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.
I actually dealt pretty comprehensively with type in transit maps in a series early last year:
If I had to pick some favourites, I’d probably have to go with DIN, Frutiger, Myriad Pro (if only for the variety of widths it comes in), FF Meta (in its lighter weights) and Source Sans Pro, an open-source, free-to-use typeface from Adobe. Helvetica, although much-used, actually has some legibility issues at smaller sizes that make it somewhat unsuited for this use.
In general, the best typefaces for transit maps and wayfinding are clear and legible, with good differentiation between similar characters. A good test is to see if “1”, “l” and “I” look different to each other (that’s a numeral “one”, a lower-case “L” and a capital “i”, if you can’t tell them apart).
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!
Tokyo Metro: Trains of the Passnet Companies Collectible Farecard
Not a transit map, but too darn cute to not share with you.
From the same series of collectible Passnet cards as this nifty Tokyo Metro map, this card shows an adorably stylised train for each of the (22!) rail companies that participated in the Passnet program.
(Source: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr)
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.
Fantasy Map: “Burgertown” by Anthony Scerri
A fun little project that turns the humble hamburger into the transit system of a thriving metropolis: Burgertown! As Anthony says on Twitter, this project “combines my love of hamburgers and NY’s MTA Subway map” — in a delicious way!
Three of the four lines list the types of ingredients that can be used: the “Leafy Green Line” has stops at “Arugula”, “Oak Leaf” and “Iceberg”, for example. However, the “Bread Line” confuses things a bit by listing types of bread — “Rye”, “Country White”, “Brioche”, etc. — and ingredients that go into making bread. This means there are stops at stations like the less than appealing “Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate” and “Calcium Propionate” (which is oddly repeated twice). For consistency with the naming of the other lines, it might have been better to leave all the nasty-sounding stuff out.
Technically, things are put together well: I like the way the Cheese Line “melts” over the side of the Meat Line: yum! Perhaps the curves in the Meat Line could nest within each other a bit better: it looks like the same radius is used throughout at the moment. Hamburger purists might also like to see the addition of a “Fixin’s Line” — that might include ketchup, tomatoes, onions, pickles and so on.
Still, a lot of fun to be had here!
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.
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!
Infographic: Circle Loop Lines of the World by Matthew Lew
Very aesthetically appealing infographic that compares 18 circle railway lines from around the world. The top part of the graphic displays the lines in a schematic fashion, representing each by its average diameter. The stations that comprise each line are then simply spaced evenly around the circumference to create a very striking pattern. Stations that interchange with other lines are represented by placing a small white dot in the centre of a station’s marker.
Below, information about each line — the number of stations, number of interchanges with other lines, the line’s length and radius, etc. — is displayed, along with a list of all the stations that make up each line. The colour-coding of the lines is designed to create a pleasing visual effect —working its way in order through the colour spectrum — rather than using each line’s “traditional” colour from their respective maps. While this is an understandable design choice, it’s still a little weird to see London’s Circle Line represented by a lovely shade of lime green.
For those who can’t quite make it out, the Circle lines represented (in ascending order of diameter) are:
Overall, this graphic looks great and provides an interesting, easily digestible, comparison between all these loop railroads. It would be interesting to see a version that plotted the actual routes and stations accurately against each other, rather than this heavily stylised view.
(Source: Matthew Lew’s Behance portfolio)