Sunday, June 11, 2017

Illustrator Tips: Preparing your digital canvas

I often jump into conversations on twitter to help people asking for advice with illustration, so I thought I should start a little blog series dealing with some of the things I often see asked, or that I think might be useful.

So here goes:

#1. Preparing your digital canvas

When designing for print, it's important to know what specifications you are working to before you start. I can't stress this enough - a lot of clients won't automatically provide you with all the relevant information, and possibly won't see the necessity, but believe me, you'll save a lot of stress by getting this information out of them at the start. Ask! Keep asking! Explain to them that if you have to spend ages reworking pieces that end up the wrong size, it will increase their costs. 

For example, here is the cover for Feral Fergus. I had to create the cover long before starting on the book itself, for promotion purposes, and when I did (back in September) the book was to be printed in A4. But this changed to 8x10". No big deal in this case, but just look at all that white space down the sides of the cover on the left. I had to carefully paint in this area back in as seamlessly as I could, and think how difficult this could be if you have a really detailed background and a composition that won't stand for the alteration anyway! You can't avoid all such incidences, but it's best to at least attempt to make sure it doesn't happen.

Continue reading below the cut:

If you are designing for print, chances are you will need bleed. Bleed is extra illustration around the edges, that will eventually be chopped off. Why? Well, no printer prints on the exact size of paper that you designed for. They print on bigger pieces of paper, which are then trimmed to size. This trimming is done by a machine, and although it's pretty accurate, it's not perfect. If your illustration is meant to go all the way to the edge of the page, and you've drawn it the exact size that the paper is going to end up, and the cutter is out by a millimetre or two, you're going to end up with an ugly white line down one side of the page. If you've got bleed applied, that slip will only end up showing some more illustration, and won't matter.

Here's an example:

I did this Christmas card last year, and had it printed through Moo - the guidelines you see here are from Moo's own template, and I've faded out the card so you can see them clearly.

The area shaded in pink is the bleed. This will all, if everything goes according to plan, be cut off (You'll note there is only bleed on three sides here, as it is a folded card)
The dotted line is the safe area. If the cutter slips in one direction, it's going to slip an equal amount in the other direction, so you really don't want anything important in this area. If it's going to matter if it gets cut off, keep it away from the edge. 

I like to have guidelines like this available on my work at all times, so that I don't forget what I'm doing. And I don't like using rulers much, as when they are visible they can really muck with your brush strokes, and when they are not visible, I forget about them. Which leads us to the point of this post: preparing your canvas.

Say I'm doing a book in A4, and I want to set up a double-page spread. One thing I do not want to do is use more maths than I have to, because maths and I are not friends. 

So, an A4 page is 21cm by 29.7cm. So let's go ahead and create that:

Go to File > New or, if you've just opened Photoshop CC, use the 'New' button. 
You can either choose A4 from the presets, or enter it manually.

Make sure your document is in CMYK. If something is destined for print, always use CMYK. 

If you totally need some of the Photoshop options that demand you are working in RGB, turn on your CMYK Preview by going to View > Proof Setup > Working CMYK. Make sure your proof colours are turned on as well. This lets you see what the document will look like in CMYK, so you don't get carried away with the unlimited colours of RGB, only to find that it won't look like that when it comes time to print. 

Back to our document. We have a nice, blank, A4 page. But I want to be working on a double-page spread. So the first thing I do is create a new layer and draw a line all the way down one side. This will mark my gutter. (It's a bit hard to see, but it's there, I promise!)

Now I want to enlarge my canvas to a double-page spread. So I'm going to need two A4 pages side by side. I could work that out with maths, or I could go to Image > Canvas Size:

In the dialogue box that comes up, change Width to 100 percent, make sure the 'Relative' box is checked, and move the anchor to the middle right. Then click okay.

The document now looks like this:

That line down the middle shows me where my gutter is, so I don't forget what I'm doing while zoomed in, and draw something important right on top of it. 

Now I want to add my bleed. First things first. Still on the layer with the cutter line, hit Cntl+A (or Cmd+A on a Mac) on your keyboard to select the entire canvas. Then go  Image > Stroke and apply a stroke to the inside of your document, in whatever colour you want. You now have a thin outline all the way around your document.


Now go back to Image > Canvas Size. I want to add 3mm of bleed all the way around the document. 
Still with the 'Relative' box checked, put 6mm (3mm doubled, for each side) into both Width and Height. Make sure the Anchor is now in the centre. This will add 3mm all the way round the outside of the document, leaving my bleed line showing where the edge of the printed page will be.

And there you have it! A document, all set up with bleed, and guidelines that I can toggle on and off at will as they are on a separate layer. When I've finished the illustration I can hide this layer, or delete it, and when the file is dropped into an inDesign file with bleed applied, it will fit perfectly (so long as the client has given me the correct specs for page size and bleed ^.~)

If you like, you can create another new layer and drag a bounding box from one corner of the bleed to the other (selecting the whole 'print' area), invert that selection (cmd+shift+i) and fill it with a colour of your choice. You can toggle this fill on and off to check your composition without being distracted by the bleed. 


Always check with the client about the specs for bleed. Their printer might want something specific, or there might be a reason to need extra bleed (for example, when creating a wrap-around illustration to be glued onto a hardcover book, you need a lot of bleed.)

But what if you're doing your illustrations traditionally? Well, I'm afraid you're going to have to use a bit of maths and rule everything up like this for your drafts. I'm a bit lazy, I rule everything up properly for the first page, and then use the lightbox to transfer that to every succeeding page. So much easier! I still have the lines for bleed and page edge though: I rule them up in the draft, along with the gutter line, so that I don't forget where they are. 

However, I do most of my draft work on the computer these days, regardless of how the finished artwork is going to be created. If I'm going to paint them traditionally, I just print out my drafts with the guidelines intact, so I can see them if I switch on the lightbox (of course, they don't get transferred to final art!)

There! I hope that was helpful! Are there any other topics you'd like to see me cover?

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...