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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 the Illustrator 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.
One of the most helpful things about the Layers panel is not that you can actually define layers, but that you can really reverse-engineer, or better yet, read your document. See normally, you look at Illustrator and you try to identify objects by seeing what they are and maybe selecting them. However, you don't always get the full story. For example, maybe you're looking at this document right now, and someone else created this file, and they've given it to you to work on. And your job right now is to take a look at the sun, kind of looks interesting, but you see those like zigzag rays that are coming out of the sun.
Your job is to make the zigzags a little bit different. You kind of click on the object over here, but you really don't see any path here that exists for these zigzag areas. In fact, if you go to Outline mode, Command+Y, to view the actual path themselves, you don't see the zigzags at all. So how were those zigzags created? On top of that, we have some Drop Shadow effects applied to some elements here on the bottom. And if we need to make changes to that, maybe we need to make it just a little bit darker, we need to know how the artwork was built so we can make these changes.
So the first thing really here is to look at the Layers panel, but you don't really want just the layers. You want to see the objects as well. So I'm going to click on the triangle so we could start to see what's going on here. Now, the first thing you should notice is if you look to the far right of the Layers panel, we see that there are these little circles that appear here. We already know that anything shaded gray is a layer. Anything with a white background is an object. However, some of these circles are filled white or they're hollow. But some of them have like a little bit of a gradient in here.
What does that mean? Well remember way back we spoke about appearances inside of Illustrator. We know that there are basically two types of objects that have appearances applied to them. We have something called the basic appearance, and when an object has a basic appearance, we mean that it has only one fill and one stroke and no special effects applied to it. However, as soon as you start adding multiple fills and strokes, and as soon as you start adding effects, like Drop Shadows, for example, we refer to those objects as having a complex appearance.
Well, the little circles will let me know which objects have a basic appearance or which ones have a complex appearance. Objects with hollow circles have basic appearances. Anything with a little bit of a 3D appearance here lets me know that there is currently a complex appearance on that piece of artwork. So what many times I do to reverse engineer files and see how they were built is that I also keep my Appearance panel open. So I'm going to ahead here, and I'm going to choose the Appearance panel and bring it up right here to the top of the page.
In fact, one of my favorite layouts is to connect the Layers panel and the Appearance panel together, so they kind of act as one unit, and I bring them right here on my page. In this case here, if I were to go ahead now and click on the Sun, I could see that path right now, has a complex appearance applied to it. If I click on this little circle, it targets that object, and I can see right away, oh look at that! There is an orange 4-point stroke, but it has an offset path and the zigzag effect that's been applied to that object.
So now if I want to make a change to that zigzag, I can click on the word Zig Zag right here to bring up that Dialog box, and maybe change some of the settings here, and then click OK. So that's the easiest way to kind of read a document and find out the information that you need to make the changes. Now, as we learn more and more about using Illustrator, we'll find that the Layers panel also gives me other visual cues to help me read my Illustrator document. For example, we're going to learn about creating Masks.
Well, when I create a Mask inside of Illustrator, all items that are mask appear underlined inside of the Layers panel. Sometimes, I have artwork that appears inside of my document, but that artwork does not appear when I print my document. That might happen because there is the ability inside of Illustrator to define nonprinting layers. For example, let's say I don't want this sun to print. I'm going to double-click on the Sun layer right here, normally to change the name, but you'll see some other options here as well.
If I uncheck the Print check box here and click OK, now when I print my document, this layer, or anything on the Sun layer, will not print. But notice that right now inside the Layers panel, the word Sun appears in italics. Anytime I see something italicized inside of the Layers panel, that identifies that layer as being a nonprinting layer. So once again, a quick glance at the Layers panel will right away let me know oh, that layer is a nonprinting layer, and if I needed to, I can double-click on it and correct the problem.
Sometimes, I'll use a nonprinting layer to put instructions into a file. I don't want those instructions to print on a sheet of paper, but if another designer should open up that file or if my printer should open that file, I might want to alert them to some information. Now, you'll notice one other thing here also inside the Layers panel, the flowers here also has a complex appearance. If I twirl down, right now, I notice this is a Group, this lets me know that right now there are flowers inside of that group. In other words, the group itself as a Drop Shadow applied to it.
But all the paths and objects inside of that group don't have the Drop Shadow applied to it. This goes back to the concept we spoke about before that a group is a container, and we can apply appearances or attributes directly to that container. Here, we visibly see the container. This is the group itself. Instead of being called Group, I simply just double-clicked on it and gave it a name. In fact, if you're careful about naming your groups inside the Layers panel, when you use the Isolation mode, the breadcrumbs start to make some sense.
Let me show you what I mean. If I come in here now and I double- click on these flowers, Illustrator doesn't tell me layer 1 and Group. Illustrator tells me that right now I'm in the Flowers Group that's inside of the Flower Pot layer. Often, when working with very, very complex artwork, maybe when you're creating some kind of a map, if you take the time to name all of your layers and groups correctly, you'll find it that much easier to navigate inside of your document. More importantly, when you hand your files off to other designers to work on, they will easily be able to navigate their way around your document.
In addition, should you ever now take this document and place it into other applications, be it Photoshop, Flash Catalyst, InDesign or Flash Professional, these layer names all stay intact making it easy to navigate within your artwork as well. I'll tap the Escape key to exit Isolation mode here, and hopefully, I've given you just a few examples of why it's important to think about structuring your document using layers inside of Illustrator.
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