June 2010 Articles
If you are unfamiliar or a little unclear about the differences between vector and bitmap art, it might be helpful to read When Vector Art is Really Vector before starting this tutorial.
Setting Up Your Files
Start by determining your art board size. If I am working on a wide format project I like to work in quarter scale. Illustrator has a maximum canvas size of 227 inches, so projects larger than that have to be created at a smaller scale factor. See Large File Format File Resolution for a guide to scale factors and resolutions.
For this tutorial I am going to create a 5’ x 3’ banner at full size.
First, create a new Illustrator document at 60” wide by 36” tall and save this file as banner-sample.ai.
Next create a new Photoshop document with the same dimensions 60” wide by 36” tall and save this file as banner-sample.psd.
Create Your Photoshop Image File
Open every image needed for your banner design. Float all in separate windows; Window>Arrange>Float All In Windows. Tile the windows so they are all visible; Window>Arrange>Tile. This makes it easier to drag one image into another.
Open the layers palette; Windows>Layers and drag the image from the layers palette into the banner-sample.psd. Repeat this for every image. This workflow is also a great way to determine if the image resolution is correct for your project. If an image is really small when you drag it into the banner-sample.psd file, then it is too small for this banner and should be replaced with something else.
Assemble your images and save the banner-sample.psd file.
Create Your Illustrator Layout File
Open the banner-sample.ai file. View the layers palette; Windows>Layers.
Double Click on Layer 1 and rename it to Photoshop Image. Add a new layer and name it Vector Art. Make sure the Vector Art layer is above the Photoshop Image layer.
Place the banner-sample.psd file on the Photoshop Image layer. Make sure the link box is checked in the place image dialog box.
Add your text, logos and any other vector art on the Vector Art layer.
Some of the text is not very legible over the Photoshop image so we are going to add some drop shadows and glow effects, but we want to do this in the Photoshop file not the Illustrator layout.
Add Photoshop Effects To The Vector Art
On the Vector Art layer in Illustrator, draw a rectangular shape with no fill and no stroke. Make it the exact size of the art board. Now your vector art is exactly the same size as your Illustrator and Photoshop canvases. This is the key to getting your illustrator vector art to register with your Photoshop image file.
Select everything on the Vector Art layer and Copy the selected content to your clipboard.
Switch to Photoshop and open the banner-sample.psd. Paste the content from your clipboard. Select the Smart Object paste option. The vector art should paste exactly into place at 100% scale. This is critical. Make sure it has pasted at 100% before committing the place.
Rename the new Smart Object layer to FPO (for position only) and make sure it is the top most layer.
Apply a drop shadow layer effect to the new FPO layer; go to Layer>Layer Style>Drop Shadow. Play with the settings until they look right for your design. Make sure the drop shadow effect looks perfect before going to the next step.
In the layers panel right click on the layer effects or go to; Layer>Layer Style>Create Layer. This is the key to separating the vector art from the bitmap shadow effect. If you get this message, “Some aspects of the Effects cannot be reproduced with layers!”, just click Okay. This creates a new layer called “FPO’s Drop Shadow”. Erase or delete the shadows not needed for the design. I deleted everything except the shadow around the white text "Come Join Our Crew".
Select the FPO layer again and apply an Outer Glow effect. I changed the color to white, set it to 100% and applied a 16% spread at a 50 pixel size. Create a layer of this effect by repeating the steps above. This will create a new layer called “FPO’s Outer Glow”. Erase or delete the glows not needed in the design. I removed everything except the glow around the logo in the lower right corner.
Turn off the visibility of the FPO layer by clicking on the eyeball icon. Save your file.
Finalize the Illustrator Layout
Switch back to Illustrator. If your illustrator banner-sample.ai file is still open, you will get a message that says, “Some files are missing or modified in the Links panel. Would you like to update them now?” Click Yes.
Wah lah! The sample banner layout is now complete with vector art still vector and bitmap effects created in Photoshop. Everything should register perfectly.
Notes About File Size
My working layered .psd is 392.8 mg. The Illustrator layout is 80.7 mg. If I save the .psd file as a .tif file with LZW compression the file size is reduced to 58.2 mg. I can then replace the linked .psd file in Illustrator with the .tif file. Saving the Illustrator layout with the PDF compatibility turned off, will reduce the Illustrator file size to 1.1 meg.
For more detailed information regarding file sizes, see Working With Really Large Files.
Vector versus Bitmap
When designing anything for print it is important to understand the difference between vector and bitmap. This is especially important for large or wide format. Vector art is completely scalable to any size without pixelating. Bitmap files have a fixed resolution and will pixelate when the resolution does not support the print size.
5' x 3' Banner Full View
100% View of Bitmapped Text
100% View of Vector Text
Photoshop Smart Objects
Vector smart objects in Photoshop are not really so smart for printing. The vector smart object is converted to bitmap when the file is flattened. The flattened file gets printed, so in reality you are sending bitmap information to the printer, not vector.
I’m not saying smart objects are dumb. I love smart objects and use them all the time. It’s just important to understand what they are good for.
Shadow and glow effects created in Illustrator are easy to create and look great on your screen but they are not really vector art. The effects get rendered to bitmap when printed. Illustrator effects can really slow down your workflow too. The screen redraws can take forever on large files. This is a good reason in itself to avoid designing with Illustrator effects.
Keep Vector Art Vector And Everything Else Bitmap
The goal is to separate the vector from the bitmap. Evaluate your design. Determine what graphics have to print sharp. This should include all text and almost all logos. Everything else, including shadow effects and glows should be created in Photoshop. It also helps to think of it in layers. All vector graphics sit on top of the bitmap image or background design. Shadows and glows become part of the background image.
In my next article I will provide a step-by-step tutorial for working together with Illustrator and Photoshop effects.
I’ve done a lot of work for free or at a reduced rate. Hindsight says maybe that wasn’t always a good idea. The truth is that I learned many lessons from those experiences and they weren’t all bad. So I want to focus on the good and share some tips to ensure a positive experience for every one.
Three great reasons to do some pro-bono work.
1) Work for a non-profit that you are passionate about
The world really would be a better place if we all gave something back. Give it away because it’s the right thing to do. Churches, schools, political candidates, theater groups, artist communities and fund raising organizations of all kinds need creative services. Find a non-profit you believe in and offer your services. Working with the right group will connect you to your local community and be very rewarding.
2) Build your portfolio
If you are recently graduated or recently self employed this is a great reason to offer free services. You will build your portfolio and increase your network. Even if you have an established portfolio, there might be one project you’ve yet had the opportunity to create.
3) Teach yourself a new skill
We all learn by doing. Tutorials, manuals and how to books are great resources, but the truth is we don’t truly learn something without hours of work and problem-solving on our own. If a client asks you to design something completely new, something you have little to no experience in, consider taking on the project for a reduced rate. Let your client know that you are reducing your rate because their project will be a teaching tool for you. Your client will probably have complete confidence in your ability to succeed and you will have a great project to teach yourself a skill you always wish you had.
Three tips to keep your pro-bono relationships positive for everyone.
1) Establish that you are a professional
Let your client know what your standard rates are. Communicate the reason or reasons that you have chosen to give away your services. Keep the relationship and all communications professional. Make sure your client respects your time and understands that paying client’s projects come first.
Outline your services and let your client know how many hours you have to give. I provide design services but not copy editing. I make sure all of my clients understand that I do not proof read their copy. This is most important when providing free services. Pro-bono clients may not know themselves what their marketing piece should say and often they may look to others to figure it out for them. By being clear on the front end, I can ensure that my focus stays in design issues.
2) Communicate directly with one person who has the authority to make decisions
The biggest challenge with non-profit organizations is that they are often staffed by volunteers who themselves are working for free. Find out who has the final say and work with that person. Communicate directly with them only. Require your client to communicate through email and educate them as to how you prefer to receive creative direction and corrections.
3) Accept free advertising and recognition
Sometimes it is difficult to accept the kudos, especially if the work was done for reason number one. Remember that your client appreciates your service and really wants to pay you back. Let people in your community know when you have provided the creative services for an organization and accept free advertising if it is offered. This is a great way to build a network that often includes other business people who may some day want to hire you for your creative talents.
Orchard View Color is a place to share creative ideas with explanations on how to execute them. The digital world requires technical solutions for creative ideas. I create and design for a variety of applications. Print applications alone vary from large format digital or dye-sub, to traditional offset and screen print. Each variation presents its own challenges. Custom e-mails, web banner ads or website design require a broader range of skills.
I’ve been working on large format projects for over five years. In the beginning I had many questions. My offset printing knowledge led me to a number of incorrect assumptions about file prep. I had a difficult time finding answers to questions regarding file sizes, resolution, file formats and color space. After some trial-and-error and many print tests, I found answers and developed a solid proven work flow for large format production. I hope these first few articles answer questions you may have and inspire you to design something big.
I need to give a big shout out thank you to Steve Oliver at Circatree Design. I couldn’t have accomplished this website without his expertise and inspiration. Steve brought my vision to life and provided a ton of design ideas along the way. Check out more of Steve’s work at www.circatreedesign.com.