Master The Raster: A Beginner’s Guide To Using Raster Images In Adobe Illustrator

Master The Raster: A Beginner’s Guide To Using Raster Images In Adobe Illustrator

In this tutorial I will explain how to incorporate pixel based images and photos, also known as raster images, into Adobe Illustrator and how they can affect your workflow.

Tip 1: Placing An Image (Using Link)

Illustrator is an amazing program. Being able to create vector graphics that can be enlarged to any size without loosing quality is definitely something all designers should have in their tool bag. Having to combine these vectors with raster (pixel based) graphics, like those made in Adobe’s Photoshop or taken from a digital photograph, is definitely something you will come across if you already haven’t.

Let’s start by explaining how to bring your raster files into Illustrator. There are many ways to do this, the most popular of which is the Place method. Under the File menu, you will see the Place option. By clicking this you will be given a dialogue box. Here is where you will select the image you want to use. In this case I will use a picture I took while in Cuba of a stray dog.

By default you will notice the Link check-box in the bottom-left corner has been selected. Leaving this option selected and clicking Place will seem as if the image has been brought into Illustrator when in fact it only appears as if the file has been brought in. What is actually happening is that a preview is being generated by Illustrator from the external image which is placed into your Illustrator document. You can tell an image has been Linked by the ‘X’ through the image while it is selected.

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Tip 2: Re-Linking An Image

When using Linked images, all the working files (your Illustrator document and raster photographs) need to stay in their corresponding places on the hard drive. If the files get moved there is a chance Illustrator will loose the connection with the original image. If this happens you must re-Place the file using the action Relink in the Links window.

When working like this, I like to gather all the images I will be using into a folder and keep that folder with my Illustrator document. That way if I need to move the file I know that the images folder has to move with it, much like when designing a website.

The benefit of working like this are easily seen when looking at file size. Linking images will not increase the size of your document the same way Embedding images will.

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Tip 3: Placing An Image (Without Using Link)

When Placing an image with the Link check-box unselected your image will appear in Illustrator the same as before, but you will notice a few differences. First, there is no ‘X’ across the image when it is selected, and second, there is a small icon present beside the thumbnail of the image in the Links window. The other thing you will notice is that the file size of the Illustrator document has now increased.

The benefit of working this way is that your Illustrator document will now be completely self-contained and moving the file will not be destructive. There are many debates about which of the two methods are best, but when it comes down to it, it’s usually a matter of preference unless requested by the end-user.

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Tip 4: Embedding A Linked Image

If for some reason after you have placed an image using the Link function and now need to Embed it, the easiest way to do this, I find, is to go to the Links window, select the image you want to Embed, click the panel’s drop-down menu, and select Embed. As an alternative, while the image is selected, click on the blue text labeled ‘Linked File’ in the Options Bar at the top left (unless you have moved it). Clicking this will show you the Links window. At this point follow the same steps as above.

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Tip 5: Using Photoshop vs File > Open To Import Images Into Illustrator

Bringing in images directly from Photoshop may seem like an easy and quick way to speed up your workflow. But knowing how the crossover affects your images is something you need to know, or the result might mess you up and make what seems like a simple process take even longer.

Copy & Pasting or dragging a file from Photoshop, at a glance, looks like a cinch, but have you tried moving your image after the fact? Does some or all of the image disappear? This is something I have seen happen to people countless times, and it’s all due to a simple Clipping Mask. Clipping Masks are great if you have used them intentionally and know how to use them. If not, they can be a nightmare. Photoshop automatically puts your image into a Clipping Mask when Copy & Pasted or dragged into Illustrator. I like to remove the mask before I continue so it doesn’t mess me up later.

Another way to get our image into Illustrator is the good ol’ fashion File > Open method. This will open the file into an Illustrator document which you can begin working on. Or you can then Copy & Paste the image from this document into one you have already started. This method will not put a Clipping Mask on your image, and both of these methods will automatically Embed your image.

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Tip 6: Working with Transparencies

Images with transparencies can be a bit trickier. As you can see in the image below, one of the pictures has a transparency while the other does not. This is dues to another one of Photoshop’s cross-platform quirks. What I did was quickly take out the background of our image in Photoshop then tried the Copy/Paste or drag method from before. As you can see, it didn’t work. Illustrator replaces the transparent pixels with white. In order to get around this problem you must save your image in Photoshop first as a .psd or a .png. At this point you can Place or Open the file in Illustrator with the desired transparency in tact.

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Tip 7: Using Illustrator’s Built-in Raster Effects

The final tip I will leave you with for today doesn’t necessarily have to do with raster images, but does deal with the built-in raster effects within Illustrator.

A friend of mine once asked me, “How come when I zoom into my artwork the shadows and blurs all look like sh*t”. Some of Illustrator’s Effects such as Stylize > Drop Shadow and Blur > Gaussian Blur are raster based effects. Applying them to a vector path or object at 100% will look great. But once you zoom in, the effect will loose quality while your shape maintains its crispness. Don’t fret, your effect will still look good at 100%. Just make sure you have set you projects resolution to at least 300 dpi if it’s going to print, other wise it will look like ****!

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That’s it for now. I know I’ve just barely scratched the surface, but I don’t want to cram to much into one lesson. If anyone has any other tips and tricks, please feel free to post them in the comments section. I hope this helps open your minds to the endless design possibilities when combining raster graphics with vector designs.

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