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Rasterized bristle brushes in situ versus importing 'soft-edged' areas as tifs from Photoshop

Mar 14, 2013 6:29 PM

Sorry for the long winded title to this item. When I need a soft edge in certain parts of an illustration, the gradient mesh option is too time consuming for me.  No doubt some of you can work the mesh quickly but I find it a bit of a drag!  When bristle brushes came along, I thought it would be the answer to my problem.  The brushes look great and work just fine.  But whenever I want to save the file, Adobe advises to rasterize the brushes. Now those 'soft-edged' areas could have been done in Photoshop and saved out as small 'chunks' in tif format. Indeed, those particular small ares could even be airbrushed. My client always wants my vector illustrations as PDF files. The funny thing is, if I simply vectorize small parts of my illustration in illustrator, it'd still classed as a vector file. If on the other hand it becomes an Illustrator file with embedded tifs, it seems oddly like 'cheating'.  I'd love to hear your vies on this, folks.  Thanks in anticipation.

  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 15, 2013 3:55 AM   in reply to ROVERT33

    ROVERT33 wrote:


    But whenever I want to save the file, Adobe advises to rasterize the brushes.

    Well, yes. Have you ever flattened a file with, say, 10 partly overlapping bristle brush strokes? You'll get about x-thousand shapes from it. The prepress person responsible for only slightly more complex files will probably go insane.


    So rasterizing it will keep everyone healthy, but you should only do that for a copy of the final final the moment before sending it into production. Keep the brushes live in your working file.


    As for the alternatives: show us your art.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 15, 2013 6:36 AM   in reply to ROVERT33

    …the gradient mesh option is too time consuming…


    The Grad Mesh is one of the very infrequent actual new constructs, whereas most new features are just interface re-packaging and/or semi-automation of same old standard fare functionality. But you are correct that the current interface for Mesh Grads is cumbersome and tedious. And that is not just a matter of experience. I find Draw's to be marginally better than Illustrator's, but the 2D drawing software industry just hasn't yet devised an intuitive and supple interface for the feature. (The first one who does, wins. And when it comes to interface elegance, I'd place Adobe at the bottom of the liklihood list.)


    As is often the case with new features, many users become overly infatuated with the "latest greatest" and begin thinking of them as the new and only "right" way to do things. But realistic entirely vector-based toning and shading has been done for decades using path blends and/or regular grad fills which work just fine for most purposes.


    No doubt some of you can work the mesh quickly but I find it a bit of a drag!


    I tend to reserve use of Grad Meshes for where they're really needed; situations that would be equally tedious to construct by more "ordinary" means. Those situations are infrequent in my actual work.


    When bristle brushes came along, I thought it would be the answer…. But…Adobe advises to rasterize the brushes


    Bristle Brushes is one of those "repackaged" features I'm talking about. It's a combination of too-intricate vector paths and transparency effects. And both of those can be a reason to rasterize to avoid potential output problems.


    … those 'soft-edged' areas could have been done in Photoshop and saved out as small 'chunks' in tif format.


    Yes, they could. In fact, before programs like Illustrator started playing round with raster-based "transparency" effects (Canvas was doing it before Illustrator, by the way) how did illustrators achieve such things as soft drop shadows, glows, etc., etc. in mainstream vector drawing programs? They did exactly as you describe; they used FreeHand, Canvas, Draw, or Illustrator in combination with Photoshop to generate raster images which either replaced the vector objects they began as, or were stacked among or grouped with them on the illustration program's page.


    In other words, we simply did deliberately and methodically what Illustrator now tries to do automatically and on-the-fly with its raster-based effects.


    My client always wants my vector illustrations as PDF files.

    I don't really understand this comment. What does exporting your vector illustration as a PDF have to do with the question? A PDF, like a native illustration program file, can contain any combination of vector paths, raster images and text objects.


    … if I simply vectorize small parts of my illustration in illustrator, it'd still classed as a vector file.


    What do you mean by "vectorize"? If you are talking about autotracing, then you have actually stumbled upon a corollary to the above discussion:


    If you understand the shortcoming inherent in the current state of autotracing features—which are a poor attempt toward automation of re-drawing raster-based artwork as vector paths—then that concept runs parallel to over-dependence on live raster effects and "transparency"—which is an attempt toward automation of the older common workflows in which the illustrator manually combined raster- and vector-based objects. In both cases, the difference is the deliberate (and hopefully discerning) control which the user gives up to the automated routines.


    Illustrator's auto-tracing feature knows absolutely nothing about shape. It doesn't know a round green eyeball from a jagged green pine tree. It just tries to draw paths around same-colored pixels, as if that's all there is to vector drawing. The result is almost always sub-standard. You just swap one kind of undesirable ugliness (raster pixelation) for another (meaningless vector-based irregularity and noise).


    The situation is not as often as dire as that with raster-based effects, but the risks are real and are conceptually parallel: The fact is all those soft and fuzzy raster effects are based on the creation of raster images. And rendering those raster images where they interact with other objects requires re-rasterization. And they almost always involve "transparency" which also most often requires rasterization. All that on-the-fly rasterization and re-rasterization has to be finally rasterized to something an output device will understand. That's flattening.


    The too-frequent consequences of over-reliance upon all that automation include the ugly surprises of visible object "stitching" edges and the chronic Adobe applictions problem of rasterized text where it interacts with transparency effects, even when it seems the objects are stacked so as to avoid it.


    Again, the way this parallels the shortcomings of autotracing is the surrender of knowing control on the part of the illustrator. The "old-school" illustrator who achieved all those same effects by using his favorite vector drawing program in combination with his favorite raster imaging program was actually manually controlling that "flattening" process. He was "automatically" made aware of the stacking order of objects. There was no concern about "stitching" because he was pre-rasterizing his simulations of "transparency" and stacking objects, not abutting them. In short, he was always thinking things through and methodically building the desired result, rather than just swiping the page willy-nilly with instant-gratification feature after feature until things "looked good" on screen and trusting the actual object construction to automation (which is kind of antithetical to the whole concept of vector drawing to begin with).


    If…it becomes an Illustrator file with embedded tifs, it seems oddly like 'cheating'.

    I hope the above has made clear the error of that concern. The only thing you've mentioned that is "cheating" is auto-tracing.


    If you do in fact need to limit the artwork to entirely vector paths (ex: a proper identity mark logo), then the concern is moot. You need to avoid rasterization altogether. That means no raster effects and no raster-dependent transparency. Build it deliberately out of vector paths as a good vector illustrator should. That doesn't mean there can't be any *simulations* of "transparency". It means you build those simulations manually, deliberately, and economically. (Other than overprinting, all "transparency" in print is a flattened simulation.)


    If you are limited to vector artwork, but are starting with a raster image, understand that autotracing is almost always NOT appropriate for commercial quality work. It's a beginner's crutch. And when inappropriately applied, it obviates the advantage and purpose of vector-based artwork to begin with.


    If you are not limited to entirely vector paths (ex: an ad layout), then either:


    Go ahead and emply the raster-dependent automated on-the-fly ("live") effects, but do so knowingly; always bearing in mind the potential caveats that can result from the inevitable flattening and watching out for them.




    Build it "old school" by using your preferred vector drawing program in tandem with your preferred raster editing program—and enjoy the confidence of knowing what is actually going on.



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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 16, 2013 11:07 AM   in reply to ROVERT33

    I don't think it's inappropriate to use hard edges in faces.


    Using the Gaussian blur would have been one of the methods I had in mind. In case you have Illustrator CS6, gradients on strokes would be another possiblity.


    I would also experiment with plain and simple gradients. They work for portraits fairly well when positioned nicely in the shape.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 17, 2013 8:39 AM   in reply to ROVERT33

    I could have created blends, but why bother when the blur effect does the job?

    Because often, you really do want the artwork to entirely consist of vector paths. Also, because you have more control over the shape of the highlighting / shading, and ability to edit, refine, reshape any time you want without starting over and without loss of rendered quality.


    This is where it does become a matter of proficiency. For example: Long before programs like Illustrator started playing around with on-the-fly generated raster effects--and even longer before gradient meshes--Corel Draw (version 8, I believe it was) featured a near photo-realistic vector drawing of Judy Garland on the cover of its manual. (It was actually a winning entry in a Corel illustration competition). You can find countless examples of that kind of thing dating back decades, and containing nothing but vector paths (using grads and blends for shading).


    For example, these are entirely vector blend-based shadings which don't employ any rasterization (live effects or otherwise) at all:




    Because such things are programmatically applied, they are build-once/unlimited-use.


    These two images are an example of the "hybrid" raster/vector variety (live raster effects applied to vector paths). They are actually two instances of the "same" drawing. The first was done as an experimental demonstration in response to a question in this forum about drawing clouds. The second was a modification of the same file in response to a later thread about drawing lightning.




    I didn't redraw the clouds in the second example; I just modified them. In other words, even though the final output is dependent upon raster effects (blurring), those effects are applied, deleted, and automatically re-applied on-the-fly as I edit the underlying vector paths. I can scale, rearrange, re-stack, recolor, duplicate, reshape these clouds *as objects*--and even change the rasterization parameters--without re-rasterization degradation of the final output.


    This example is the same kind of object-level raster effects carried to a bit of an extreme:



    The truck was drawn entirely as vector paths in Xara Xtreme (now called Xara Designer Pro). But the vast majority of the thousands of individual vector paths also have object-level live transparency and raster-based blurring (what Xara's interface labels feathering) applied. That's Xara's primary claim-to-fame. That many instances of raster effects in a single Illustrator file would choke the program's performance. But I can edit this drawing in real-time in Xara, with almost no perceptable performance delay.


    So in this example, I've got the advantages of both worlds: the versatility, scaleability, shape-control, and editability of vector paths--and the quick-to-apply simplicity of raster-based graduated transparency (as opposed to blends, although the drawing has plenty of blends, too, and even some feathered blends).



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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 17, 2013 9:24 AM   in reply to JETalmage

    JETalmage wrote:


    Corel Draw (version 8, I believe it was) featured a near photo-realistic vector drawing of Judy Garland





    it was Hedy Lamarr, who has a very interesting biography BTW being not only an actress, but also a mathematician and inventor:

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 17, 2013 2:23 PM   in reply to ROVERT33

    I was just answering your question, Rovert. Same principles apply whether doing elaborate or quick and simple artwork.



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