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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.
Before we could learn about how to draw vector graphics in Illustrator, we have to first understand what a vector graphic is. In reality, many people don't even know what the term vector graphics means. It's kind of thrown around a lot when discussing different types of graphical applications. For the most part, there are two different types of ways to draw graphics on a computer. Illustrator primarily uses something called vector graphics, while a program like Photoshop uses something called pixels, which are also sometimes called rasters or bitmaps.
We're going to use this example here of a flower to understand the differences between pixel-based graphics like Photoshop creates and vector-based graphics, which is what Illustrator creates. To better visualize these concepts, let's first imagine a blank sheet of graph paper. Basically a sheet of paper that's a grid of a whole bunch of little squares. You may have heard of the term called resolution before, or in regard to an image something called DPI or more specifically PPI, which stands for Pixels Per Inch.
Basically, when you create a file in a program like Photoshop, we define first a resolution. A resolution is basically a grid of squares or pixels. If I create an image that's exactly 1 inch x 1 inch in size, I determine a resolution or the number of pixels that appear within that one inch. So, you may have heard, for example, of something called 300 ppi or 300 pixels per inch. That means that if I create a Photoshop file that is 1 inch x 1 inch, there are hundres of these little squares inside of that document.
Obviously, if you try to cram those little squares into a small space like 1 inch x 1 inch, those squares become very small. When you have very, very small squares or small pixels, we refer to that image as being high resolution. However, if I create an image that only has, for example, 10 ppi within that 1 inch x 1 inch space, obviously those pixels are bigger. We refer to images with big pixels as having a low resolution.
The way that Photoshop creates images is that each of these pixels have some kind of a color value applied to them. Currently, on the screen right now, all the pixels are colored white. But if I wanted to create some kind of an image, I could start to color in some of these pixels. In fact, if you can imagine this as a sheet of graph paper and if you had a whole bunch of crayons or Magic Markers, you could start to color in each of these squares. The rule of the game is that you have to fill in each square with only one color.
Meaning two colors can't occupy the same square. Likewise, every square must be fully colored in, meaning you cannot have a partially filled in square inside of your document. So, if I wanted to draw a flower, what I might do is start to fill in these grids with colors. As you can see in this example, this image is set right now to a low resolution. My eye can actually see the individual pixels themselves, because they're big enough for me to see. So, the flower itself, while very pretty, has kind of these jaggy edges to it, and I could really see the differences or the shades of color within it.
In fact, many times inside of Photoshop, you may see that when you zoom in really close to an image, you start to see these pixels. In fact, walk up really close to a TV screen and you also start to see these pixels. Of course, if you wanted to create a sharper version or a cleaner version of this flower, you might start off with a higher resolution, meaning the pixels are much smaller and it will be then difficult to see jagged edges inside of your artwork. However, that would only work at the actual size that you create that artwork.
As soon as you start to enlarge your Photoshop document, what happens is that new pixels are not added to your file. The pixels that exist in your file simply get bigger. At some point as you start to zoom in closer to your document, you're going to see these jagged edges and these pixels. In contrast, Illustrator looks at this sheet of graph paper in a completely different way. It looks at it from a mathematic perspective and actually looks at the graph paper as coordinates. Using these coordinates, you're able to map these things called anchor points.
We'll talk more about anchor points a little bit later. But basically, Illustrator calculates positions for certain anchor points on this grid and then connects each anchor point with a path. Because these paths connect the anchor points, there's really no jagged edges that exist here, because the path themselves are smooth. More importantly, if I now go ahead and enlarge the size of this image, meaning I make the squares a lot bigger, all I'm doing is adjusting the position of these anchor points, but the paths that connect the anchor points still remain smooth and clean and sharp.
These paths can have attributes applied to them. For example, something which we call a fill and again we'll talk more about fills a little bit later on, but basically, I can apply these colors to fill up the regions inside of these paths to create a colorful flower that I'm looking for. Of course, these paths and these anchor points are not things that print. They are only there for me to work with inside of Illustrator. The same thing, of course, the graph paper is not something that I would ever see. I could turn it on to see it inside of Illustrator, but doesn't show up on a printout.
What I would see on a printed sheet of paper is simply a beautiful flower with nice, clean, sharp edges and a smooth appearance. This is the main difference between vector graphics and pixel-based or raster graphics. Once I create something inside of Illustrator, I have the ability to resize or edit that graphic at any time without any loss in quality or detail. As we learn more about using Illustrator, we'll learn how to draw these shapes, so that we get beautiful- looking graphics for any need.
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