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In this installment of Illustrator Insider Training, Mordy Golding shows experienced Illustrator users how to create transparency effects and ensure reliable printing results. This course reviews the history of vector transparency and covers features such as knockout groups, opacity masks, and transparency flattening. Mordy also shows how to establish a safe workflow when placing Illustrator graphics containing transparency in PostScript, PDF, and InDesign files. A free worksheet is included with the course.
Any discussion around the topic of transparency fuels debate around printing issues or incompatibilities, and misunderstood or cryptic functions. So I thought it would be helpful to start out by painting a broader picture around transparency in general to dispel any myths and to lay the groundwork for what this course will cover. Now in Illustrator Insider Training: Rethinking the Essentials, I spoke of two significant eras in Illustrator's history, before transparency and after transparency, and how with Illustrator 9 Adobe introduced not only the transparency feature itself, but changed the underlying file format from PostScript or EPS to PDF.
Let's take a closer look at what actually happened. Upon its release, the design community was instantly enamored with Illustrator 9. Adobe had finally delivered the designer's dream: true vector transparency. This wasn't some cheesy effect that looked like transparency. This was real opacity with blend modes and soft shadows and glows, just like designers would come to love in Adobe Photoshop. It was almost too good to be true and as design world began to find out, it was indeed too good to be true.
Illustrator 9 in its initial release was unstable and crashed often. It also had a knack for corrupting your files and it lost hours and hours of work. Adobe immediately got to work on a free update and they addressed those issues shortly after with version 9.1. But that wasn't the real problem. The real problem was related to transparency itself. While designers were quick to employ plenty of transparency effects in their designs, they were unaware of some of the technical challenges that were involved specifically around printing these effects.
As we'll explore in detail throughout this course, printing files with transparency requires a process called transparency flattening. Adobe in an effort to optimize print speed and allow designers to quickly print proofs of their artwork, set Illustrator's default flattener Settings to a lower quality. The Adobe engineers assumed that service bureaus and print service providers, those who actually print film separations that are used for finer printing, that they would adjust the flattener Settings to get better looking output on their devices when they received the files from designers.
But Adobe did such a good job making Illustrator 9 look and feel the same as previous versions that no one thought they needed to adjust anything. Printers just handled files the way that they always did. The result was printed output that didn't look so great. In fact, the flattener would sometimes even produce artifacts or seem to drop elements from artwork altogether. This caused the tremendous uproar into design community. Designers would get jobs back from their printer that looked incorrect. The designers would demand that the job should be reprinted at the expense of the printer, but the printer felt that they did nothing wrong at all.
Printers were losing money left and right and they were faced with really only one solution. Printers began to tell designers they would no longer accept files that were created with Illustrator 9, or alternatively they would charge a hefty premium for handling such files. So it wasn't long before designers begrudgingly went back to using Illustrator 8. As wonderful as transparency was for the designer, it simply wasn't worth the hassle of trying to get it to print correctly. However, 10 years have passed since Illustrator 9's release and things have definitely improved in regard to both using and printing artwork with transparency.
We certainly don't have to be afraid of it anymore. So why did I create this course Illustrator Insider Training: Seeing Through Transparency? Well first, by explaining how transparency works, I hope that you can learn how to anticipate potential issues and address them before they become big and expensive problems. Second, transparency itself can be used to create fantastic designs and apply a wealth of effects. Learning all the nuances and getting the inside information on all the transparency settings will help you build artwork for practically any need.
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