor points means it could be far more difficult to edit your artwork. For example, if I just want to make a small modification to the shape of this piece of artwork down here towards the bottom I can do so easily by modifying three anchor points. However, if I take a look at this flower icon right here, if I wanted to adjust one of these petals right here I'd have to adjust many anchor points.
It wouldn't only take me longer to do my work. The results will be far less desirable and probably somewhat chunky in appearance. Now, in all likelihood when you draw artwork inside of Illustrator you won't be using this many anchor points. In fact, you can imagine just how tedious it might be to even add all those anchor points on your own. However, there may be times when you get artwork from other sources. For example, artwork that's imported from CAD programs, or maybe artwork that's been exported from other graphic design programs like CorelDRAW for example.
These programs may not generate Bezier curves the same way that Illustrator does, and they may generate an unnecessary amount of anchor points. Another time when you may be faced with large numbers of anchor points on paths is when you perform tracing functions, when you convert raster-based content into vector-based content. For example, Illustrator's Live Trace feature can do this. You can start with a photograph and then with a single button have that photo converted into a vector graphic. We'll spend a lot more time dealing with Live Trace in another chapter in this video title, but for now note that it's certainly possible that you may be faced with artwork that has a tremendous amount of anchor points.
So it's nice to know that Illustrator has a Simplify feature to help you reduce the number of anchor points along a path. I'm going to zoom in just a little bit closer on this shape right here and let's take a look at this Simplify feature. I'm going to go over here to the Object menu, I'm going to choose Path and then I'll choose Simplify. This brings up the Simplify dialog box, which I'll move over here on this side so we can get a better idea of what's happening to our artwork as we apply this command. First of all I'm going to click on the Preview button. This lets us actually see what this feature is going to do.
Notice that my original artwork had 322 anchor points inside of it and now that I've applied this command I'm left with 13 anchor points. That's a tremendous reduction in anchor points here, but it's important to realize that as Illustrator reduced the anchor points it's certainly possible that the fidelity or the closeness of this new path to what the original path look like can be affected. So Illustrator gives us a variety of options to dial in just the right amount of simplification along with a few settings to make sure we get the results that we want.
First of all I would start by clicking option here called Show Original. This displays the original path in red so I can compare what the new path and what the old path look like. As you can see, the curves don't really match up exactly. Remember, I do want to reduce the number of anchor points in my path, but I'd like to have my path remain as similar as possible to the way it looked originally. The easiest way to do that is by adjusting the Curve Precision slider. I find that for most cases I can go all the way up to about 98% and get some really great results.
Notice I saved 300 anchor points in the process, and both the new path and the old path match up pretty close. When dealing with curved paths the Angle Threshold setting really has no effect whatsoever on your artwork. However, there is an additional option when you simplify artwork to use Straight Lines. In other words, when reducing the number of anchor points also only use corner anchor points, not smooth anchor points. So, if I choose that option you can see that Curve Precision is grayed out and I can now use the Angle Threshold slider to adjust just how the straight lines should simulate the angles of the artwork.
Obviously, the higher I go with the Angle Threshold, the fewer anchor points I'll have, but my artwork might look quite different. I'll go back to using Smooth Lines over here and I am pretty happy here with the setting of 98%, so I'm going to click OK, and now I've been able to successfully reduce the number of anchor points, which again not only make this file size a little bit smaller. It also makes modifying or working with this artwork that much easier.
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