Friday, February 27, 2009

Beautiful seamless Illustrator patterns

I had a small project this week where I needed a seamless vector pattern, a "tiled" pattern that can be used to fill a shape in Illustrator to create a "wrapping paper" or "wallpaper" look.

My searching led me to the work of "Tolchik" on She has an amazing array of high-quality vector illustrations, backgrounds, and these amazing seamless vector patterns.

I ended up using Image 496941 for my project.

A search for "seamless vector pattern" on Crestock turned up more than 1000 patterns from other artists. What a great resource!

Crestock is an alternative to the popular iStockphoto. If you use iStockphoto, you should also include Crestock in your searches for stock photography and vector illustration.

(By the way, if you don't know how to work with pattern fills in Illustrator, see this resource from Peachpit)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cool new extension monitor

I've written previously about the productivity benefits of having dual monitors attached to your computer. But here's a new idea...the Mimo 710. This is a tiny $129 USD, 7-inch, 800 x 480 pixel monitor that plugs into your USB port.

I can think of several uses for this:

1. For use as a second monitor on computer systems that don't have a dual video card to support two full-size monitors

2. For use as a second monitor in areas where there isn't enough desk space for two full-size monitors

3. For use as a third monitor, for those who already have two large monitors. Could be an ideal dedicated space for iTunes, IM, Twitter, or email.

4. For use as a second monitor for travel for laptop users.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wicked cool Flash Extension

Justin Putney at Ajar Productions has just posted an amazing Flash Extension on his Blog. The free extension adds a "MotionSketch" tool to the Flash CS4 toolbox. You select a symbol on the stage, and then draw a path with the MotionSketch tool. The path, and the variation in speed at which it is drawn, are transformed into an automatic Motion Tween. The resulting Tween path is fully editable, and the easing is editable in the Motion Editor as well. Brilliant!

Single letter shortcut trouble

Steve sent me a note today saying:

I love my InDesign shortcuts but sometimes they get me into trouble. For instance, I have the cursor on some text and then I switch apps, come back, forget that the cursor is on the text, go to type M to switch the tool to the Rectangle tool, and the next thing I know I have introduced an errant M in the document. What do you suggest as a way around this?

This makes me crazy also. So I've modified my keyboard shortcuts to avoid this problem. You can use the same shortcut keys you've grown to know and love for each tool, but you will add a modifier key so that you can use the keyboard shortcut even when your cursor is in text. Here's how:

1. Choose Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts

2. Choose Tools for the "Product Area"

3. Choose Rectangle Tool, (or whatever tool shortcut you are trying to change) in the list of commands

4. Click in the "New Shortcut" field, and press the keyboard shortcut you want to use (try option-M on the Mac, or alt-shift-M on Windows)

5. Click the Assign button. You may be asked if you want to create a new set. If so, answer Yes.

6. Click the OK button.

This also works, with slight variation, in Flash. But unfortunately, the keyboard shortcut editor in Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks doesn't let you assign modifier keys to tool shortcuts.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Precision in Illustrator

Sue wrote and asked:

"I’m setting up documents in Illustrator CS4 and when I set the page to a size with more than three decimals it rounds it up to two decimals (Example 2.125 rounds up to 2.13). Is there any way it can be changed?"

When working with the inches measurement system Illustrator appears to "round up" when you enter three-decimal precision in the Artboard width and height fields. However, for some reason known only to the programmers at Adobe, this is done for on-screen display only. The 3 (or even 4) decimal precision that you enter is retained. So if you enter 2.125" for the page width, the page will be 2.125" wide.

You can verify this by choosing Window > Document Info, and choosing Document from the Document Info panel menu. You will see the exact dimension that you entered for the Artboard width and height listed here.

(This applies to Illustrator CS3 and CS4, and if I recall correctly, previous versions as well. I don't have an older version handy to test.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

How to fix a corrupt InDesign file

Clients sometimes call me with tales of woe of misbehaving InDesign files. Sometimes the bad file will open, but crashes every time they turn to page 3. Or the file crashes when they save. Or the text is all scattered willy-nilly across the page. Sometimes a corrupted file won't even open. When a file goes bad, and you don't have a recent backup copy, what do you do? Here are two things to try.

Export to inx/idml
This method will only work if the bad InDesign file will open. With the bad file open, choose File > Export. Select InDesign Interchange (INX) for the Format. Specify a filename and a location to save the file to, then click the Save button. This will produce a file with an .inx extension, which is sort of like a list of instructions on how to put the file together. Next, close the corrupted file, and open the .inx file you just created. InDesign will read through the instructions in the .inx file and rebuild a new, untitled InDesign file. The new file should look just like the original file, but hopefully without whatever is causing the file corruption. I've seen this work wonders many times! If you have InDesign CS4, and this doesn't fix the file, try the steps above again, but choose InDesign Markup (IDML) for the file format.

The Markzware solution
Q2ID is a great program from Markzware that converts QuarkXPress files to InDesign format. (I previously wrote about this here). Markzware also makes a product called ID2Q that converts InDesign files to Quark. Why am I telling you this? It just so happens that people have discovered that sometimes ID2Q will open and convert InDesign files that InDesign itself can no longer open. So if you use ID2Q to convert the corrupt file to Quark, and then use Q2ID to convert the file back to InDesign, you might be in business.

If you don't want to purchase both products, you can hire Markzware to try the fix for you. See the offer from the Markzware Blog below:

Fix your Bad Adobe InDesign Files! Markzware, well know for it’s QuarkXPress fixing XTension MarkzTools and conversion tools, such as the ever-still popular Q2ID (Quark to InDesign) Plugin is working on a tool that hopefully one day will make fixing bad or not opening InDesign files a cinch. Till then, we have a nice service (no cure-no pay. $99) where will will attempt to fix your flaky InDesign CS documents. Just email with the document (if less than 15MB) or email us for our FTP details if larger. Even if you do not want to pay, we would still love to see your strange InDesign files for our R&D.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Viewing total ink coverage

This weekend I had the good fortune to travel to Canada to speak at the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association symposium. A question from someone in the audience about total ink coverage (of particular concern when printing on newsprint) in Photoshop led me to ponder how this is treated across the entire Creative Suite.

In Photoshop, you can spot check the ink coverage of individual pixels. Choose Window > Info to display the Info panel. In the Info panel menu, choose Panel Options, and change the Second Color Readout Mode to Total Ink. This will display the total ink percentage for the area under your cursor.

But what if you want to see every pixel at once that exceeds a given ink limit? You can use Acrobat for this. Save the Photoshop image as a Photoshop PDF file. Then open the PDF in Acrobat 8 or 9. Choose Advanced > Print Production > Output Preview. In the Output Preview panel, check the Total Area Coverage option, and choose a percentage. Acrobat will highlight areas that exceed the total ink limit with a bright green highlight.

But what if you're working on a layout, and you want to see if any pages contain any areas that exceed a certain ink limit? This is easy in InDesign. Open an InDesign file, and choose Window > Output > Separations Preview. In the View: drop-down menu in the Separations panel, choose Ink Limit and a percentage. InDesign will change your view of all pages to gray, and highlight all areas that exceed the chosen ink limit with a bright red highlight. This works for placed bitmap and vector images, as well as InDesign text and objects.

Illustrator CS4 now has a Separations Preview panel (Window > Separations Preview) similar to the one in InDesign. But unfortunately, it doesn't have the ability to display Total Ink. So if you need to view total ink coverage for an Illustrator file, you'll have to open it in Acrobat or place it in InDesign.

(By the way, my weekend wasn't all work and no play. I got to cross-country ski at the Canmore Nordic Center. For a flatlander like me, skiing in the shadow of the Three Sisters at the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics was a thrill. Photos here.)