Catch-up: Images in Illustrator Brushes

This week’s (very quick) post looks at a feature that was introduced to Illustrator CC2014 back in June, that provides a solution to a long-standing problem where you need to create a complicated-appearance brush based on an image, such as in this example where we want to make a rope to use as a border.

Isolate the Image


In Photoshop, isolate the image to exist on transparency. Crop the image tight along the joining edges to avoid gaps. Save the image as a .psd and maximise compatibility, so that other CC applications can get access to it’s structure (that step isn’t vital here, but it is best practice).

Place the PSD

In Illustrator, use File > Place… (CMD+SHIFT+P/CTRL-SHIFT-P) and locate the .psd you just created. In the Control Strip, ensure that the file has been embedded—if not, click the button to embed the file.

Make the Brush


Now drag the image into the brushes panel, and when the dialog appears, select Pattern Brush. You’ll be taken into another dialog:

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 10.38.36

  • Give your brush a name
  • Determine if your brush uses scaling options, such as pressure
  • Choose corner tiles—CC gives options for auto generating corners
  • Click OK

Now draw a path and apply your brush to it!

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 10.44.22


If you need to make any modifications, double-click the brush in the brushes panel and edit as required. Sometimes I find that I need to change the options for how the image is stretched along segments, for example. This is something that only playing with the feature will really help you to learn what’s going on. Don’t forget that you can also change the options of a single instance of a brush stroke (so if you had three strokes for example, and wanted to make one thinner than the others) by going to the panel flyout of the Brushes Panel, and choosing Options of Selected Object…



Tut: Make a Monopoly-style Board in Minutes

This is part of an exercise that I developed a while back, and have continued to update from time-to-time, with adding various icons, etc.—should the demand arise I’ll maybe add those bits in another tutorial—but today we’re just going to draw the basic board. It will probably take you about ten or fifteen minutes to complete the first time you do it, but once you’ve grasped the techniques you will find that time reduces dramatically—my best time ever as a live demo was around a minute-and-a-half for the drawing, and a minute or two more for the colouring-in!

Just remember that this isn’t so much about drawing the “perfect” board, it’s grasping the concept that’s important.

Mis en Place

We’ll be needing some suitable colours for this tutorial, so you can either make your own swatches or use something from the community and we’ll take the latter option here.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 21.59.49

Visit the Adobe Color site: and if you’re not signed-in already, then sign in with your Adobe ID (if you don’t have one, sign up—it takes less than two minutes) and then click the “Explore” tab at the top of the page. In the search field, type “Monopoly” and that should yield a few results; choose the theme(s) you’d like to use and download them to your machine—a link should appear when you hover over the themes on the page. My swatches are a mixture of downloaded swatches and some from the default swatches:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 22.24.48


The swatches will arrive as swatch exchange files (.ase); to load the swatches into Illustrator go to your Swatches Panel, and click on the loader (Swatch Libraries menu) at the bottom-left of the panel. From the context menu choose Other Library… and then navigate to the download location of the .ase file(s) you just pulled down from the color site.

The swatches will arrive in a floating panel of their own, and you can either use them from there—or to avoid clutter, double-click the folder icon and they’ll all be copied to your Swatches Panel (you can then close the floating panel).

Draw the Basic Grid

Create a new print document, 210mm square, units: millimetres. Select the Rectangular Grid Tool (nested with the Line Tool) and click on the artboard; enter the following values into the fields:

  • Width: 200mm
  • Height: 200mm
  • Horizontal Dividers: 10 (Skew 0%)
  • Vertical Dividers: 10 (Skew 0%)
  • Use Outside Rectangle as Frame should be selected by default, if not, check that box.

The Rectangular Grid Tool creates a group of lines contained within a rectangle. Select the group, movie it into position on the artboard (dead centre on both axes, ideally; if you have Smart Guides turned on this should be really easy) and ungroup it—you should now be able to select the lines individually.

Select the first line from the top (not the outer rectangle) then hold down the SHIFT key and tap the DOWN arrow three times. Repeat this with the bottom line, left and right lines, all by the same amount, as shown below.


Select the vertical lines, and click on the Horizontal Distribute Centre button in the Control Strip or in the Align Panel.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 22.46.13


Select the horizontal lines, and this time distribute vertically.


Select the outer rectangle, tap S on your keyboard to access the Scale Tool then hit RETURN—the Scale Dialog will appear. Enter 77 in the uniform scale field and click COPY or hold down Alt and hit RETURN to exit the dialog and make a scaled copy. Turn on Preview if you want to see it before you commit.

Again, select the outer rectangle, and repeat the last step, but this time make the uniform scale value 105 to create the outer “margin” of the board. This should create a copy that meets the artboard edges.

Select all, and make a Live Paint GroupObject > Live Paint > Make or if you want the shortcut it’s Alt+CMD+X (Alt+CTRL+X on Windows). This will enable us to select line segments that will be created (wherever there is an intersection) and regions (areas between connected segments).



Hold down SHIFT and tap L to access the Live Paint Selection Tool then select some of the lines in the small boxes and delete them where shown below. Also remove the little corners, except the top-left.



With theLive Paint Selection Tool click-and-drag a selection marquee from the small square at the top-left (A) down to the small square at the bottom-right (B) and hit DELETE the whole region will clear.



Now for the only fiddly bit of the whole operation—select the little corner angle that we left in the top-left big square, and cut it to the clipboard. Tap V to access the Selection Tool and double-click on any one of the lines to enter Isolation Mode (you’ll see the familiar grey bar at the top of the work area, and it will inform you that you are inside the Live Paint object).

Zoom in on the top-left large square, then paste the angle shape down. Position and resize as shown, then double-click anywhere outside of the Live Paint Group to exit isolation mode and return to the document-level. Adjust your zoom level to fit the whole artboard (CMD-ZERO).


Your “board” should now look something like the one below:


Make sure that the FILL swatch is frontmost in the Tools Panel or Colour Panel. Switch to the Live Paint Bucket by taping K on your keyboard, and select the green background colour for the main board from your swatches. Click-and-drag across the board and you’ll notice the regions highlight as you do so; continue until the regions are all highlighted and release the mouse button. If you’ve missed any regions, then simply click on them and they’ll be filled with colour.


Now it’s just a matter of choosing appropriate swatches and then clicking in the relevant regions to colour them in! Tip: you can cycle through the colours with the arrow keys on your keyboard: left and right cycle backwards and forwards, up/down moves through colour groups.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 00.12.12


So there we go, the basis of a completely flexible game board in minutes, without arranging loads of rectangles, aligning, layers or other malarkey. Boom!

Silent Movie

Here’s a real-time recording of the process described above. The orange flags point out the tool to use or the key to press on your keyboard to access the tool you need, with additional directions in grey flags.

Catch-Up: InDesign Layout Tasks

In this post I’d like to tackle a few of the common tasks faced by layout artists and designers every day, and speed them up a bit with some InDesign layout magic. We’re also going to use some productivity tips by using Bridge and metadata, which is best practice in any event—making content searchable and indexable is essential, but often overlooked—you’ll also see how this can be pretty useful in InDesign!

While this file may not be the most exciting thing you’ve ever made, it will quite possibly open up your eyes to a few tucked-away InDesign features.


Adding Metadata to Files in Bridge

We have a series of eight images here—but it could easily be eight hundred—and we can apply some common metadata to them all. For that we’re going to apply a metadata template, but if we don’t have such a thing (let’s pretend we don’t) then we’ll need to create one first.

Creating and Applying a Metadata Template


In Bridge, go to the Metadata Panel (in the Essentials workspace it should be at the bottom right) and from the fly-out menu choose Create Metadata Template… and you’ll be presented with a form. Complete the fields as desired. My basic template just carries my essential creator information, such as my contact details and copyright information, as this is something I can apply to any file. It’s easy to append metadata either on a file-by-file basis or even with additional templates; find out more here:

Applying the template is easy, simply select all of the files that you’d like the template applied to, revisit the fly out menu in the Metadata Panel, then select Append Metadata (so that the original shot data, etc. is preserved) and choose your desired template.

Applying Descriptions


To add descriptions to each image, select them individually and in the IPTC Core section of the metadata panel, click on the pencil icon and type a short description. Tip: It’s worth noting that you can do this with any file in CC applications, while you’re creating or working on it using the File Info dialog which can be found in the File menu.

If you’re using the files provided (see below) then the images all have descriptions in their metadata.

Creating the Layout

For this exercise, we’ll be using an A4 layout with a landscape orientation, equal margins of 12.7mm and nine columns. The file I am using here and related assets are available for CC users, here:, although you can of course work along with any files of your own. If you don’t have InDesign CC, a 30-day free trial is available here.

We’re going to have a little repeating structure, that will accommodate a photo—with a caption—and a star rating, under a heading of “Town Views”, set aside a graphic map and article.


Create the Heading Frame

Although this is often executed as two objects—a frame and a text box—we’rte going to make it all from one object. Create a text frame, add the words “Town View” [whatever] and create/apply a paragraph style as desired. It’s a no-brainer to do this as if we need to make a change later on, then we only need to modify the style definition for all of these headings to change. Hit ESC to exit the Type Tool, and then add a fill colour to the frame, then access the Text Frame Options dialog using CMD-B (CTRL-B on Windows) or Object > Text Frame Options…  where we can set the vertical alignment to Centre. Tip: I often find that this sets the text a little low with many fonts, so I build in a bit of baseline shift to the paragraph style.

Create the Image Frame

Draw a frame (mine had the approx dimensions of 57 x 36mm, spanning two columns) and then click on the yellow box (towards the top-right of the frame) to access the corner options. Drag the top-right of the diamonds to the left and aim for a radius of about 3-4mm; the corner type should be “rounded” by default.

Now go to Object > Fitting > Frame Fitting Options… and choose Fill Frame Proportionally from the Content Fitting drop-down, and centre (should be the default) from the Align From grid; leave the crop amount fields all zeroed. Now any content placed into the frame will fill the frame without distortion and it will align the centre of the content, to the centre of the frame.

Adding the Caption


Right-click on the frame, and select Captions > Caption Setup from the context menu. In the resulting dialog select Description from the Metadata drop-down, and set the caption offset to 1mm. Either use a paragraph style that should already exist in this file or create a new one—you can do this from within the drop-down. Those InDesign engineers think of everything!Tip: My caption paragraph style has a left-indent of a few millimetres so that it more-or-less lines up with the edge of the lower-left corner rounding. Click OK when you’re done.

Now right-click on the frame again, and this time choose Captions > Generate Live Caption. You’ll see a text frame appear with the text <No intersecting link> in it—the magic for that will happen very shortly.

Create the Stars

This one is the most fun—or fiddly, depending on how you see it—but once you get used to it, it’s fast. Select the Polygon Frame Tool (we’ll choose this as it creates a shape with no fill or stroke) and start to draw. The chances are you’re going to be drawing a hexagon—the default polygon shape—but we’re going to modify whatever it is you’re drawing, although we will assume that it’s the default for now.

Here are the steps, and the one thing to keep in mind here is to not stop drawing (i.e. release the mouse-button) until you have completed the operations:

  1. As you draw, tap the spacebar once—this switches the drawing modes for the Polygon Frame/Shape Tool
  2. Tap the DOWN arrow once to reduce the number of sides to five (or as required, UP increases this value, DOWN decreases)
  3. Now tap the RIGHT arrow to increase the star inset value (or as required, RIGHT increases this value, LEFT decreases)
  4. Don’t stop drawing! With the desired shape achieved, tap the spacebar again to go into Grid mode
  5. Tap the RIGHT arrow four times to create four copies
  6. Hold down the SHIFT key (locks proportions) and then release the mouse-button

You should now have five lovely star shapes in a row. Grid drawing in InDesign is awesome (just a shame that Illustrator doesn’t have this feature) and you can find out more about it here:

While they are still selected, give the stars a fill colour (my example uses black at a 50% tint) and resize as necessary.

Changing the gaps


This nugget is another great hidden power of the spacebar feature. With the stars selected, you should have a frame that surrounds them all. Go to one of the central-side handles, mouse-down, wait for about half-a-second (so you’ll get a live preview: “patient user mode” as you drag) and start to drag inwards. As you’d probably expect the stars begin to distort but if you hold down the spacebar you’ll see that the gaps between the objects is the thing that gets resized—Boom!

Making the Copies

You should be ready to go!


  1. Select all of the items you just made: Text frame, image frame with caption and stars
  2. Hold down ALT and start to drag a copy—you should see a “ghost” copy moving with your cursor
  3. Release the ALT key but keep the mouse button down, drag the copy down to the opposite corner, where you’d like the last set to be placed
  4. Now tap the RIGHT arrow once, and the UP arrow once—this will create one extra column, and one extra row of copies

Release the mouse-button, and hey presto! You now have six copies of your structure.

Making the Magic Happen!

You don’t need anything selected here, and let’s assume you’re using the files provided—if not just follow along with your own assts.

Choose File > Place (Cmd-D/CTRL-D—probably the best known InDesign shortcut) and navigate to the Links folder inside the userFiles folder from the downloaded assets—or use your own files—and select six of those images. Remember that you can select contiguous ranges with the shift key, and separate files with the CMD (Mac) or CTRL (Win) key.

A small thumbnail of the first image will appear in the place cursor, and you can cycle through the loaded images by tapping the arrow keys. Click on each of the image frames in turn. You should see that the frame is filled proportionally, and that magically the caption is now populated with the description from the metadata. Try clicking on one of the image frames, and then replacing it with one of the left-over images—you’ll see that the captions are completely live.

Hopefully you’ve seen here how a little bit of setup and InDesign’s layout features are a powerful combination. We only used six images here but imagine if you were laying out an A2 organisational “head-shot” sheet or something like that—it’s also a great way to create content for multi-state objects in DPS, too (see the exercise in the PDF this post for more on that).

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑