I believe it was three weeks ago that I began to tell you good folks about how to transform this:
into the glam phantom-of-an-illustration witnessed below using Illustrator’s Transparency functions. The danger is that virtually every effect I’m applying falls outside the boundaries of the professional print standard PostScript, meaning that there’s a high chance that this artwork might exhibit errors when you receive 10,000 copies back from your commercial print house. Which is a real heartbreaker, as anyone who’s encountered such blunders knows. Doubly so, because each and every heartbreak can be anticipated and eliminated with the help of Photoshop.
By the end of Part 1, I had transformed my son Sammy (shown here during his early days of smooth and impeccable baldness) into the near masterwork seen below. In this final part, I will add several details with the help of Illustrator’s blend modes. Then I’ll mask the entire illustration and ship it off to Photoshop for final rasterization. As much as it may pain you — at least philosophically — to convert your razor-sharp vectors into resolution-dependent pixels, this Photoshop provides a practical, no surprises = no tears solution.
Repeated words of advice: I’ve tried to make the following steps of use to anyone, regardless of experience. As an added bonus, you can click a screen shot below to view a full-sized version in a separate window. But, necessarily, the steps will make the most sense to those with a working knowledge of Adobe Illustrator. To gain such knowledge, check out my commercial video series Illustrator One-on-One, available through lynda.com. Note: this article was written specifically for Illustrator CS3.
Step seven: The Multiply blend mode
In Part 2, we move from translucency effects to blend modes, which allow you to apply more complex mathematical interactions. I target the Bench sublayer, which contains the blue bench. Then I choose the Multiply blend mode from the Transparency palette and set the Opacity to 50%. The Multiply mode burns the bench into its background, as if the bench and background were printed on separate transparencies and stacked one in front of the other on a light table. In other words, everything gets darker.
By way of another example, I turn on the Eyes sublayer. I select the makeup paths, apply the Multiply blend mode, and again reduce the Opacity value to 50% (below).
Step eight: The Screen blend mode
Throughout the Adobe print applications, the opposite of Multiply is Screen. From the Eyes sublayer, I select the blue paths that cover the actual eyes and choose the Screen blend mode from the Transparency palette. Screen treats eyes and background as if they were output to separate slides, placed in two different projectors and shown on the same screen. In other words, it’s great for creating bright highlights like those inside the eyes and irises below.
Step nine: The Color and Luminosity modes
Back in the day, Sammy lacked hair. (He has a full head of the stuff now, you’ll be glad to know.) So I felt obliged to give him some in Illustrator. I twirl open the Hair sublayer and target the Hair shapes (which I had combined into a single compound path).
Were I to try out a couple of other useful blend modes in the Transparency palette, I might discover that the Color mode mixes the blues of the hair with the underlying background details, while the Luminosity mode mixes the texture of the hair into the flesh colors from the layer in back of it.
Both effects are interesting, but I want to blend individual fill attributes. So I undo any playing around and choose Window > Appearance to switch to the Appearance palette. I select the blue Fill attribute and change the blend mode to Color. Then I select the gradient Fill attribute, set its blend mode to Screen, and reduce the Opacity value to 80% to create the effect pictured below.
Step ten: Screen and super-rich black
Toward the top of the Layers palette is an object called Gradient. The gradient goes from black at the top to blue way at the bottom. Turn on the big Gradient path and change the blend mode in the Transparency palette to Screen. If you have any familiarity with Screen (from your work in Photoshop, for example), you know that it lightens all colors except black, which drops out. And yet in our case, black results in a significant brightening effect. What gives?
The problem is that we have a plain black, made of 100% K only. Because C, M, and Y are %, or white, these inks lighten. To make the black invisible, change the final color in the gradient to a super-rich black, in which all inks (CMYK) are set to 100%. Now black is completely neutral, resulting in a blue-to-transparent gradient, as indicated by the highlight in the bottom-left corner of the image below.
Step eleven: Masking an entire layer
Now let’s mask away the excess vector garbage that’s hanging outside the artboard. I’ve already drawn a couple of rectangles (without fill or stroke) around the boundaries of the artboard and placed it at the top of the main layer. I deselect everything in the illustration. I click on the layer name Backdrop (taking care not to target the layer) and click the Make/Release Clipping Mask icon at bottom of the Layers palette. The result appears below.
Step twelve: Becoming a transparency detective
Illustrator’s transparency functions are exciting, powerful, even inspirational. But they can be confusing as well, especially if you’re wandering through a piece of artwork created by someone else (or by you a long time ago). For example, I discover a layer called Text Items. In it, I find a group that I named Knockout. After targeting the Knockout group, I notice that the Appearance palette lists Other Transparency Options. What in the heck is that? To find out, I check out the bottom section of the Transparency palette. In this case, the Knockout Group check box is turned on.
When I twirl open Knockout, I see a black path at the bottom. This is the talk balloon (shown below). Given that nothing in the talk balloon doesn’t look black, how does the path work? It’s another weak black set to Screen. So I raise the K value to 50% to lighten the balloon even more.
Step thirteen: Flattener Preview, rasterize in Photoshop
Okay, so it’s fun, beautiful, and weird. But will it print? Given that PostScript doesn’t support transparency, aren’t we flirting with disaster? Not necessarily:
- First, bear in mind lots of things aren’t supported by PostScript, including gradients, and Illustrator manages to communicate them anyway.
- Second, you can check out areas of concern using the Flattener Preview palette. After choosing Window > Flattener Preview, click the Refresh button and select All Affected Objects from the Highlight pop-up menu. Everything that’s red needs some kind of special attention (below).
- Third, if you’re at all concerned that something is going to go wrong, open the AI file in Photoshop (or save it as a TIFF image from Illustrator using File > Export). Then set the Resolution value to 1200 ppi if you want super-sharp results that are guaranteed to print.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: Illustrator’s transparency functions are as amazing as they are complex. They’re likewise safe. So long as you’re prepared to export your vector-art as a high-resolution image file, you can do anything you want without any worries of PostScript incompatibilities. So play your heart out. Unlike that dilapidated piano pictured in the original photograph (I since had the thing hauled off in pieces), your illustration is indestructible.