9 Replies Latest reply on Jan 10, 2010 1:07 PM by Wade_Zimmerman

    Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?


      I'm new to Illustrator and vector drawing in general, but I've used Anime Studio Pro years ago when it was still Moho, one feature I really liked about it was how you could vary your stroke's thickness from point to point or even hide certain parts of a stroke, that feature was perfect for cartoony drawings and stuff.


      Now I went over the lynda.com basics videos which gave me a fairly good idea of how Illustrator works, but this particular feature wasn't covered and I haven't been able to find it on my own.


      Is this even possible to do in Illustrator?

        • 1. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
          Wade_Zimmerman Level 7

          With a stylist pen and pressure sensitivitysettings applied to a brush.


          Screen shot 2010-01-09 at 12.07.45 AM.png


          Screen shot 2010-01-09 at 12.17.58 AM.png

          • 2. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
            Jack1337 Level 1

            How would I go about editing this stuff after I'm done with the lines?

            For example I trace something I've drawn with my tablet in say Photoshop or whatever and after I'm done tracing it I want to clean up some of the lines, hide outlines that aren't needed, thicken or reduce others and so on.

            • 3. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
              Wade_Zimmerman Level 7

              That is not the question you asked!


              Why don't you state the question completely and we will be able to respond.


              If you have a feature request to make why not make it on the feature request forum?


              Perhaps that would be a better place to post this query.

              • 4. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                JETalmage Level 6



                In order for Illustrator users not familiar with Anime Studio Pro to answer your questions, you need to explain how this "variable stroke thickness" is used in the interface. I have no experience with Anime Studio Pro. But it appears to be primarily a Flash-alternative for animation that includes a set of vector path drawing tools. In a quick perusal of its website, I don't see a description of its "variable stroke width" feature. That suggests to me (correction welcome) that it's probably not radically different from similar features in other drawing programs.


                Generally, in mainstream vector drawing programs (including Illustrator), such features fall into two categories, which I'll call "as-you-draw" and "applied shapes".


                "As-you-draw" features try to emulate using a brush or pencil tool to swipe across the page while simultaneously taking other input (from a stylus or keyboard or wheel) to vary the "stroke weight." The shape you actually scribe with the pointing device is the "spine path." To employ this kind of feature, you are limited to using the specific path-drawing tools in the software that support that "simultaneous" dual-inputs of the pointing device hardware. In Illustrator that approach is embodied in a small handful of features that respond to pressure input from a stylus, primarily the Calligraphic Brush. (You can apply a Calligraphic Brush to a path drawn with another tool beside the Brush and/or to a path drawn using a mouse; but doing so sacrifices the stroke weight that varies according to pressure. Some other drawing programs can receive keyboard inputs as substitutes for stylus pressure when using a mouse, but Illustrator does not provide this.)


                The "applied shapes" approach is germane to features that effectively stretch one path along another. The path(s) being stretched defines the changes in the "stroke weight", which is then applied to the spine path you actually draw with any of the drawing tools. You deliberately pre-define the placements of the thicks and thins by drawing a closed path and storing it. You then apply that shape to the spine path that you actually draw with the drawing tools. The "brush" can be applied to the spine either as you draw the spine or later. In Illustrator, that approach is embodied in the Art Brush feature, which does not require (or support the pressure features of) a stylus.


                Technically, the "as-you-draw" type features don't really vary the stroke weight, but "under the hood" create a closed, filled, unstroked path that effectively "outlines" the desired "stroke." In most such features, the result is not editable in terms of shape of the original swipe path, because the "outline of the stroke" object is already rendered as a "nailed down" path. In Illustrator's implementation of Calligraphic Brushes, the shape of your swipe (the spine path) can still be edited. But the placement of already existing "thicks" and "thins" shifts as you do so. So you can think of Illustrator's Calligraphic Brush as creating an ArtBrush upon the initial creation of the spine path, and then "re-stretching" that same "Art Brush" as you later edit the shape of the spine.


                This re-shaping of the spine can be done with the Brush, so long as its Keep Selected and Edit Selected options are turned on. I've watched people re-swipe the same little path literally dozens of times attempting to get something close to the shape they actually want from this ostensibly "time-saving," and "natural" tool. As they do so, they increasingly slow down in a nerve-wrackingly tedious re-draw attempt to get the thicks and thins just where they want them. I find this practice entirely antithetical to the whole premise of such a feature, which is supposed to be an emulation of "natural" sketching. It quickly starts looking as though the user is simply more determined to "like" the stylus than to actually get his work done. I've never seen one of these features in a vector drawing program that satisfies; such attempts are far more successful in raster programs. I also find that I can employ the "applied shapes" approach in less time, with more control, and with results that, in the end, look just as "natural" as all that continual try-it-again tedium.


                Thus, to me, the whole pressure-sensitive thing is only really valuable in the "happy accident" mindset of freehand drawing, wherein you are usually willing to just accept the thick/thin result of the initial swipe. I can draw like that, too, but still find the result more satisfying using one of a few geometrically very simple Art Brushes than using a pressure-sensitive Calligraphic Brush.

                ...vary your stroke's thickness from point to point...


                The variance in such features is not from anchorPoint to anchorPoint. That is, in both Calligraphic Brushes and ArtBrushes, the positions of the thicks and thins do not necessarily correspond to the anchorPoints or segments of the spine path.


                In the case of Calligraphic Brushes, there are no special points or handles in the interface with which to adjust the resulting positions of the thicks and thins along the spine path. So editing the positions of the bulges means redrawing the spine path.


                In the case of Art Brushes, however, you can adjust the positions of the thicks and thins by editing the path(s) which define the Art Brush and then updating the spine path(s) to which the Art Brush is already applied. So using Art Brushes allows you to fine-tune both the shape of the spine and the shape that defines the thicks and thins, without effectively starting over.


                In both Calligrapic and Art Brushes, you can adjust the overall "weight" of the results, in uniform proportion, by adjusting the Stroke Weight setting of the spine path, which in such cases functions as a scale factor for the artwork that is defining the shape of the "variable stroke."

                ...or even hide certain parts of a stroke...

                In Illustrator, the Eraser Tool can be used to remove (it does not mask or hide) portions of paths, including those to which Calligraphic or Art Brushes are applied. Again, in reality this tool is just another attempt to make a drawing tool emulate a so-called "natural" marking device. It really cuts/redraws the original paths, and there are, of course, other means by which to do that.



                • 5. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                  Joe Paris Level 3

                  With Manga Studio Ex, you have the ability to "paint over" drawn vector lines to increase or decrease the thickness. PaintTool SAI has a similar tool although it's not strictly vector, as far as I'm aware. Serif DrawPlus has an adjustable line "Pressure Graph" where changing the profile makes it reasonably easy to control the weight of a line along specific parts. With Illustrator one has to use the methods JET mentioned.

                  • 6. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                    JETalmage Level 6
                    For example I trace something I've drawn with my tablet in say Photoshop or whatever and after I'm done tracing it I want to clean up some of the lines, hide outlines that aren't needed, thicken or reduce others and so on.


                    Here, as far as Illustrator is concerned, you're talking about another thing altogether. If you use a stylus to make "variable width strokes" in Photoshop, you are not drawing vector paths. You are neither drawing a spine path nor drawing a path to define the positions of thicks and thins. You are just painting pixels.


                    If by "after I'm done tracing it" you are referring to importing the raster image into Illustrator and then auto-tracing it, then the results of the tracing depend on the settings of the auto-trace feature. If you use settings that result in retaining the thicks and thins of the raster image with any reasonable fidelity, then you are using settings that trace around the edges of the "brush strokes" in the raster image, and the result is not a set of "spine paths" to which any live and adjustable "thickness" is applied. You just have a bunch of ordinary closed, filled paths that surround the dark regions of pixels, and the post clean-up process is one of manually adjusting, deleting, adding individual anchorPoints and/or handles--a cleanup process the tedium of which usually negates any time-savings hoped to be gained by using auto-tracing anyway, and the results of which are also usually inferior to manual tracing.


                    There are settings you can use in auto-trace features which try to trace "centerlines" along what appear to be "strokes" in a raster image. But such settings just result in "spine paths" with ordinary uniform stroke weights, not in spine paths to which some variable stroke weight feature is applied.


                    You can, for example, use "centerline" auto-trace settings and then apply (in the case of Illustrator) either a Calligrapic Brush or an Art Brush to those "centerlines"; but doing so, there would be no automatic correlation of the resulting thicks and thins to the apparant "thicks" and "thins" of the raster image.


                    If by "after I'm done tracing it" you are referring to manually tracing the apparant "thicks and thins" of the raster image by using the drawing tools, then the editability of the thicks and thins similarly depends on the method you used to trace. You can attempt to use a pressure-sensitve stylus to trace along the "middles" of the "strokes" in the raster image while trying to simultaneously adjust the pressure on the stylus to cause the "variable stroke weight" to match that of the image. (That's where you'll soon find yourself doing the "let's-try-it-again" re-swipe dance.) If you do your tracing that way, then the editability of the result is like that I described for the "as-you-draw" features in my previous post.


                    Or, you can draw ordinary single open paths along the "middles" of the "strokes" in the raster image and then apply Art Brushes to those paths, selecting Art Brushes which generally reflect the shapes/positions of the "bulges." For example, suppose you have these pre-defined Art Brushes:


                    • One that is bulbous in the middle and tapers toward its ends. (Such an ArtBrush can be made from a simple circle, or from a "football" shape.)
                    • One that is bulbous on one end and pointed on the other. (A circle with the handles of its rightmost anchorPoint retracted.)
                    • One that is bulbous on both ends and tapers thin in the middle. (A circle with its top and bottom anchorPoints selected and reduce-scaled.)


                    You could then:


                    1. Trace your sketch by manually drawing centerlines.
                    2. Apply the Art Brush that most closely approximates the overall  thick/thin sequence of the raster image.
                    3. Adjust the overall scale of the thick/thin effect by altering the stroke weight.


                    If you do your tracing that way, then the editability of the result is like that I described for the "applied shape" features in my previous post. But you'll find that the result is already a "cleaned up" version of your sketch anyway, and less fine-tuning will be necessary.


                    Or, you can use the Pen tool to manually draw ordinary paths along the edges of the apparent "strokes" of the raster image, using your artistic judgement to intelligently decide which bumps, jaggedness, or squiggles are desireable as you go. Working that way, there is no automated fake "stroke weight" to fine tune afterward, but you don't need it, because you've already drawn exactly what you were after in the first place. (This is by far the method I use most often, assuming the purpose is a single still illustration, not a set of paths that will be manipulated for animation frames.)



                    • 7. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                      Wade_Zimmerman Level 7

                      I think this would be an excellent tool and great feature request.


                      Although this is not the feature request forum I would be interested in
                      knowing what everyone would expect from such tool or feature I would like
                      to formalize such a feature request and submit it.


                      I think it is an opportunity to suggest a tool that does not have the shyort comings
                      that were written about here.

                      • 8. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                        JETalmage Level 6

                        I don't see any particular new feature being asked for here. Jack basically asked if Illustrator included any so-called "variable stroke" features. Those have been described to him. Jack has not yet sufficiently described the behavior in Anime Studio Pro to which he alludes, to discern whether it is significantly different from Illustrator's treatment.


                        (And thanks, but no thanks; if I want to "formalize" my feature ideas, I'm quite capable of doing that myself, rather than delegating it to someone who probably doesn't understand what I'm saying. I'd say most others have communication skills sufficient to do the same.)


                        Other users in this forum have often asked for an elaboration of a variable stroke weight feature that they could deliberately modify after-the-fact. Think about this: They want to more accurately control the results of "variable stroke" features. (More about this below.) They have suggested (sometimes with elaborate mockups) such things as special on-object handles or (egads, no!) additional modal dialogs to controllably alter the positions of thicks and thins. Such suggestions:


                        • Are seldom very thoroughly thought-out. In practice, they would be every bit as tedious as just drawing the path the way you want it to begin with.
                        • Usually overlook the existing functionality. The yet-another-dialog suggestors fail to understand that the current implementation of ArtBrushes already provides that.
                        • Universally overshoot the real-world practicality of such ideas. They all result in too-complicated interfaces with too much tedium to use them.
                        • Almost always stem from a beginner's fear of using the primary tool of a Bezier path drawing program: The Bezier path drawing tool.


                        As explained at length, Illustrator already provides tools for both the "as-you-draw" (limited by the real-world inaccuracy of current stylus hardware and [I suspect] Illustrator's 1/12 second redraw response) and the "applied shape" (hindered by a few interface and option problems) methods.


                        In all drawing programs I've used, I invariably find the "applied shape" method superior for both loose, sketchy, cartooney work and for painstakingly accurate work. That's why I consider stylus hardware in vector programs to largely be an "emperor with no clothes." People who swear by it go to absurd stretches of "logic" to defend it, grossly--often laughably--overstating their supposed "advantages."


                        Fact is, when you really LISTEN to what people are saying, it boils down to this: Users (usually newcomers) think they want a vector drawing program to act like a raster painting progam, because they think that's more intuitive, and they think that the only difference between vector and raster artwork is that one is scaleable and the other isn't. But vector artwork by its nature seeks accuracy and whether they think it or or not, accuracy is what such requestors seek.


                        Why else does that stylus-enamored user engage in that ever-tighter re-shaping of the path dozens of times? Because he WANTS that loosey-goosey hardware/software combination to accurately match his mental image of what that raster "stroke" is supposed to look like. He is SEEKING vector-like accuracy and smoothness. But he's doggedly determined to do it with a hardware/software combination that is inherently inaccurate (i.e.; "painterly" features like Blob, Pencil, Brush, Eraser, Smooth tools; "automatic drawing" commands like LiveTrace, Smooth; "painterly" pointing devices).


                        All these things strive against the inherent nature of vector drawing. It's like vector drawing being ashamed of its own advantages. He does this purely to avoid the direct-drawing methods which are designed for accuracy--i.e.; those which are commesurate with the advantages inherent in vector drawing. (It's not just about resolution independence.)


                        So newcomer user-demand drives development to concentrate on such dubious "painterly" features, trying to make vector programs "more approachable" by forcing them to act like what they are not, while neglecting year-after-year, version-after-version, interface improvements of the features which reflect what vector programs really are. As a result, much-needed advancement of vector-appropriate features and interface elegance goes unaddressed. The net result is vector software that doesn't even feel serious anymore.


                        Illustrator's Brushes are best-of-class, but they all fall short because of this misdirected focus on their being loosey-goosey "painterly" and inaccuate. Here are the fairly modest improvements they despirately need, which I have stated many times over the years, and which just fall into the black-hole abyss of Adobe's feature-requests:


                        Art Brushes

                        • Need ENDINGS. Art Brushes should completely obviate Illustrators' hideously outdated Arrowheads feature. But they don't, because you can't apply a non-distorting END to the paths.
                        • Need a set of sensible default presets that demonstrate to newcomers that Art Brushes can be employed for far more commonly useful things than strained and always-disappointing attempts to emulate "natural media" like chalk or watercolor. The most useful Art Brushes are those made from extremely simple geometric shapes.


                        Pattern Brushes

                        • Need an option to DISALLOW scaling/distortion of the END TILES and CORNER TILES.
                        • Need a set of sensible default presets that demonstrate to newcomers that Pattern Brushes (provided the other improvements mentioned herein) can be employed for far more things than mere frame borders.


                        Ends & Corners

                        • Alternatively, separate ENDS & CORNERS as a distinct kind of "brush" that can be optionally applied in combination with all other Brushes.
                        • Include options for non-exclusive occurances at: Path Ends, Path Corners, All AnchorPoints, Segment Centers.
                        • With careful thought, this feature could probably encompass, and thereby obviate the functionality of Scatter Brushes.


                        Art Brushes and Pattern Brushes

                        • Need to support use of Symbols as Ends and Corners.
                        • Need improved interface for controlling their position boxes. The crude rearmost-invisible-rectangle thing is half-baked and grossly unintuitive.
                        • Need a double-click interface to edit their base artwork commensurate and consistent with Isolation Mode and editing Symbols. One should not have to drag the Brush artwork to the page, Ungroup it multiple times, and AltDrag it back into the Brush palette to edit its artwork.


                        Art Brushes, Pattern Brushes, and Symbols

                        • Need an option to DISALLOW scaling of STROKE WEIGHTS in the base artwork.


                        Graphic Styles

                        • Need a set of default presets that leverage the above-mentioned uses of ArtBrush/PatternBrush combinations that demonstrate to newcomers the range of practical things possible through such combinations, instead of just yet-another-worn-out-attempt at "gel buttons."


                        All Brushes, Styles, and Symbols

                        • A better treatment for managing Libraries.


                        ABOVE ALL:

                        • Illustrator's horrible interface for drawing paths and making selections needs a complete, from-the-ground-up, rework, so newcomers will stop fearing direct Bezier drawing in the first place. This is the root cause of the vast majority of Illustrator's learning curve pain for newcomers.
                        • Illustrator's horribly scattered interface needs a complete consolidation and reorganization, NOT just yet-another window dressing pasted over the existing [dis]organization scheme.
                        • Illustrator's horribly outdated feature set needs to be brought at least fully up-to-date with other mainstream vector drawing programs. It is simply missing too many bare-bones basic functions that should be standard-fare, and have long been standard fare in other programs (user defined drawing scales, joining of paths, proper cutting tools, path combinations without ridiculous caveats, and much more.)


                        If doing any of the above means breaking backward-compatibility with previous versions, SO BE IT. Stop development of this buggy, sluggish, outdated application where it is, and call the above a new product.



                        • 9. Re: Is it possible to vary the thickness of a stroke like in Anime Studio Pro?
                          Wade_Zimmerman Level 7

                          Agin this your opinion and just because you do not see what I see as possible just means you don't see the possibilities.