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.
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: 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: 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.
Technical Review: New Sydney Trains Network Map
It seems that the draft Sydney Trains map that I posted about the other day is the real thing: printed timetables featuring it have been seen and scanned. So, I started looking at it again in order to write a proper review, when I started to notice a lot of little technical things that — as a designer — I found jarring and inconsistent.
I opened the PDF file in Adobe Illustrator and began to poke around. I thought it might be interesting — and perhaps instructive for designers who are interested in making their own transit maps — to show you what I found.
First, apologies for the four separate images: it’s an attempt to get around Tumblr’s maximum 1280px width for pictures. For reference, lets call then NW, NE, SW and SE.
My biggest problem with the map, and what I noticed first, is the wildly inconsistent positioning of labels. The one that really caught my eye was Lindfield on the North Shore Line on the NE map: it’s waaay out of place. St Marys on the Western Line (NW map) is also pretty bad. But, really, almost every label is poorly placed.
To show just how poor, I created cyan guides that are offset a small distance out from the route lines: this seemed to me to be about the right distance away for optimum placement of station labels. Then, for each orientation of label, I created an L-shaped magenta guide that shows both the baseline and the correct alignment (left or right) for the type. I then copy-and-pasted these guides to almost all the labels on the map, being sure to always keep them in the same position relative to each station maker.
As you can see, things are pretty horrific. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no common baseline for labels relative to their stations, nor are they a consistent distance away from the route lines. It’s almost as if each label has been placed individually and then nudged into position, rather than setting up a master set of label positions and applying them as required. Illustrator’s Duplicate function (Command/Control-D) makes this kind of thing so simple: place once, copy elements the required distance to place the next station, then Duplicate, Duplicate, Duplicate until all the stations are quickly and consistently placed.
It can be seen on the North Shore Line (NE map) that even the station dots are inconsistently placed — I’ve put a magenta dot over the top of any station that wasn’t where I expected it to be if things were placed mathematically. Possibly the worst culprits here are Merrylands, Guildford and Yennora stations at the bottom of the NW map: Guildford’s dots aren’t even at the correct angle to each other, and the label placement is completely different for each station. The huge gap between Yennora and Fairfield stations is also pretty ugly: it definitely should be possible to evenly and smoothly space the stations all the way down from Merrylands to Campbelltown.
Some route lines aren’t actually constrained to 45-degree angles: the worst offender is the East Hllls line from Riverwood to Holsworthy (SW map); others are also shown with an overprinting magenta line.
The distance between parallel route lines is inconsistent across the map: this is shown with a little measuring line. The black lines show my base measurement, while the blue lines show inconsistently spaced gaps, which may also be inconsistently spaced with each other! Again, spacing between elements can be controlled easily in Illustrator by entering precise values into the Move dialog box, so this type of thing is very frustrating to see.
The under construction South West Rail Link route is drawn differently to the North West Rail Link: it has no curves where it changes direction and the angled part of the line is too thick. I’ve rotated and overlaid the NW Link on top of the SW Link in cyan to illustrate the difference.
Why is the Macquarie University (NE map) station label set in bold “Interchange” text, but has no interchange ring around the station marker?
Finally, the nesting of curves where parallel routes change direction is very poor throughout the map. Look especially at the City Circle, where huge gaps open up between the route lines at the 90-degree corners. The corners on the orange Bankstown line there aren’t even a consistent radius, being much wider than they are tall.
You know, I really want to like this map. I don’t have any huge attachment to the old one, even though it’s competent enough. Sydney has regularly changed the look of its system map, so we certainly don’t have the same attachment to it that London has to its Tube Map, for example.
This new map is nicely simplified and streamlined, properly full of promise for the new timetabled services. It’s even looks quite friendly and cheerful! However, as a designer, I find it very difficult to look past glaring technical errors like the ones that litter this map, and now I can’t help but see them every darn time I look it.
NOTE: The PDF I edited is slightly older than the one now posted on the Sydney Trains website, but almost every error I talk about is still present in this final version. North Strathfield’s label no longer intersects the T7 Olympic Park line, which is an improvement of sorts.
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.