Illustrator Transparency + Photoshop Resolve, Part 2

Filed Under

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 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.

Next entry:Such a Bad Week for “Evil”

Previous entry:Bring It On: Team Deke-ster Spotted Answering Digital Photo Questions


  • Illustrator Transparency; Photoshop Resolve

    Attended your lecture on this in Las Vegas—-it will change my world! Possibly worth the whole price of admission right there in that one class. Believe it or not, in the 6 or 7 years I’ve been using Illustrator, (self taught), I never understood the importance or enabling power of the Appearance palette. Used it maybe 8 times, ever. Didn’t realize the Transparency palette’s full capabilities, either. Just used it to lower opacity. Thanks Deke!

    Ted Walker

    Pacific Northwest Regional Illustrator for a federal agency you’ve probably never heard of.

  • Las Vegas Lecture

    I was there too, and yours was one of the best. But then I came up with a question an hour later. You spent 59 minutes on Illustrator Tranparency, and one minute on resolving it in Photoshop. But, why wouldn’t saving as PDF preserve the transparency? Aren’t there settings to save as raster at whatever ppi in Acrobat? Doesn’t PDF do the postscript to raster conversion? Just wondering if Photoshop is the only way.

  • Great Photoshop World…!!!

    great job, Deke, enjoyed your presentations.  You have a great style.

    John T. Tampa FL

  • The 59-to-1 ratio

    Well, sometimes this particular session works itself out to be more like 55 AI-to-5 Pshop, but what with the projector problems (which I found enormously entertaining) and my lack of educational finger puppets, I had to lead us into the topic a bit slower than usual.

    But here’s the thing: Recent versions of the AI format include PDF as part of their code. So yes, both AI and PDF either rasterize (convert to pixels) or expand (convert to flat-filled vectors) any objects that violate the PostScript printing conventions.

    Or so are Adobe’s intentions.

    The problem is, there exists a small chasm between the many thousands of conventions that an Adobe-endorsed PostScript RIP should support and what the many varieties of such devices do support. Ultimately, the devil is in the details, so the slightest discrepancies can result in printing mistakes. Obvious printing mistakes. Obvious, unexpected, expensive, heart-wrenching printing mistakes.

    Short of paying to “plate” a few contact sheets of sample art, it’s impossible to fully anticipate commercial printing problems.

    Life becomes so much easier if you trust the rasterization process to your local software as opposed to some unknowable and unmanageable remote firmware.

    In steps Photoshop. 1) Photoshop can render any Illustrator artwork, however complex. 2) Once converted to pixels, there’s nothing for the hardware RIP to misinterpret.

    AI Transparency, that’s all creative wonderment and exploration. Ps Resolve, that’s all practical brass tacks get-this-stuff-to-print.

  • Photoshop doesn’t have all the answers…

    Deke’s advice is accurate and on target, but don’t think that Photoshop can solve everything…

    While printing with transparency was somewhat problematic in the past (in the Illustrator 9-10 timeframe), these days, just about everything is fine. Moving forward, the Adobe Print Engine, which is now showing up in RIPs everywhere, has the ability to print PDF directly, meaning no flattening is necessary at all, even in the RIP.

    More importantly, rasterizing your artwork in Photoshop isn’t always possible. If you’re placing you Illustrator file into InDesign and you want to preserve transparent backgrounds, you can’t flatten in Photoshop. If you want to scale your artwork in a layout application, likewise, you can’t do so (you’d need to scale it to actual size in Photoshop, which may be very large depending on use). In addition, rasterization will work fine if you’re artwork is printing in 4-color process. But if you’re using spot colors, Photoshop can’t support that in this way. All your spot colors will convert to process.

    In reality, if you really want to rasterize all of your artwork, you can modify your Flattener settings so that the slider is set completely to the left. Doing so rasterizes your entire file at export and basically does the same thing as bringing it into Photoshop, but without the limitations I just mentioned.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress…

    Mordy Golding

  • Mordy is a witch!

    From now one, when someone says something mildly contradictory to one of my posted opinions, I think I’ll take the high road and brand that person a witch.“Throw him in the ether and see if he floats!”

    Meanwhile, it would be interesting to test the Adobe Print Engine on a few illustrations and see how they fare. Mordy, any ideas on how to conduct such a real-world test?

    FWIW, virtually all the printing-AI-files-from-InDesign problems that I’ve incurred in real life have revolved around gradients. Despite much planning and testing, my first-printing Adobe InDesign CS One-on-One book read like a text case in what can go wrong. In all, more than ten graphics had problems.

    For all I know, the Print Engine would fix every one of these. But I haven’t been brave enough to try it out.

    Perhaps I’ll write up a blog on one specific graphic-gone-wrong (the one I showed at Photoshop World) and the solution I came up with. And then we can see what Mordy The Anti-Photoshop Heretic has to say in response.


  • It’s true…

    I *AM* a witch. Wait, is there a “male” version of a witch? Well, I’m certainly the Anti-Photoshop Heretic smile

    I’d be interested in seeing those files myself and doing some tests. As for the APPE (Adobe PDF Print Engine), it’s not really something you can “get”—as it’s technology that is only made available from Adobe directly to its OEM partners (Agfa, Xerox, etc). Somehow I doubt you’d be willing to install a 5-6 figure prepress workflow system in your garage just to run a few tests… but maybe you can persuade a prepress or print shop to run some tests for you?

    I didn’t mean to come off with a holier-than-thou attitude, sir. I just get hot under the collar when defending Illustrator sometimes smile

    Mordy Golding

  • Holier than Mao

    You weren’t being holier than thou, Mordy. You were being holier than mao/me. (I am conjugating my pronouns properly, yes?)

    All seriousness aside, I am of course kidding. You and I both know that you in fact are holier than me.

    So, Mordy, since you are our non-resident, adjunct know-it-all on such matters, question: Can older RIPs be upgraded to APPE? Or is it strictly available to new hardware?

    I’ll write up one of my true-story print disasters this weekend. Maybe include a downloadable AI file. Then you can tell me what if anything I was to do. (As you’ll see, my clever solution permitted me to marry no-tears raster art with vector-based text and callout lines. But balleemee, if there’s a better way, mao want to know.)

    Colleen, would you please save us all and do a blog post so my conversation with Mordy isn’t the only thing happening this week?

  • Excellent to hear!

    Thanks for the kind words. And, needless to say, it is my pleasure to be of assistance.

    (If you haven’t already seen it, check out “Spirograph on Steroids.” Where the Appearance palette is concerned, this video takes up where my “AI Transparency, Ps Resolve” lecture leaves off.)

  • RIP or R.I.P.?

    I do believe that companies like Kodak (aka Creo aka Scitex), like AGFA, Heidelberg, Xerox, and other Adobe OEM partners do offer upgrade pricing for their RIPs, although it’s more than just updating the RIP itself—in many cases you’re talking about complete workflow changes, especially when you consider what the industry has experienced in the past few years. Things like direct to plate and soft proofing have changed the way many printers do their work today. With the new digital workflows, it’s less likely that a printer would simply “upgrade” a RIP and more likely they would adopt a digital workflow (my father in law, owner of a small print shop, recently moved to a CIP3 digital workflow for example). Printers who are looking to adopt a new workflow might consider one that uses APPE. At the end of the day, we aren’t talking about a $169 upgrade.

    You can certainly make a comparison with photography, which has also gone through a digital revolution. It wasn’t long ago that professional photographers wrote off digital cameras as “toys”. However, digital has now come far enough along where professionals are taking advantage of digital workflows. But it’s not just popping a chip into a camera that now make a camera digital. It’s the entire workflow that also changes—and needs like applications such as Lightroom, and technologies like RAW, HDR, DNG and such are all necessary parts of the overall equation. Which, I might add, is what makes your training so valuable. In my opinion, some of the concepts you cover in your Channels and Masks are key to truly taking advantage of those technologies.

    So I guess we’re all holy in our own ways smile

    Mordy Golding

  • Illustrator Anchor Point Madness

    A Hallowed Halloween to you Obiwan!

    Warning: non-Photoshop question ahead!

    Hopefully, your current work on the new Illustrator book has your head into this stuff and you can shed some light on this dilemma without too much ado.

    For quite a while, I have enjoyed and totally grokked your division of Illustrator’s anchor points into (1.) corner (2.) smooth (3.) cusp

    which has seemed similar (to me anyway) to Mordy’s enlightened but slightly heretical division into: (1.) corner (2.) smooth (3.) combination

    (Great Essentials Class on, Mordy!)

    However, Adobe has once again confused me with their Classroom in a Book terminology and division of anchor points into (1.) smooth and (2.) corner where:

    (1.) a smooth anchor point has two direction handles (move together as one)

    - OK, that’s cool… I see that… continuous curve and all that

    (2.) a corner anchor point has two, one or no direction handles (which move independently)  - Whoa! Now I’m really confused. If it’s just me, sorry!

    Any insight into this anchor point madness by you and/or Mordy would be deeply appreciated. I trust you and Mordy will once again set the standard on what is what here and nail down the proper terminology.



    Thomas Benner

    The Art Institute of Austin

  • The cusp point

    I researched my usage of “cusp point,” and it goes back more than 20 years. Why? Honestly, I have no idea. I didn’t invent it; it came from an industry source. (I wasn’t brave enough to make up stuff back then.) But beyond that all recall is lost.

    I can’t speak to Mordy’s combo point thing. But it is that. A combination of corner and smooth.

    As for smooth vs. corner with nary a point in between: If you look at the underlying code, there might be a reason that the smooth point (with both points symmetrical) might need to be absolutely separated from the corner point (control handles wandering free). But it makes little sense from a training perspective. Straight segments meet at sharp corners. Curved segments meet at smooth arcs. (FreeHand called these curve points, FWIW.) Curved segments that fuse at a spike, that’s a cusp.

  • And btw

    Thanks for the dekePod plug on iTunes.

    I think your post might’ve been a while back, but oldies can be goodies.

  • You’re Welcome

    You earned that plug by the consistent excellence, attention to detail and sound teaching principles in your work through the years.

    I like to use the manual vs. recipe book analogy. When you buy a new stove, a manual will explain all the dials and how to operate it. But it takes a good recipe book to be able to cook a masterpiece. Your books, videos, etc have been great recipe books explaining the “why would I want to do that’s” and “what’s goin’ on behind the scenes”, that aspiring chefs with inquiring minds want to know to move from “Zero to Hero”. Hmmmm… “The Missing Recipe Book” series….

    By the way, because we order new copies of your books for my classes every few months, I have watched typos and minor errors disappear through subsequent releases…. Thanks to whoever does that.

    That iTunes plug had me pleading once again for an Illustrator 1-0n-1 book. They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease and this wheel is happy about the new grease on the way. Now, if you could only do something about the dearth of Fireworks training….... grin

    Congrats on all the new book, video releases, Senor, and I trust your family will benefit by seeing more of you.


    Thomas Benner

    The Art Institute of Austin

  • Anchor Point, Shmanker Point

    (wow—I made good use of the “subject” field for once…)

    One thing I learned well from my friend, Bert Monroy—don’t spend much time thinking about the names that Adobe gives to their own tools, functions, or features. That being said, I believe the term “cusp” came from John Warnock himself as in one of his tutorial videos, he gave an example of a path that actually WAS a cusp—like the waves in an ocean… kinda. Anyway, I don’t really care much about what Adobe calls something, especially if I feel there’s a better way to explain it otherwise. The reason why I *DO* use Adobe terminology is purely as reference—so that users can search for it or know what to ask or refer to when asking questions. I actually drafted a blog post about terminology and how it wrecks a user’s understanding of a feature. I’ll get around to posting that some day.

    Getting back to the issue at hand, according to Adobe, there are two types of anchor points—smooth and corner. A corner anchor can either have straight lines or curved lines attached to it—depending of the direction handles for that point are extended or not. But I think that for beginners, that’s a big stretch to deal with. Hence, I “invented” the term combination point, although I also sometimes refer to it as a “change direction point” in my books.

    Mordy Golding

  • Anchors Away!

    One place this issue comes up in teaching Illustrator is when dealing with the new “Convert” buttons introduced in CS3 in the Control Panel:

    • Convert Selected Anchor Points to Corner

    • Convert Selected Anchor Points to Smooth

    As in, there is no “Convert Selected Anchor Points to Cusp” button as a third option.

    Anyway, I’m sticking to my guns and teaching the Cusp/Combination/Change Direction Anchor Point because it makes sense. I appreciate the background information, insights and wisdom you both provided…. from John Warnock himself no less.

    And thanks for mentioning Bert, Mordy. It brought back “good ol days” BMUG memories.



    Thomas Benner

    The Art Institute of Austin

Share your feedback, work, homages, questions, wisecracks, advice, critiques, riffs, derision (within reason), frustrations, and love of all things graphical. Log in (or register) to lend your voice.