Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web…

Today's Sunday Surgery arises in part out of a query from the depressingly talented Jim Boswell, but which touched on an area that had already caused me some considerable headaches…

As it becomes increasingly common for publishers to want to repurpose strips for web, e-reader or iPad, you may find that you're asked to supply layered lettering files so that publisher can adapt the pages for electronic consumption.

Given that Illustrator files already have layers, the obvious solution would be to turn all the text to outlines and simply supply the .ai documents. However, Illustrator seems to be viewed as a bit of a strange beast in some quarters and requests for layered TIFF files, or Photoshop (.psd) documents are very common in my experience.

Illustrator has an option for Photoshop export which should preserve your layer structure, but I found that every time used it, my artwork and balloon layers would be merged into one, with the Text layer behaving as expected. To save everyone else the frustration of working this out, I can report that that it's the Overprint Stroke setting on balloons and captions that causes this. If you turn this off, then the Photoshop export works perfectly.

Note that you can record an action that contains Select All, and then two clicks on the Overprint Stroke followed by two clicks on the Overprint Fill options which should remove all overprinting from your document.

(You could even build the .psd export into the action, which would enable you to run the entire process as an automated batch option on a folder full of .ai documents.)

However, you need to be very clear with your publisher that a file with no overprinting should not be doubled up as a print file.

There is -- to the best of my investigations -- no way to extract a layered TIFF file directly from Illustrator, but you could record an action in Photoshop to save your exported .psd files as layered TIFFs and then run a batch operation from within Photoshop to handle the second stage of the conversion.

At this point, I will concede that the obvious solution that suggests itself is to simply letter the whole thing in Photoshop. 

The sky will not fall in if you letter documents in Photoshop, but a bitmap graphics editor is, regardless of how many features Adobe shoe-horns into it, simply not as good an option as a programme for which setting type is a primary function. Sooner or later, you will run into the limitations of Photoshop as a typesetting application and, at that point, you'll need to consider using Illustrator instead.


  1. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for another great post. I'm curious how specifically one would sooner or later hit a wall in Photoshop, and in what cases one would need to go back to Illustrator (where even with workarounds, you'd hit a dead end). And if these limitations are big enough, why even consider going to Photoshop in the first place (sacrificing the creativity of lettering for what seems to be essentially a technical finishing step)?
    Also, I'm assuming when you say one would have to go to Illustrator, that means for the entire lettering process (that its "all or nothing", that you can't - or it wouldn't make sense - to do a bunch in Photoshop and then address those limitations in Illustrator)?

    Thanks again.

    Kyle Jones

  2. Hi, Kyle!

    TBH, the Photoshop remarks are more aimed at those who already letter in Photoshop and would find issues like this a vindication for doing so.

    The fact that Photoshop is resolution-dependent is one big drawback over a vector package like Illustrator, and I find Photoshop becomes less and less easy to use the larger the blocks of text one has to deal with.

    Additionally, I personally find it less easy to manipulate aspects of type like tracking and kerning and the creation of SFX is certainly a more roundabout process in Photoshop.

    Finally, trapping control is not easy to simulate. As near as I can work out, you would need to hold balloon strokes on a separate layer to their fills and set the stroke layer to multiply in order simulate overprinting.

    Obviously, if you're approaching this from the other end, as a dedicated Photoshop user, you may not find these issues as troublesome, or may even know an easy workaround for some of them.

    Hence my note that it's not quite as "all or nothing" as some people, myself included, may have suggested in the past…



  3. Thanks Jim!

    I'll continue happily using Illustrator (with the help of your tutorials and surgeries)! That cleared up all my questions!



  4. Hey Jim, Jim here! Thanks for the post, and the link to my site too :-)

    Keep up the great work!