Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 4: Intersecting Route Lines
Here’s the last of my tutorials regarding station label placement – what to do when route lines intersect each other. There are three standard ways that orthogonal route lines can cross each other, each illustrated above.
Horizontal and Vertical Lines: The simplest intersection to deal with. Simply keep the same distance from the side and top/bottom of your label for consistent results.
Vertical Line Intersecting an Angled Line (or a Horizontal Line/Angled Line): This one’s a little trickier and a lot of it comes down to personal design preference. In the example shown, keep labels the standard distance away from the vertical route line, but move the labels down or up to nestle them into the 135-degree angle created by the intersecting lines better. I’ve used the intersection point of the two lines to create a guide to align the distance guide to, and it works well. Experiment and see what works for you. If we were dealing with a horizontal line intersecting an angled line, we’d keep the standard distance to the top/bottom and move the labels left/right to get the right visual spacing.
Two Angled Lines Intersecting: This is probably my least favoured label type, because it simply has to break the spacing conventions that I normally use. Because you need adequate space between the top and bottom of the Core Type Area and the angled route lines, you have to move the type at least twice as far away from the route lines as you normally would. It still looks visually correct most of the time, but be wary of overusing this type of label.
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 3: Angled Labels
While it’s true that I don’t really like the use of station labels that are angled — being very much in the Erik Spiekermann camp that believes horizontal labels aid comprehension and create a cleaner looking map — I do realise that there are times when their use is necessary.
If you do use angled labels, then I strongly advise that you keep the number of angles used to the absolute minimum required — type that reads from many different directions is always going to cause headaches. This is one thing that the Sydney rail network map (both the new version and the previous one) has done well: it only uses labels angled in one direction, reading from the bottom left to the top right.
Once you’ve decided that you absolutely have to use angled labels, the rules for their placement are exactly the same as in the previous two tutorials, except that you rotate everything 45 degrees around, using the placement rules that used to apply to one type of route line to the other.
The first image shows what it looks like if you take labels that were used for a route line angled at 45 degrees from top left to lower right and rotate the lot another 45 degrees counter-clockwise. Use the corners of the Core Type Area to determine positioning. It’s pretty easy to see how this would also work if your labels were angled the other direction. The same technique would also apply to a vertical route line, but exercise common sense here — there’s even less reason to angle a label on a vertical route line!
The second image shows a vertical route line that’s been rotated 45 degrees clockwise to show how angled labels for a 45-degree route line should look. Use the edges of the Core Type Area in these cases.
One more post in this series to come: labels where route lines intersect!
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 2: 45-Degree Angled Route Lines
Following on from last week’s tutorial, here’s how to use the Core Type Area to make your station labels align perfectly and consistently when you’re applying them to 45-degree angled route lines.
If you use the edges of the Core Type Area when you’re aligning labels to horizontal and vertical route lines, then it should make perfect sense that you use the corners of it when you’re labelling angled stations. The first GIF shows the defining setup — using the bottom right corner for labels above and to the left of the route line and the top left corner for labels below and to the right of the route line. I’ve shown this setup first because it always looks right: there’s always a capital letter in the former, and the bottom right edge of a lower-case letter in the latter.
The second image shows what happens when you apply the same rules to the opposite angle. That is, using the top right corner for names to the left and below the route line, and the bottom left corner for names above and to the right. When the route line is angled like this, it can be harder to see that you’ve got the placement right, because the letterforms are more varied.
In the first instance, the last letter of a word could be an “n” (as we have here) or a “d”. We need to allow space for the “d” to fit comfortably, hence the use of the Core Type Area, which shows us exactly that. Whatever you do, don’t nudge labels without a final ascender up until that letter aligns with the station marker: this is what leads to uneven and inconsistent baselines as seen on the recent Sydney Trains map redesign.
Labels to the right and above aren’t quite as bad, but there’s still some variance: the first letter could be a “T”, “B”, or “W”, all of which have a different visual relationship to that bottom left corner. Remember to use the Core Type Area — the box that defines the maximum size the label could take up — and not the letterforms themselves to align text to markers and you should always be okay.
The last image shows a mistake I see quite often when designers try to align their labels to 45-degree lines by simply moving the label sideways from the marker, instead of across and up/down an even amount. I personally prefer not to do this, as I think it creates uneven spacing, but it can look effective and interesting when done right.
However, be aware that labels that sit on the lower side of the route line need to hang from the top of the Core Type Area (by their cap height) or they’ll end up being too close to the route line, as shown in the image. Type that sits on the higher side of the route line can sit on its baseline.
Here’s a fantastic follow-up post from Owen Lett (the man who brought you this neat fantasy transit map of Victoria, BC) in response to yesterday’s tutorial about point type in Illustrator.
There’s a lot to like about this approach, especially the integrated type point and station marker (two overlaid points define both elements and both can be placed simultaneously) and the use of paragraph styles (an often-overlooked feature in Adobe Illustrator) gives the ability to quickly change things if required later on. The downside is the need to adjust margins via the tedious Character palette, although is that actually any worse than manually nudging with arrow keys?
This post is in response to Cameron Booth’s Point Type Label tutorial on his rather excellent Transit Maps blog. I’m writing this here because it feels a bit more efficient than bombarding him with a few dozen tweets.
I too use point type for labels on transit maps. But I also like to integrate paragraph and character styles wherever possible. I do this because, in theory, it makes it easier if I decide much later that I need to make a broad sweeping change (like choosing a new typeface or updating the character colour).
What I’ve also found is that by adjusting indents and baseline shifts, I can place the text point right in the middle of a station dot or at the intersection of two gridlines (see the second and third pictures for example; I’ve also shown how it can work for different station markers). If you’re using Smart Guides, everything should snap nicely into place.
Here’s a sample set up, which you can see in the first picture:
- A character style for the basics, such as font family, size, leading, tracking, colour. I made a second style for a terminus station which is the same as the base, but with bold weight.
- A number of paragraph styles for a variety of station type alignments. Here I’ve got a map with lines at 45 degree angles, so I’ve eight styles and named them after compass directions.
- I made one bonus style to show how you can set one up for text that’s been rotated (and yet the text point remains in the middle of the station marker).
Now the whole point of Mr. Booth’s post was to show that Illustrator doesn’t actually align text precisely; some manual adjustment is necessary to get everything looking optically correct. He moved each label manually. My method doesn’t solve the problem of requiring some adjustment. But now instead of moving each label, you leave the label in place and adjust the left or right paragraph indent (see last picture).
There are some downsides to this technique The primary problem I run into is with multiple line station labels. If the label has a positive baseline shift, then you’re going to need to update the baseline manually or create a new paragraph style. And then you might start to end up with an unwieldy amount of styles.
Another downside here is that manual adjustments override the paragraph style. So if you update the style at a later date, it may not affect something you’ve adjusted manually (it depends on what you’re updating).
Lastly, there is the issue of Illustrator itself. Its paragraph and character styles palette just isn’t that great, especially compared to InDesign. I don’t blame it; Illustrator is meant for… illustration. But having spent years building books in InDesign, you really notice what’s missing in Illustrator’s style options. InDesign has so much more; you can create keyboard shortcuts for specific styles, you can have styles based on other styles, you can reorder the styles. Illustrator does well, but I often find myself frustrated with it.
Is this an ideal solution? Not entirely. it is very mathematical, so to get everything looking perfect you’re still going to need to do a lot of eyeball adjustments. However, I find it’s a good way to get everything set up initially and keep things consistent throughout a project.
Tutorial: Working with Point Type Labels in Adobe Illustrator
Here’s a small but important tip when it comes to working with station labels in Adobe Illustrator. Most of the time, it’s easier to use what Illustrator calls point type when setting labels — that is, you click once with the Type Tool and then type your text, rather than dragging out a text frame with the tool. It looks neater in wireframe view and is generally less cumbersome to work with.
However, you need to be aware that the text you type almost never aligns with the point that you’ve created. Because of the letter spacing that’s baked into each character, there’s a small — but noticeable — gap between the point and the adjacent character (the last letter if the type is right-aligned; the first if it’s left-aligned).
Take the example above. I’ve drawn up a quick “Red Line” with station ticks to the left and right. I’ve then drawn cyan guidelines at the distance away from those station markers that I want the text to be. The fanciful station names simply illustrate a variety of starting or ending letterforms — straight, rounded, and so on.
As you can see on the example on the left, although the text point is perfectly aligned to the guides, the letters actually never quite touch them. Worse, the gap is a little bit different in each case. It may not look like much, but consistency is the key in well-designed transit maps. In my opinion, the little details like this are worth fussing over to create the very best work.
The sample to the right shows the difference when you individually nudge the labels across so that the text touches the guideline: much better! Note that the rounded letterforms overlap the guidelines slightly, while straight-edged letters like “d” at the end of a word or “B” at the beginning align perfectly. Much as rounded lowercase letters like “o”, “e” and “s” actually sit a little below the baseline, so too do these characters need to sit a little across the guidelines here to look optically correct. It’s the same for the initial “J” and “T” in the left-aligned names: the empty space around the characters needs to be compensated for slightly to look right.
Stay tuned for more tips regarding labels, as I think their implementation is one of the most neglected parts of transit map design.
Tutorial: Applying a Stroke BEHIND Type in Adobe Illustrator
Let me preface this tutorial by saying that — without a shadow of a doubt — this is my number one most favourite, time-saving, map-making Adobe Illustrator trick ever.
When making transit maps, it’s preferable — for both aesthetics and readability — to not have any labels overlay a route line or other elements. However, sometimes it’s simply unavoidable, as in the detail of my Boston MBTA map redesign at the top of the image above (circled in blue). When you absolutely have to overlay type over another element, it’s a good idea to separate it from that element with a stroke (or “keyline”) around the type that’s the same colour as your map’s background (often white with transit maps).
"Well, that’s easy," I hear you say, "I’ll just duplicate the text, put the copy behind the original and apply a stroke to that duplicate!"
That’s well and good for isolated examples, but what if you’ve got lots of text that you need to do this to? Or what if you make a typo in the label? Using this method, you’d have to correct it twice - once for each duplicate of the label.
There’s a better way to do it: you just need to know one little trick.
STEP ONE above shows a typical text label and Illustrator’s Appearance palette (Window menu > Appearance or Shift-F6). Note that the text is made up of a black fill with no stroke: the standard appearance for text.
In STEP TWO, I’ve applied a 2-point magenta stroke to the text (You’d probably want to use the same stroke colour as the background of your map; I’ve just used magenta to make the effect easier to see). The stroke sits on top of the fill in the stacking order, and — try as you might — can’t be demoted to sit underneath the fill, where we want it to be: note how the visibility icons for each are greyed out, meaning they can’t be moved. Strangely, the stacking order of text fills and strokes cannot be changed in Illustrator.
(If you’ve ever tried to add a stroke to a text object in Illustrator before, this is where you’ve probably given up in disgust.)
So, here’s the good bit.
In STEP THREE, I’ve drawn a rectangle and given it the fill and stroke that we want the text to eventually have: a black fill and a 2-point magenta stroke. I also like to give my stroke corners a round join — it softens the stroke a little and generally looks better than a mitre join.
Unlike type objects, the stacking order for normal objects or paths is editable, so — while the rectangle is selected — drag the stroke below the path in the Appearance palette. The stroke will now sit behind the fill on the actual rectangle.
STEP FOUR: Open the Graphic Styles palette (Window menu > Graphic Styles or Shift-F5) and drag the rectangle into the palette. You’ve just made a graphic style out of the attributes of the rectangle (stacking order included), which you can now apply to other objects with just a couple of clicks. If you like, give it a descriptive name: I’ve called mine “Keylined Type”.
STEP FIVE: Delete the rectangle: it’s done its work. Select the label text, then click on your newly created “Keylined Text” graphic style. The label now has a stroke that sits behind the fill, just where we want it, as STEP SIX shows in the Appearance palette. Even better, the fill and stroke are now fully adjustable and editable — change the colour, stroke width, or even move the stroke back above the fill!
For new labels that need to look the same, you can either duplicate the one you’ve just made, or simply type the label and then apply the graphic style as needed. No more typing text labels twice, just because you need a keyline around it!
There’s always more than one way to do things in Adobe Illustrator. As I’ve had pointed out to me, you can skip the step that requires you to draw and style another object by adding a new stroke to the text in a particular way. If you select your text with the arrow tool, and then use the “Add New Stroke” button at the bottom of the Appearance palette (or the same command via the palette’s flyout menu), that stroke becomes fully editable and stackable. You can then make a new graphic style directly from your text. Why does it work when you add a stroke to text via the palette and not when you add it by simply clicking on a colour to use as a stroke? No good reason I can see!
P.S. If you like this tip, or any others that I’ve posted under the "tutorial" tag, please feel free to reblog or tweet about it — let’s share the knowledge!
Tutorial: Multiple Strokes on One Path
This little tip is thanks to RG, who left a comment on the site asking:
“Can you comment on how you make the 2pt of white space between lines show when you have lines cross over each other?”
On most transit maps, route lines will cross over each other at various points. Most of the time, an interchange station exists at that point and the symbol for that covers up the lines as they cross. However, sometimes the route lines will cross without any interaction between them — maybe there’s a bridge, or the lines are in separate tunnels — and it’s a good idea to visually separate them to make that as clear as possible.
STEP 1 above shows the set up: the Red and Blue lines cross over the Yellow and Green lines. As in the last tutorial, these are 8-point-thick lines set on a 10-point grid: I’ll use this a lot, just because it makes the maths easier to follow.
As you can see, the resulting 2pt gap between the Red and Blue lines allows the Yellow and Green lines to butt right up to them and show through the gap — neither of which is desirable. The quick and dirty approach to this problem might be to copy the Red and Blue lines, Paste in Back (Cmd/Ctrl-B), change the stroke colour to white and make these new strokes thicker. This does work, but it’s not the best approach in my eyes. It makes moving or editing those paths further down the track a two-step process (move the coloured route lines, then move the white lines that were underneath them), or a very fiddly single step: selecting objects behind other ones can be a real pain.
So I like to take advantage of a little-used feature of Adobe Illustrator — the fact that one path can have multiple strokes applied to it.
In STEP ONE, I’ve selected the Blue Line and made the Appearance palette visible (Window menu > Appearance or Shift-F6). To add a second stroke to the existing Blue one, simply click and drag that stroke down to the “Duplicate Selected Item” icon at he bottom of the palette as indicated. You can also just click on the stroke, then click on the icon, but I find it more satisfying to drag for some reason. If you really want, you can use the little flyout menu at the top right of the palette and choose “Add New Stroke” or “Duplicate Item” while you have the stroke selected in the main palette.
Bingo! The path now has two strokes, both of which are identical. Fortunately, the palette gives you everything you need to change the new stroke, as shown in STEP TWO. Use the little colour selector to change the second stroke in the palette (which is the stroke that’s behind the other one: the palette displays the stacking order of the path’s elements) to white, then change its stroke width.
The maximum amount you can increase the stroke by is twice the gap between your route lines — in this case, that’s four points (twice two), for a maximum width of 12 points. Any more than this, and the white stroke would start overlapping the Red line next to it. Normally, this amount is exactly what we’re after, so it’s not really a concern.
STEP THREE simply shows the result of performing the same steps on the Red line. Done! The advantage of this technique is that both strokes — being on the same path — can be moved or edited at the same time: there’s no need to fiddle around with two separate paths, one on top of the other.
And if you’re really smart, you’ll make Graphic Styles of these double-stroked lines, so that you can apply them again in the future with just one click.
Saturday’s post about working with 45-degree curves in Illustrator seems to have been very well received! I’ve got some ideas for a couple more up my sleeve, but is this something you’d like to see more of on the site? If so, are there any specific tips or techniques that you’d like to be covered? If this proves to be a welcome addition, I might consider doing this regularly: a “Tutorial Tuesday” or something like that.
Let me know: you can post answer to this post, comment using Disqus, or just use the Ask page.
Tutorial: Working with 45-Degree Curves in Adobe Illustrator
I got an request from an anon last week which asked:
"Hey! Could you do a video tutorial on how to bypass Illustrator’s annoying round corners effect in case of 45 degrees? It would be a lifesaver!"
Now, while you’re not going to get a video tut out of me — I don’t have the resources, time or know-how to produce one of those — I can and will share my battle-tested personal approach to this problem.
As our anonymous friend says, the “Round Corners” effect in Adobe Illustrator is essentially broken when it comes to making transit maps. Because of the way it measures the “radius” of curves, it produces unexpected (and useless) results on curves that aren’t a bog-standard 90 degrees. I wrote in depth about this problem on my design blog a while back: I suggest you head over and read the article if you want to fully understand the issue at hand here.
The other problem with the effect is that it applies the same radius to every curve along the entire length of the path, which isn’t always what you want: a route line might be the outside line (a larger radius) at one corner, but the inside curve at another (a smaller radius).
So I’ve long since given up trying to fight the inadequacies of the “Round Corners” filter, and instead generate all my curves manually from a “master set” of curves that I create at the beginning of a project.
STEP 1 above shows a pretty standard initial set-up: four concentric circles that are aligned to the grid that’s being used by the map. Here, we’ve got a 10-point grid, and the four circles have radiuses of 10, 20, 30 and 40 points. The line thickness is 8pt, so there’s a nice 2pt gap between each route line. When you’re setting up your master curves, be sure to create enough circles to account for the maximum number of adjacent route lines you’ll have on your map. Often, it’s only two or three, but for my map of TGV Routes in France, I had to set up a staggering eighteen!
STEP 2: From here, it’s a simple matter to use Illustrator’s Scissor tool (shortcut: “C” key) on the existing anchor points in each circle to split them up into four 90-degree segments. I’ve moved one set of 90-degree curves away from the others so you can see what you should have. Keep this set for when you need 90-degree curves, then duplicate it so we can use what we’ve already created to create a new 45-degree set.
STEP 3: Draw a line using the Line Segment Tool (shortcut: “" key) that passes through the centre point of all the circles and crosses all the paths at a 45-degree angle. (Hint: start at the centre point and hold down the Option/Alt key — to extend the line equally in each direction from that point — and the Shift key — to constrain the line to 45-degree angles).
Use the Rotate tool to make a duplicate of this line that’s rotated 90 degrees. Select both lines and press Cmd/Ctrl-5 to turn them into guides. Make your guides visible (Cmd/Ctrl-;) and turn on Illustrator’s Smart Guides (Cmd/Ctrl-U). Then use the Scissor tool to cut each of your route lines where it crosses these new guide lines. The Smart Guides will help a lot by giving you feedback when you’re positioned correctly over the guides: a little “intersect” tool-tip (just visible in the STEP 3 screenshot at top right) will appear near the cursor. Click to cut when you see this and you’ll be golden. Repeat for each line you need to cut. You don’t need to have any paths selected to cut, just position your cursor, click and Illustrator is clever enough to work out what you need. You only need to cut these 45-degree points because we already cut the 90-degree points in STEP 2.
STEP 4 show the result. Again, I’ve moved one set of curves away from the others to show you what you should have: eight complete sets of 45-degree curves, ready for use on your map!
STEP 5 shows a common scenario where three separate routes go around a 45-degree curve together. Draw them so the separate segments for each line touch, but there’s absolutely no need to join the lines at this stage.
A note: If Illustrator took a leaf out of CAD software and included a “Fillet” effect, we could forego this entire workaround. You’d simply select each segment of a route line, invoke the filter, set a curve radius (an actual, proper radius!), and the software would then create the curve accurately and join the lines seamlessly for you, each and every time. After 14 versions of Illustrator, I’m really not holding out hope for this functionality any time soon, however…
Another note: decide which of your curve radiuses represents a “standard” curve and always use that curve when a single route goes around a corner. Then, decide what happens when you have two curves: do you use the next size up or down for that curve? And so on for each combination of curves. Always apply your curves according to the rules you set here — this is what gives your map consistency and visual flow. Don’t cheat and use a smaller or non-standard curve to make things fit!
Here, I’ve decided to use the three largest curves for my three route lines (I often feel that the smallest radius can be a bit tight and look ungainly, so I only use it when I really have to), and I’ve pasted in the appropriate curves from my master set (I’ve changed their colour to magenta to make them easier to see and place correctly).
STEP 6: It’s always easier to align the curves to the horizontal or vertical line segment first. Again, this is easier if you have Illustrator’s Smart Guides on. Drag the curves over by one of the left points, holding down the Cmd/Ctrl key as you do. This ensures that Illustrator provides you with the correct visual feedback that things have aligned properly. Be warned: sometimes, Illustrator reports that things are aligned when they’re not. Be sure to zoom in enough and check things out if you suspect things aren’t quite right.
STEP 7: Now align the right points of the curves with the 45-degree segment, by holding down the Cmd/Ctrl key and the Shift key (to constrain the movement) as you drag across. Again, Smart Guides will give you feedback when things are aligned.
STEP 8: Now that the curves are in the right place, you simply have to align the end points of all the line segments with the end points of the curves, then join everything together. Fortunately, Illustrator’s Join command s a lot less finicky than it used to be. You can now just use the “black arrow” Selection tool to select each segment and hit Cmd/Ctrl-J to join them all together in a logical progression. You used to have to select individual end points, two at a time, and tell Illustrator to join just those segments!
An approach I like to use is to leave all this curve work until the routes are substantially laid out. Then I place all my curves, delete the original straight line segments, and simply join all the remaining curves together. Because they’re positioned accurately, you know you’re going to get nice straight lines between each and every one of them! And it saves having to tediously move end points around until things line up before you join things together.
That’s it! If anything’s unclear, drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll try to clear things up for you.
STEP 9 shows the finished result: beautifully nested 45-degree curves with no unnecessary additional points. Perfectly executed and reproducible across the entire map!
Map design involves a great deal of technique and precision. Though nowadays programs largely automate this century-old craft, keeping a well-organized workspace will increase your efficiency. Jump past the break to see the three tricks you can use to streamline your workflow.
A great set of transit map-related Adobe Illustrator tips. I’m absolutely kicking myself that I didn’t know that graphic styles can be applied globally to a layer — a huge time-saver!
See also my own tips for designing transit maps.