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Form vs Feature Part 2

Form vs Feature Part 2

In the last issue of MXDJ (Vol. 2, issue 7), we discussed the Extrusion tool. This time we'll explore other drawing methods. Some modeling effects can be handled quickly in FreeHand with the Extrude tool, but gradient fills and creative blends from one shape to anothere are sometimes the best bet. The Extrude tool does a super job with text, but it has severe restrictions when it comes to compound shapes, such as the lumps and facets on ketchup or Coca-Cola bottles as they become round for the label. The project can be done, but you must stack several different extrusions into one final drawing, which can be taxing on your patience.

Before extrusions found their way into FreeHand, we did it the old fashioned way by plotting points and paths and filling them with blends and gradient fills. To become proficient in realistic 2D rendering, you must learn to think differently about what you see. Once you see how highlights and shadows are formed on an object, it's a simple matter of recreating the effect with vector objects. An example of that style of thinking is shown in Image I, in which blends, gradients, and other vector effects were used.

Beyond rendering, FreeHand MX also gave us bitmap effects to aid with finishing touches. Like cayenne pepper, a little goes a long way, but definitely kicks the end result up a notch. Drop shadows, glows, transparency, and bevels certainly add a lot to a drawing, but careless application can render the job unprintable or amateurish.

Many factors can influence your choice of drawing methods. For instance, file size may be important to you in one job, while a crisp, sharp image is of utmost significance in your mind for another project. You may be exporting the drawing to Flash or Fireworks for use on the Web, and then again, the end result might be in a printing project. I'll provide a few basic modeling techniques and explore FreeHand artwork as it impacts other programs and the printing process.

Blending Objects to Create Form
The ability to blend or morph one object into another has been with us for a long time in FreeHand. Just about every tutorial or lesson about blends will give an example of a star or other geometric shape being morphed into another shape or a letterform. That's all well and good for a demonstration, but hardly representative of what you can do with the tool. Frankly, I haven't seen the need for too many star-to-square blends in advertising, editorial, or Web illustrations.

A far more likely use of a blend is to blend from one shape in one location to a modified duplicate of the same in another location - for instance, a white star blending to a bright red star on a white background would make the star look as if it is zooming out of the background. FreeHand's ability to attach a blend to a path allows you to make that star zoom on an arc or zig-zag path.

However, another use of a blend is to add form to an object. Start by creating an object with a base color. Then create an area of highlight or shadow that blends into the base color. Inspect Image II to see how it all comes together. A simple ellipse was drawn for the sphere shape. Areas around the proposed highlights and shadows are drawn and given the base color. Smaller ellipses and shapes are made from clones of the larger shapes for the lightest highlights and the darkest shadows. All that's left to do is to create highlight colors (usually white) and shadow colors (adding a complementary color or black to the base color). Remove all strokes and blend the shapes. The number of steps in the blend - and how visible the banding is - can be changed in the Object panel. If colors are similar, fewer steps will be created; dissimilar colors need more steps to create a gradient to the blend. The higher the number of steps in a blend, the more work the computer and printer have to do, so don't go more than 25 or 30 steps unless the rendering is extremely sensitive.

The circles and numbers on the balls aren't difficult at all. Set the number in a bold font and convert it to paths (Text > Convert to Paths). Center the number inside the circle and group them, then place the circle/number roughly where you want it to be on the ball - rotate the circle/number if you wish. Then use the Fisheye Lens Tool. Double-click the tool's icon (in the same group as the Extrusion and Perspective tools) to bring up its dialog box. Make adjustments for a 100% Convex distortion (see Image III), and drag an ellipse with the tool - over the existing ball, with the circle/number selected - just as if you were dragging another ball. When you release the Fisheye Lens Tool, the circle/number will be distorted. If the result is too large, do an Undo, resize the circle/number, and try again.

Name your colors for base and shadows. That way, you can clone a completed ball and use the Find & Replace function to create differently colored balls quickly. The stripe on the 11 ball is nothing more than a clone of the red ball, with a lighter base color (6% Cyan, 6% Black). The shadow is a little darker. An ellipse was drawn for the top edge of the stripe, cloned, and moved down for the bottom of the stripe. The ellipses were split at their left and right apexes and connected/closed. That shape was used to crop the stripe out of the white ball. Note that the 8 ball is not simply black; it is 79C 73M 60Y 83K to be able to show reflections, shadows, and highlights.

Reflections are simple clones of adjacent balls that have been reduced (scaled down) and had the Fisheye Lens Tool applied. Multiple reflections on a given ball were done all at one time. The reflection of the handsome artist in the 8 ball is a jpeg that has been traced with the Trace tool (an 8-color trace), and fish-eyed as well. All of the reflections were given a Transparency effect from the Object panel. That adds the color of the reflected image to the base, shadow, and highlight areas all at once.

Gradient Fills
As the name implies, a gradient fill is a fill that has a gradation of colors. To apply a gradient fill to a selected object, it's only necessary to click the Fill item in the Object panel or, if the object has no fill, click the Add Fill button at the top of the Object panel. The FreeHand default is a Basic fill, which means a solid color of your choosing. For a gradient fill, click the Fill Type drop-down menu and choose Gradient from the list. The Object panel changes its appearance to show all the adjustments you can make in the gradient, as seen in Image IV.

Gradient types are:

  • Linear: is the default and applies a smooth transition in color from one side of the fill to the other. It is the workhorse and most used gradient.
  • Logarithmic: similar to linear, only instead of a straight-line transition, a logarithmic formula is applied that causes a more abrupt - or gradual - change in color, depending on how it's applied.
  • Radial: gradates from the center to the outer edge of the fill. It's very useful for adding tone to spheres.
  • Contour: similar to a radial gradient, except, instead of radiating in a circular pattern, the gradation works from the outer perimeter of the object and follows that shape inward. It's good for a domed or smooth beveled appearance.
  • Rectangle: applies a mirrored linear gradient along two axes.
  • Conical gradients: creates cone modeling, but, if used creatively, can give even flat objects form and tone.
Image V compares the various gradients, color ramps, and the positions of the gradient handles in one example of each gradient. The Linear and Logarithmic gradients share the same color ramp - notice how differently the gradation is on each of the objects.

Each gradient has a single or double gradient handle. To see the gradient handles, you must first select the object, then click the Fill item in the Object panel. The Pointer tool or Subselect tool must be active in order to see or use the gradient handles. The central point of the gradient is marked by a small circle on one end of a dashed line, ending in a larger black square. The square may be moved in any direction and stretched to any length. The gradation will comply to the adjustment. By selecting the central point, you can move the gradient to any location.

Double gradient handles are independent from each other and can be maneuvered to develop many types of gradients. Colors are introduced to the ramp by dragging and dropping a color swatch from the Swatches panel, the Mixer/Tints panels, or a color selected with the Eyedropper tool. Move the color boxes left or right to adjust their position in the gradient. To remove a color, simply drag the color box off the ramp.

If you have a set of colors arranged in a gradient, you can drag the fill onto the Styles panel. Later, you can apply the style to a different object, then change the gradient type.

Beyond six different types of gradients and countless variations with color placement and control handles, there are four more options to fine-tune your gradient fill.

  • Normal: provides the types of gradients as seen in Image V.
  • Repeat: allows you to enter a number of iterations of the gradient. The gradient fill area will then be divided by your number, and equally-sized gradients will fill the area.
  • Reflect: runs the gradient to its end - with the number of iterations you input - then repeats itself in the reverse direction.
  • Auto Size: creates the gradient as usual, but doesn't provide control handles.
A great way to make a multicolored gradient is to make a simple gradient in one object, and have another, similar gradient in a different object with a different color scheme. Blending between the two objects creates a blend of the gradients. As you know, blends can be attached to paths, but with a blend of gradients this technique quickly falls apart.

Xtra Effects
Several years ago, FreeHand introduced Xtras that would apply a shadow, embossing, blend, or smudge. These effects are shown in Image VI. They're really easy to use, but are not in the same league as the Bitmap Effects you'll find in the Object panel. These effects are pure vector so you don't have to worry about document resolution, thereby eliminating possible printing problems. With planning, the effects provide exactly the 3D effect you're after. Each of these Xtras has a button you can drag to your toolbar if you use them enough (Windows > Toolbars > Customize > Xtras). All but the Blend have dialog boxes that give you a few options.

  • Emboss Xtra: gives you the choice of a hard or soft embossing. You can choose the offset and the amount of highlight or shadow, expressed in percentage of a tint of the object's color.
  • Smudge Xtra: allows you to select the end fill and/or stroke colors. When you select this Xtra, the cursor changes to a pair of fingers. As you drag, a keyline preview shows where the smudge will stop. Several iterations of the original object are blended from the original colors to the colors you've input - which should be your background color in most instances.
  • Shadow Xtra: gives you the choice of having a hard or soft edge, as well as a zoom effect. You can input the offset and ending colors or tints for each effect, as well as the size of the ultimate shadow.
  • Blend Xtra: can also be achieved by choosing Blend from the Modify > Combine menu. This blend feature is different from the Blend Tool in the main Toolbox, as you simply select two or more objects and click the Blend Xtra button to create the blend. With the Blend Tool, you select one object and drag to select subsequent objects. If you create a blend with the Xtra, you can modify the connection points by clicking on the Blend Tool.
Bitmap Effects
In direct contrast to the Xtra effects above, bitmap effects for shadows, glows, embossing, and so on are found in the Object panel. However, there's a huge "but" in using them. First of all, the effects are not vector, they're raster or bitmap objects consisting of dots or pixels. Next, these bitmaps are RGB. That means they'll look fine on-screen, but in order to print they must be converted to CMYK. Any spot colors you're using in the object will also be converted to RGB, then reconverted to CMYK when printing. The issue isn't too complicated because the program takes care of the color space conversion, but it is your responsibility to assure that the document's resolution is set correctly. A vector document will print sharply at any output size. A bitmap will also print at any size, but its sharpness depends on the resolution that has been applied. It's extremely important if you're going to use bitmap effects that you change the resolution of your document before committing to print. That applies if you're just printing to your color laser or going to a commercial printer. It's not difficult. With the object selected, go to the Document panel and click on its options icon in the top-right corner of the panel. Drag down to Raster Effects Resolution and release the mouse. A dialog box will open set to the default of 72 ppi (pixels per inch). Click on the drop-down menu and change the resolution to 300 ppi. Now you're ready to print.

On the other hand, if you're taking the same document to the Web, set the Raster Effects Resolution to 72 ppi. You can go to File > Document Settings > Raster Effects Resolution and make the resolution changes for all raster objects in the document. This approach gives you the opportunity to select Optimal CMYK Rendering, which bypasses your color management settings. ALL of the colors in your document must be CMYK. You cannot have spot, or PMS, colors in the document - convert them to CMYK before selecting this option.

A further caveat is that when you do pop the resolution up, your screen redraw speed will slow to a crawl, especially if you have the Redraw Preferences set to a high quality. Again, it's not a big deal. Just work with the document set at 72 ppi. When you go to print, switch to 300 ppi. The effects will also impact your printing time. Oh yeah, prepare to wait if you have a lot of effects piled on top of each other. When you think about how the program has to interpret one effect on top of another, on top of another, it's a wonder that anything prints at all. And sometimes it doesn't. I've gotten carried away on a number of occasions and created a job that choked the printer. Then, it's a matter of picking and choosing the necessary effects and trashing the rest.

As a fairly quick solution to the problem - if it's a problem - you can drag a selection around the drawing and select Modify > Convert to Image. Be extremely conscious of what you're doing in this step, because whatever is selected will be converted into a TIFF file - a bitmap. No more vectors! A small dialog box allows you to choose the resolution and the amount of anti-aliasing you want. Make your selections, click the OK button, and you have a raster image instead of vectors. Depending on the complexity of the drawing, you'll have a shorter or longer wait for the conversion. It's important to know that you're basically getting a picture of what's on the screen within the bounding box of your selection. For instance, say you have a circular shape selected with text running up next to the text. If you Convert to Image, the portion of text that is within the circle's bounding box will be part of the new TIFF file.

Applying Effects
With all the scary stuff behind you, it's a simple process to add a bitmap effect to an object. Just select the vector or bitmap object, or text, and click the Add Effect button in the Object panel to access the drop-down menu. Choose the effect (shown in Image VII) you want and make adjustments to it in the Object panel. The panel configurations for the Emboss and Drop Shadow examples in Image VIII are shown in Image IX. The effect you want is in your head and it's up to you to change the various options to create that effect.

Bevel and Emboss can give you an infinite number of inner bevels, outer bevels, inset embossments, and raised embossments. It's a good effect to use for a quick button shape, although you'll be more excited by what Fireworks can do for you when it comes to Web buttons.

Blur gives your object a soft focus. There are two flavors: Basic, which makes the object fuzzy in a 1- to-10-pixel radius that you input; and Gaussian, which gives a foggy appearance. At higher levels, it can make an object appear as if it were a wisp of fog.

Shadow and Glow come in two flavors each. You have your standard Drop Shadow and an Inner Shadow. Both can be adjusted as to color, width, angle of displacement, and level of transparency. The glows are Inner and Glow (which is outer), and have the same adjustments as the shadows, except displacement occurs radially from the center of the object, following the object's outline. The Glows could be described as fuzzy inset paths, with negative numbers outlining an object and positive numbers creating an inline.

Sharpen and Unsharp Mask are usually seen in bitmap applications, but FreeHand uses the same techniques on vectors. The Sharpen effect increases contrast in a graphic, creating crisper edges between color changes. There are three types of Transparency: Basic, in which you control how opaque or transparent a graphic is (and therefore how much of an underlying object shows through); Feather transparency, which allows the center of an object to be solid and the edges to become transparent to the degree you set in the Object panel; and Gradient Mask, where transparency is determined using the same gradient fills as you would use in a nontransparent object, except the object is more or less transparent.

Using any of these effects can instill a high level of believability in your drawing. Just remember to keep it as simple as you can so you don't create an output problem.

Summary
In this second of two parts about creating form with FreeHand MX's tools, it's easy to see how simple it is to create depth and reality in a drawing. Drawing techniques can be simple blends, gradients, Xtras, or many other powerful tools and features in the program. You're only limited by your own imagination and willingness to explore and practice different approaches.

More Stories By Ron Rockwell

Illustrator, designer, author, and Team Macromedia member Ron Rockwell lives and works with his wife, Yvonne, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Ron is MXDJ's FreeHand editor and the author of FreeHand 10 f/x & Design, and he co-authored Studio MX Bible and the Digital Photography Bible. Ron has just introduced a "Casual FreeHand" course available at www.brainstormer.org.
He has Web sites at www.nidus-corp.com and www.brainstormer.org.

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