Isaac Fischer writes:
Hi Cameron! I just wanted to thank you for your review of my map for the New Mexico Park and Ride system (July 2014, 3 stars). I thought I should let you know that I have contacted Park and Ride and they are considering adopting my map in place of their regular one. (I made the edits you suggested and also produced a miniature version that will more easily fit into their timetable.) I’ll let you know if they end up adopting the map.
One other thing that might interest you: I make all my maps in OmniGraffle, which is available for both Mac and iPad (but not for Windows or Linux machines). I wasn’t sure if you were aware of OmniGraffle’s potential for designing transit maps, but it is remarkably effective (I designed the Park and Ride map in about two hours). I never understood Illustrator or Inkscape; OmniGraffle is much more user-friendly. If you’re interested, I’d suggest checking it out.
Transit Maps says:
That’s very interesting news, Isaac! Hopefully they can see the value in a good system map and not only adopt it, but also pay you an amount that reflects that value for your work.
I’m aware of OmniGraffle, but I would have a couple of qualms about using it for professional map-making work.
Firstly, it’s not industry-standard software, which limits the ability to share work with other designers who don’t have the application, and it also prevents you from learning the Adobe Illustrator techniques and skills that would be required in a real-world job.
Secondly, I’m not sure of its ability to create proper four-colour process (CMYK) or spot-colour output files, which would be an absolute deal-breaker in a print production environment. Later conversion from RGB to CMYK could cause unwanted and unexpected colour shifts, especially with blacks and RGB colours that are brighter than can be printed in the limited CMYK gamut (greens and blues are especially susceptible to this). To be fair, I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether or not OmniGraffle can export a CMYK output file, so it may be capable of this.
In short, if you’d like to experiment with transit mapping for fun or as a hobby, then OmniGraffle looks like a cheap, easy to use solution. Isaac has certainly proved that quality work can be created in it. However, if you’re looking for a career in mapping, then there’s no way around it: learn Adobe Illustrator and learn it well.
Thanks also to “Bklynfatpants”, who left a comment on the site noting that it wasn’t necessarily fair to compare Isaac’s complete map with the tiny schematic that Park and Ride uses in their schedule. Park and Ride does have a complete system map, viewable here (PDF). It’s a geographical map, exported directly from GIS software. It’s still pretty bad, although admittedly much better than the itty-bitty schematic.
Tutorial: Working with a Grid in Adobe Illustrator
Got a message in my inbox from ssjmaz, who says:
I’m new to working with Illustrator. While working with 45 degree angles and Snap to Grid on I have a hard time getting my lines (routes) to align properly, there is always a part of them that intersects with the neighbouring line.
Back when I first started making transit maps, I had this exact same problem. I’d make my grid, turn on Snap to Grid to lock all my route lines to it and start drawing my map. And then I’d realise that while lines drawn horizontally and vertically always worked perfectly, lines at 45 degrees had problems. The first one was always fine, but any subsequent parallel lines simply couldn’t conform to the grid because: mathematics.
If you’ve got a 10 point grid, then each side of a grid square is 10 points long. However, this means that the diagonal distance across the grid square has to be longer – Pythagoras’ Theorem and all that. In the case of a 10-point grid, the diagonal is 14.14 points long. Because of this, locking a second diagonal route line to the grid is just never going to work: it’s either going to be too close and overlap the first one, or too far away, leaving a gap between the two route lines. See the top image above.
So what to do? There are two basic options, shown in the second and third images above:
1. Use the Object > Path > Offset Path… command to offset your existing route line by the required size of your grid (10 points in this example). This works well, but does require some cutting of the resultant path to get the final required segment. I go into more detail about offsetting paths in this post.
2. My preferred method: draw your second diagonal path exactly over the top of the first one and then offset it using the incredibly useful Move dialog box. This is accessed by simply pressing the Return or Enter key while you have an object selected. Input the required distance (equal to your grid: 10 points here) and angle in the relevant boxes. Ignore the first two boxes: they’ll update dynamically as you enter values below, then click ‘OK’ to accept the move. Again, there’s some clean up required as you have to join your new diagonal path with its corresponding horizontal/vertical one. For reference, the angles that are most useful for transit map design are:
+45 degrees: moves up to the right
-45 degrees: moves down to the right
+135 degrees: moves up to the left
-135 degrees: moves down to the left
Note that the two points where the route lines change direction are at an angle of 22.5° from the vertical: exactly halfway between the only two options available if you lock all your paths to the grid. In short, a grid is an essential tool for laying out your diagram, but you can’t expect to be able to lock every single element to it. Knowing when you have to turn “Lock to Grid” off and place things manually is a big part of being a good map maker.
Tutorial – Limitations of Illustrator CC’s “Live Corners” Function
An anonymous follower sent me this message:
I got Illustrator CC and trying to work with new Live Corners feature for my 45 degree angles but I just can’t get the value past a certain point 8.12 (as an example) so I cant match the location of the 2 corners so the lines actually match. Keep up the great work with this tumblr it has been a real inspiration for me.
This can be a little frustrating, but once you understand how the Live Corners feature works, you can build your diagrams more effectively to avoid this happening in the future.
Basically, Live Corners needs enough length along a line segment to allow it to add new bezier points that define the curve of the radius. If it encounters any other points (even stray points in an otherwise straight path) in the line before the radius you’ve defined is reached, it will use that point to define the maximum radius instead.
Let’s look at two examples. In the first (red) example above, we simply have two line segments that have ample length to accept the Live Corners radius that we enter: in this case, 200 points. Everything works as expected.
In the second (green) example, the horizontal segment only has a length of 100 points, limiting the maximum radius that can be defined. If we select the two corner points that are highlighted and attempt to give both of them a Live Corners radius of 200 points, Illustrator does some maths behind the scenes and determines that the maximum radius it can allow is 119.5 points (there’s some sine/cos/tan trigonometry going on here that I can’t be bothered to work out). That’s because the bezier points that it creates for the curves touch at this value and simply can’t cross over each other. You could define one curve as bigger than the other, but the maximum combined radius value for both curves in this example would be 239 points (119.5 times two). So you could have one radius at 200 points, but the other would max out at 39 points.
So, if you have route lines on your map that change direction a lot in a short distance, your maximum allowable Live Corners radius will get smaller. Either define smaller radii in your diagram, or simplify it to allow larger ones to be used! It also goes without saying that all your route lines have to be joined properly.
Hope this helps!
New Map Project: Highways of the United States
At long last, I can finally unveil my (almost) completed map project that i’ve been working on since May 31, 2012. Yes, 2012!
I’ve given plenty of teasers about this project over the last two years, but I still think the final scale of it will amaze you. Not only have I created a map of the contiguous United States that shows every single last active and numbered Interstate Highway and U.S. Route (both two- and three-digit), but I’ve also broken the map down into separate state and regional maps. So far, I’ve made 33 of these maps and there’s another 11 to go to complete the set. There aren’t 48 state maps because some of them are just too small to show individually (I’m looking at you, Rhode Island!). These are included in regional maps like New England or Chesapeake (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and DC).
Posters in a variety of sizes are available in my brand new shop. Orders taken up to the end of the month of April are pre-orders; I expect to begin shipping in the first week of May.
Comments, reblogs, likes, and shares are appreciated to spread the word! Let me know what you think, or let me know if you find any glaring errors.
Graphic Fix: Change Background Color of Text Box in Illustrator
Problem: My Kentucky Ave label overlaps with objects below it, resulting in a cluttered appearance. Turns out, there is a super easy fix for something like this!
1.Create the Area Text (text box).
2. Select the Area Text with the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow).
3. In the Appearance panel select desired background fill color and adjust Transparency to your heart’s content. Your labels should now look like the Western Ave label on the picture.
4. With the text frame selected, drag and drop the new Fill onto the Graphic Styles panel to re-use it later.
Transit Maps says:
This is a great tip for people who use Area Text in Illustrator — that is, dragging out a text box for type to fit into, rather than just clicking once to use Point Type. The crux of this tip is using the Direct Selection tool to select the text frame only, otherwise Illustrator wants to apply the fill to the type contained within it. Silly old Illustrator!
If you’re like me, and you don’t like to use the Area Type tool, you can always position a new frame beneath your type and apply the required fill/transparency to that instead.
An alternative way to separate your type from an object that it overlaps would be to apply a stroke to your text, which I covered in this post back in November.
Tutorial: Using Illustrator or Photoshop to Check Your Design for Colour-Blind Accessibility
Here’s a simple little trick that works in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop CS4 and above: You can quickly check your artwork to see how it might appear for a colour-blind user by simply going to the View menu > Proof Setup, then choosing one of the two colour-blind profiles at the bottom of the list. Then select View > Proof Colors (Cmd/Ctrl-Y in Photoshop).
As you can see from the GIF above, the results can be quite startling: everything becomes varying shades of blue and an ugly, muddy yellow. It definitely shows why identification of different routes (either by naming them directly on the map, or by using a clear legend) is so important. Another thing to bear in mind is the contrast between parallel route lines: more contrast means that they are easier to trace from end to end with a minimum of confusion, regardless of the user’s vision.
I definitely recommend adding this simple test to your workflow: it may not be completely accurate for every variation of colour-blindness, but it will give you a quick overview so that your design can be better informed.
See also this post from November 2011, where I compared the colour-blindness accessibility of different transit maps.
EDIT: An earlier version of this post only mentioned proofing in Photoshop, neglecting the fact you can do the exact same thing in Illustrator. Thanks to Oran Viriyincy and Xavier Fung for reminding me about this.
Breaking News! Illustrator CC’s “Live Corners” Are AMAZING!
Yesterday, Adobe released updates to many of their Creative Cloud applications, including Illustrator (which is now at version 17.1, if you can believe it!).For me, the absolute standout feature is “Live Corners”, which is a game changer for the design and production of transit maps. Gone are the inconsistent and unpredictable results produced by the "Round Corners" effect, and my trusty but time-consuming workaround — using a set of master curves and manually cutting-and-pasting them into the artwork — would now seem to be a thing of the past.
Using Live Corners couldn’t be easier: simply use the Direct Selection (white-tipped) arrow to select the point that you want to edit. A new little circular widget should appear next to the point. If you can’t see it, go to the View menu and select “Show Corner Widgets”.
Double-click on the widget to bring up the new “Corners” dialog box, where you can choose the type of corner you’d like: curve, reverse curve or bevel. Then, enter your required value for the radius of the curve, which is finally, finally, an actual real radius measured from the centre point of the curve.
The “Rounding” options allow you to choose between relative and absolute methods of defining the corner. Absolute gives the most accurate results, while relative values seem to give an (unacceptably) exaggerated sharpness to the curve. Click “OK” and you’re done!
In my example, I’ve used an 8 point radius for both Yellow Lines, and a 16 point radius for the Red Lines. As you can see, the resulting corner curves all have identical centre points, regardless of whether the curve is at 90 or 135 degrees! I’ve also tested with a range of other angles and results are perfect every time.
Put simply, this is a huge time-saver and will ensure consistent — but still editable — results every time. I just wish this feature had turned up before I manually added curves to 90 percent of my new US Highways/Interstate map!
Tutorial: Aligning and Spacing Elements Using “Invisible” Artwork
A pretty simple trick this week, but one that I use all the time.
If you need elements to be aligned precisely to another object, and always an exact distance away from that object, simply use a rectangle with no fill and no stroke (an “invisible” object) to define the required alignment and spacing. It won’t be visible in your final artwork, but can be seen in Illustrator’s Outline view for precise adjustment as required.
In the example above (from my redesign of Portland, Oregon’s transit map), I needed to make sure that the blue parking symbol was always spaced correctly relative to the station label type. I placed one symbol where I wanted it, then drew an “invisible” rectangle from the centre of the circle across to touch the edge of the type and align with the type’s baseline. I also duplicated and flipped this rectangle across to the left, so that I could align the symbol to left-aligned text when required. Once I’d done this, I simply grouped the symbol with its two new invisible rectangles and copy-and-pasted it wherever it needed to go: accuracy guaranteed every time!
The image shows how the artwork looks in Preview view (top), and Outline view (bottom): press Cmd/Ctrl-Y to toggle between the two view modes.
Tutorial: Harnessing the Power of Illustrator’s “Symbols” Feature in Transit Map Design
Imagine this scenario: you’ve been working for months on a complex transit map — lots of interchanges and routes — for a big-city transit agency and you’re presenting it to their management team for approval. They love it, except they’d like the circular interchange markers you’ve used to be square with rounded edges instead. And they’d like to see the revised version in an hour.
If you’ve used standard Illustrator artwork for each of your interchanges, then you’ve got a frantic afternoon of finding, deleting and replacing every interchange marker on the map ahead of you. However, if you’d used Illustrator’s Symbols feature, then this request would be an absolute breeze.
Symbols were quietly introduced into Illustrator way back when Adobe acquired Macromedia, and are a feature lifted directly from Flash. Put simply, the feature allows you to define Illustrator artwork as a “symbol”: every duplicate of that symbol is linked to that original artwork. Which means that when you edit the symbol’s artwork, it instantly updates all the duplicates (or “instances”, as Adobe likes to call them). Super powerful and not used nearly enough by most.
STEP ONE: Defining a symbol couldn’t be easier, as seem in the first image above. With the Symbols palette open (Window menu > Symbols or Shift-Cmd/Ctrl-F11), simply select your artwork and choose “New Symbol…” or click on the “New Symbol” icon at the bottom of the palette. In the resulting dialog box, give your symbol a descriptive name, and choose a registration point. For an interchange symbol, the centre point is best. If you’re creating a symbol for a “tick” mark, then use a registration point that matches where you’d like the tick to attach to its route line.
Click “OK” and you’re done!
STEP TWO: Picture 2 shows the Symbols palette with three different station marker symbols set up and ready to use. If you are using “ticks” or other markers that are colour-coded to the route lines, you’ll have to make symbols for each colour and variation needed. To make more instances of a symbol, you can drag one out of the Symbols palette onto your artboard, or you can simply duplicate one that already exists. Symbols are readily distinguishable from normal artwork: they have a little bounding box and a little “+” marker that corresponds to the registration point you defined in Step 1. For a symbol where the registration point doesn’t actually align with anything useful, like the double interchange marker, you can still see and use the centre points from the original artwork to align things properly.
STEP THREE: The third picture shows the solution to our problem and the real benefit of using Symbols. I’ve created new artwork for the interchange marker — a square with rounded edges, just as the client requested. With that artwork selected, click on the “Interchange” symbol in the Symbols palette and choose “Redefine Symbol” from the flyout menu. Instantly, every instance of that symbol takes on the new appearance! You can also double-click on any instance of a symbol to edit it, but I find this “Redefine” method easier when completely changing the look of a symbol.