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Illustrator can be used to accomplish many different design tasks. For this reason, Illustrator CS4 Essential Training teaches core concepts and techniques that can be applied to any workflow for print, the web, or assets that will find their way into other applications. Mordy Golding explains the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of Illustrator's drawing tools. He demonstrates how to combine and clean up paths, and organize them into groups and layers. Mordy also covers text editing, working with color, expressive brush drawing, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
So as we've learned, Illustrator's vector graphics are really made up of a whole bunch of anchor points. We know that those anchor points can be one of several different types, for example, corner anchor points or smooth anchor points or combination anchor points. However, we also know that the number of anchor points that you have is directly related to the complexity of your file. So the more anchor points that you have for a piece of artwork, the longer it takes to print, the larger your file size gets and, of course, the more difficult or unwieldy it is to edit that particular file. Let's take these two pieces of artwork, for example. I have this file called simplifying_paths open inside of Illustrator and if you have the sample files or the exercise files available to you, you can go ahead and find that in Chapter 05. I'm going to use my Regular Selection tool to just click on let's say this emblem right here. Take a look at the number of anchor points that there are. Let's zoom in a little bit closer.
I'm going to use the Command+Spacebar or Ctrl+Spacebar keys to get my Zoom tool and I marquee select around this particular emblem so I want to zoom in on that and you could see how many anchor points there are. In fact, if I get just a little bit closer let's say on the claw, take a look at how many anchor points there are, lots and lots of anchor points. Not only does that make it difficult to edit, it will make this file take a lot longer to print as well. Let me zoom out just a bit over here. Let's take a look at a feature inside of Illustrator called Simplify. Simplify basically allows me to analyze a path and reduce the number of points on a path, because in reality the number of anchor points on a path don't necessarily make that into a better path, meaning a better looking path. If you're smart about where you place your anchor points, you can get the same piece of artwork with far fewer anchor points. So let's take a look at how that's done.
By the way, this Simplify feature I'm about to show you makes a lot of sense when you're getting artwork from outside sources. It's rare that you're actually going to go ahead and use the Pen tool to create artwork with this many anchor points. But when you do things like tracing or get artwork that maybe has come from another source or another application, it is possible that it has lots of anchor points. Your job is going to be to basically reduce those anchor points down to a manageable amount, but without sacrificing any quality in the image itself. So I'm going to go now with this particular piece of artwork selected. I'm going to go over to the Object menu. I'm going to choose Path and then I'm going to choose Simply. That's going to bring up a dialog box. The Simplify dialog box will give me options on how I want to go ahead and simplify that path and here's basically the key. I want to be able to reduce the number of anchor points, but I don't want to give up the quality or the actual definition of the artwork that I have created.
So the first thing I'll do is I'll click on the Preview button. Preview button will give me basically an idea of what's happening to my artwork as the number of points are reduced. So as we can see right now, I do get a very interesting stylized kind of look, and maybe this would even be a nice effect that I would be looking for. Although right now, my goal would be to simplify the number of anchor points without adjusting the overall appearance of that particular piece of artwork. So I'm going to go ahead here and by the Curve Precision, I'm going to start to bring that up much higher. That means that I want Illustrator to keep the curves and the look of that graphic as close to the original as possible.
By the way just to show you if I kind of bring that slider far down to the left, I get a very, very stylized looking piece, but that also means that Illustrator doesn't have to follow the actual path that were in the original piece of artwork. Just to give you an idea though, take a look at the values. Illustrator is very nice; it gives you some feedback here. The original piece of artwork had 3784 anchor points inside of it and now that I have applied the Simply command and I have this Curve Precision set to 5%, it reduced that down to 362 points, wow! So it's great that you can do that, but as we said before, I don't want it to look like this. I want it to look close to the original. What I'm going to do is I'm going to bring that Curve Precision up all the way to where I just stop.
Now, it's important, by the way, you don't want to go to 100. Sometimes when you do that, you end up with actually more anchor points than you do. It's absolutely kind of like reverse Simplify. So we don't want to go there, but I'll say there is a huge difference when you start going to like 99. Take a look at that, I'm at 98 right now and I just dropped down from 3784 to 2239. Not too bad, but of course, I can do better. So I'm going to go down here and here is the key. If you look over here where it says Options, I could choose Show Original and what it does, it gives me a red outline of where that original path is. Just to show you if I reduce my Curve Precision down a lot here, you can see that the red path is where that original anchor point was, and here is what the new path is. Yes it's smooth around the fewer anchor points, but it doesn't really match where I was before. Anyway, I want to zoom in closer to your graphic here. I just want to be able to see the whole piece of artwork here as it is. But as you're working with this, you might want to zoom in closer and really see the differences between the previous path that had lots of anchor points and what the Simplify command is going to do with it. But basically the new path is in blue; the old path here is in the red.
I could also use the Straight Lines option, which prevents Illustrator from using curves at all. Notice the Curve Precision is completely out now and now simply using basically an angle threshold to see what I ended up getting, I get all these wacky straight lines. Again, if you like doing some kind of Picasso thing, maybe that would make some kind of sense. But I'm going to uncheck Straight Lines. I do want to show the original. I'm going to leave the Curve Precision set to around 98%. Maybe I'll come down to make 96% or 95%. Again I'm paying attention to where the red and the blue are and make sure they are not out of whack; they all look -- and they are lining up pretty well over here and I see that I have just reduced this from 3,700 points to just a little over 1, 000 points. I could also adjust the Angle Threshold to basically control how Illustrator can go ahead and smooth out those little sharp angles so on and so forth.
I find that if I bring something here towards the middle I usually get a pretty good result. Then what I'll do is I'll just simply click OK and now I have reduced the number of anchor points. Now again a much smoother path, it prints faster, it's easier to work with and to edit and that is far better as well. So you may want to go ahead. I would provide another example on this file. This is nice little trace of a nice little palm tree and you might want to go ahead and reduce the number of points on this and see what kind of results you get as well.
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