Skip to content

Back to Toolbox

Notes on Adobe design tools

Documenting some non-obvious things about working with Adobe tools.

Jump to: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign.


Preference tweaks

These preferences make Illustrator less annoying to work with.

Under General:

Under Selection & Anchor Display:

Under Type:

Manipulating paths

Starting a new path from an existing anchor point

When you try to start a new path from an anchor point of a different path, just clicking the anchor removes it. Instead, the solution is to:

  1. Click and hold on an empty area
  2. Hold down the Space key to move the anchor
  3. With Smart guides enabled, you should be able to snap the anchor point to the existingn anchor point from where you initially wanted to start the new path
  4. Release Space and continue as usual

Also, it seems that (at least in Illustrator CC 2019) you can hold down Shift when creating the initial anchor point.

Exporting to SVG

Pasting copied objects as SVG

Illustrator has this neat feature that lets you copy (⌘C) any object from your design and paste it (⌘V) as SVG in any text editor. However, configuring how the SVG is generated is a bit obscure:

  1. With any Illustrator file, go to File → Save As... or File → Save a Copy... and choose Format: SVG
  2. On the next screen, called SVG Options, you can configure how the SVG will be generated. (Click on More Options to see all of them). Then, press OK
  3. The options you set on this screen will apply to SVGs you copy to the clipboard from now on

💡 You only need to do this once, or whenever you want to change the way the SVG gets generated.

Create a rectangle to serve as a viewbox

To create a viewbox for the SVG while using the copy/paste trick, you can draw a rectangle behind your artwork to serve this purpose. After pasting the artwork in a text editor, you can just delete the background <rect> element.

Understanding Area Type

Area Type is the text area in Illustrator. You can scale the bounding box and the text inside will reflow — as opposed to point type, which scales like any other shape.

Switch between Type and Area Type

Double-click on the prong that sticks out of the right side of the box.

Auto-fit area to the text content

Double-click on the prong that sticks out of the bottom side of the box to fit the area snugly around the text.

💡 Set this behavior as the default by going to Illustrator → Preferences… → Type and check Auto Size New Area Type.

Resize area type without stretching the text

Selecting a type area and entering a width / height in the Transform pane will stretch the text instead of resizing the text area and reflowing the text. To achieve the latter, use the Direct Selection tool (A) to select just the area and not the text inside. In this state, using the width / height inputs from the Transform pane will scale the text area without distoring the text.

💡 You can also set the area's size (along with other options) from the Type → Area Type Options… menu item.


Convert an illustration from RGB to CMYK

Some tools, such as ArchiCAD, can only produce color PDFs in the RGB color space. To convert that to a CMYK file ready for offset printing:

  1. Open the PDF in Illustrator and change its color space to CMYK by using File → Document Color Mode → CMYK
  2. Select all objects (⌘A) and proceed to Edit → Edit Colors → Recolor Artwork…
  3. In the options dialog:
    1. Color Reduction Options…, deselect Preserve: Black to be able to map the rich black to K:100 black;
    2. Switch the color picker to use CMYK sliders;
    3. Select each color in the list, one by one, and ajust it to the preferred CMYK values. You'll mostly want to adjust the blacks and grayscales to only use the K channel.
  4. Make sure you overprint blacks to avoid misregistration issues at the offset printer; use Edit → Edit Colors → Overprint Black… to ensure colors underneath are not knocked out
  5. Use the Window → Separations Preview panel to make sure the C/M/Y/K plates look as expected.

Setting up guides and markings

To make guides that are only visible on the screen, and not included in PDF exports or prints, put them on a separate layer whose Layer Options (which you can set by double-clicking on the layer) have Print unchecked. Unprintable layers are shown in italics.

To make guides that are included in exported PDFs, but not visible on any of the CMYK plates — and thus unlikely to be accidentally printed — create a new Spot color and name it according to its purpose (e.g. Cut, Fold). Use this spot color for your guides. All objects using this spot color need to have Overprint stroke enabled (from the Attributes panel), otherwise they'll knock out colors underneath. Optionally, place the guides on separate layers, grouped by purpose.

💡 To double-check that all guides have the appropriate overprint settings, select one of the guides using the spot color and expand with Selection > Same > Stroke Color, then glance at the Attributes panel. You can also use the Separations Preview panel to confirm that the artwork looks as expected when toggling off the spot colors.

To make markings that are visible on all plates, such as custom trim marks, use the built-in [Registration] swatch, which is 100% of all colors, that is C/M/Y/K plus any spot colors used in the design.


Preference tweaks

These preferences make Photoshop less annoying to work with.

Under General:

Under File Handling:

Under Type:

Under Enhanced Controls:

Grayscale to transparency

To convert a grayscale image to a transparent image, where the level of blackness corresponds to the opacity (white is fully transparent):

  1. Make sure the image is in the correct mode with Image → Mode → Grayscale and on a single layer
  2. Copy the contents of the layer to the clipboard
  3. Add a mask to the layer
  4. Option + click the layer mask to edit it
  5. Paste the contents of the clipboard onto the layer mask, and invert it with ⌘I
  6. Add a Color overlay effect to the layer, and set the color to 100% black, Normal blending.


Preference tweaks

Under Interface: