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.
Work in Progress: Simplified Map of All Interstates and U.S. Highways
Map. Almost. Finished.
Seriously. Just a few problem cities to sort out and a couple hundred more labels to add (there’s over 3,000 named places on this map so far!) and the first draft is done. I’ve been working on this for about a year-and-a-half now, but it’s so worth it: this map is the most beautiful piece I’ve ever created.
Tutorial: Creating Multiple Parallel Route Lines using Art Brushes
Last week’s tip about using the Offset Path command in Illustrator to create multiple parallel paths was very well received, but reader Leah left a comment saying that she finds using Art Brushes quicker and easier. If nothing else, it’s good to be reminded that there are always different ways to achieve the same result!
Setting up an Art Brush for what we want to do is actually pretty simple. Simply create a short section of the setup you’d like to use as a brush — in the first picture, I’ve got three parallel 8-point lines, spaced 10 points apart (exactly the same as last week’s example).
With these three paths selected, simply choose “New Brush” from the Brush palette’s flyout menu, or click on the “New Brush” icon at the bottom of the palette. When Illustrator asks you what type of brush you’d like to create, choose “Art Brush”.
In the resulting dialog box, give your new brush a descriptive name, and make sure the Brush Scale Option is set to “Stretch to Fit Stroke Length”. Finally make sure that the arrow that’s overlaid on your artwork in the little preview window runs along the length of your lines. Click “OK” and your Art Brush is ready to go!
Applying it to your path couldn’t be easier, as shown in the second image. Simply select your path, click on your newly-created brush in the Brushes palette and — hey presto! Note, however, that this is still one path that is styled with the Art Brush to look like multiple paths. To make three separate editable paths (which you’ll almost certainly have to do, as the routes will eventually go in different directions), you’ll need to select the path and choose Object menu > Expand Appearance. And this is where my (minor) problem with this technique lies.
As the last image shows, the original path had just three anchor points: one at each end, and one in the middle. When I offset this path in last week’s tutorial, the new paths also had just three anchor points — nice, clean, easily editable artwork. When we expand the Art Brush-styled path, it creates a lot of extra anchor points — over 20 on each path in my example! This is not my idea of clean artwork, even though it looks much the same as the offset paths.
In the end, the two techniques produce very similar results — offsetting paths takes a little longer, but (in my opinion) makes cleaner finished art. The Art Brush technique is easier to set up and allows you to have an arsenal of brushes at hand for different numbers of parallel route lines, but it makes a bit of a mess behind the scenes. Both are valid approaches to the problem: it’s up to you to decide which suits your needs best!
Tutorial: Creating Multiple Parallel Route Lines
Today’s tutorial comes from an anonymous question that I received in my Tumblr Inbox, which asked:
I design a bus transit map using a street layer. But how can i align correctly multiple lines on a street without overlap?
This is a great question. You’d be amazed how often I see people attempting to draw multiple parallel route lines manually, which is absolutely the most difficult way of doing things. You might be able to get away with it on a rectilinear transit map, but it’s almost impossible to get right when your route lines are overlaid on a standard road map — there are always curves and twists in the road that make it nigh-on impossible to manually draw adjacent route lines without things looking terrible.
For an example of a very poor attempt at drawing parallel route lines individually, you need look no further than the light rail map for Denver, Colorado (April 2013, 2 stars).
The most frustrating thing about seeing it done the wrong way is that there’s a tool in Adobe Illustrator that makes this task almost effortless.
Object Menu > Path > Offset Path…
The images above demonstrate how to offset route lines correctly — the first image shows how it’s done with an odd number of route lines; the second illustrates how to do it for an even number of route lines.
If you’ve drawn the street layer on your map yourself, then you’ve probably already got the first thing you need — a path that follows the centre of your street. Copy it and then Paste in Front (Cmd/Ctrl-F) so it sits exactly on top of the original. Then move it to its own layer above the street layer and stroke it the way you want your route lines to look. In my example, we’ve got an 8-point wide red route line.
If you’re drawing your route lines on top of an aerial photo or Google Maps image, then you’re going to have to draw your own central route line. Be as accurate as possible while also using as few bezier points as you can. Again, put it on its own layer and make it look the way you want. Now the fun starts.
IF YOU NEED THREE ADJACENT ROUTE LINES (First image), then you’re going to use the central route line you already have, and use the Offset Path function to create a new route line on both sides at once. Select the path, then invoke the Offset Path command. In the resultant dialog box, enter the amount of offset you want, which is the desired distance between the paths. Here, I want a little gap to show between my 8-point route lines, so I entered 10 points. The middle part of the first image shows the results: Illustrator will offset your path to both sides of the line, so it’s basically done all the hard work for us. Now you just need to use the Scissor tool (C) to cut and then delete the pesky little joining lines that are created at the top and bottom (circled in blue in the image). From there, simply colour the route lines as required. If you need five, or seven, or more route lines, simply keep offsetting the outermost route lines by 10 points and then cutting the resulting new lines to only keep the outermost section each time.
IF YOU NEED TWO ADJACENT ROUTE LINES (Second Image), the process is almost the same, except that when you select and offset the original path, you only use half the required distance between route lines (in my example, 5 points). Then you can delete the original route line, keeping only the new offset paths, which now sit neatly on either side of the centre of the road. To create four, or six, or more route lines, continue to offset the outermost paths by 10 points as in the first example.
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!