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40 Freehand Tips

A tip of the hand

There are dozens and dozens of time - saving things you can do in freehand. Following is just a brief selection.

1.  Create a custom default page.
Set up a page the way you like it (fonts, styles, colors, page size, guides) and save it as a FreeHand template in FreeHand's Settings folder. While in FreeHand, open the Preferences/ Document panel and choose your new template.

2.  Create personal keyboard shortcuts.
FreeHand allows you to make your own keyboard shortcuts for virtually every tool and function (Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts). You can start with shortcuts from other programs such as Illustrator, QuarkXPress, CorelDRAW, Fontographer, Photoshop, and more. Almost all my shortcuts involve the use of my left hand exclusively, leaving my right hand free for my digital tablet's pen.

3.  Create symbols of commonly used objects.
Make logos, address lines, and other objects that you use on a regular basis into symbols. Make the library part of your default (startup) page so that they're available all the time (such as the one seen in Figure 1). Export a library of them to use in older documents or to share with other team members.

4.  Make a Custom Styles Panel.
If you do a lot of line drawings, create a style for each line weight you use all the time, and a duplicate of that style with a white fill so you can spend your time drawing instead of running through the Object panel.

5.  Use the Transform panel to scale several objects at once.
Select any number of objects and enter the scaling percentage into the entry fields. Click the Scale button and all objects will be scaled relative to the common center point as if they were grouped.

6.  Use Find and Replace to resize objects.
If you choose Scale in the F&R panel, objects will be scaled relative to their own center points - they stay in place.

7.  Customize your toolbars.
By placing useful tools in your toolbars and removing tools you don't use, you can speed up your productivity by saving trips through menus. You can place the tools in the Main Toolbar which runs horizontally across the screen, or in the Tools Panel which is reshapable and can be placed wherever you want on the screen.

8.  Use multiple views while you're working.
Select Window>New Window to create a duplicate window of the current window. Then you can change the view - say zoom in for an extreme close-up of a detail - in one window, while seeing an overall view in another window. Anything that is done in either window occurs live in other windows, allowing you to see the forest and the trees! Figure 2 shows three separate views of the same page; look closely and you can see that the gray rectangle is selected in all three windows. On a Windows machine, you can have FreeHand arrange the windows automatically by choosing Window>Tile Horizontally or Window>Tile Vertically.

9.  Colorize your layers.
Okay, some programs do this automatically, but you can make the selection points and paths a different color on each layer to make object selection visually easier. Just drag a color onto the blue square next to the layer's name in the Layers panel.

10.  Select all objects on a layer at once.
Hold down the Option/Alt key as you click on a layer's name in the Layers panel. All objects on that layer will be selected. Add the Shift key and click on another layer to add those objects to the selection.

11.  Attach text to an ellipse.
Draw an ellipse and type some text. Use the Pointer tool to drag a selection box around both (or Shift-select both objects). Choose Text>Attach to Path. The text will flow completely around the ellipse in a clockwise direction, becoming upside down on the bottom of the ellipse.

12.  Place text on the bottom of a circle.
To have right-reading text at the top and at the bottom of an ellipse, type the text that goes at the top, followed by Return/Enter, and the text you want at the bottom. To get text at the bottom only (as shown in Figure 3), just press Return/Enter before entering the text you want on the bottom. The action creates a blank line on the top of the ellipse, and places the text at the bottom. The center point of the text will be at the top of the ellipse.

13.  Move text along a path.
Whenever you choose Text>Attach to Path, a tiny triangle appears at the center of the text, regardless of any text alignment you may have chosen. Click and drag the triangle to move the text along the path. In the case of an ellipse, the text will run upside down.

14.  Get coffee while you're waiting for overlapping Lens fills to redraw.
It's not a good idea to have many overlapping Lens fills - your computer hates it, and the printer will probably choke. Instead, simplify your design so the overlaps are not needed, or use Modify>Combine>Divide to create smaller, more easily manageable areas that you can fill without using the Lens fill.

15.  Check the Document Resolution when you're using Raster Effects.
FreeHand sets any Raster Effects to a 72-dpi resolution. That means when the document window is at 100% viewing size, everything will look fine and dandy. Zoom in, and you can see that everything is bitmapped (see Figure 4). It will print that way. In case you weren't paying attention: IT WILL PRINT THAT WAY! You can change the resolution of that object only by going to the Object panel, opening the Options fly-out menu, and changing the resolution in the Object Resolution window. At this point, you can also opt to "Use document Raster Effects Resolution" by clicking the box. On the other hand, you can go to File>Document Settings>Raster Effects Settings and change the resolution of the entire document. It's best to work in the default 72-dpi mode until you're ready to print. Then change your settings to 300-dpi to print because the hi-res effects take longer to redraw onscreen.

16.  Think twice about using Raster Effects.
I know, it seems like a lot of cool features, but there are two major problems. First, colors in the affected object are converted to RGB. That means the printer has to reconvert them to CMYK when printing. You have no control over that process, so results may vary from what you expect. Second, these graphics are surrounded by a rectangular bounding box. If that box overlaps a similarly effected object or a colored area, the bounding box shows up as if you had applied a Lighten Lens fill to the rectangle. It will print that way. So, working illustrators build these effects the old fashioned way - as vectors, or from a bitmap editing program such as Photoshop.

17.  Don't expect to edit a photo in FreeHand.
FreeHand is a vector drawing program, and largely ignores bitmap objects. You can import a grayscale TIFF file and adjust the contrast and brightness, but you can't do any retouching. You can change the color of that image from black to any color you wish however. Just select it, and choose a color - this only works with grayscale images, though.

18.  Change text color the easy way.
It's easiest to change the text color while it's live text. Select the text with the Text tool and choose a color. But if you've converted the text to paths, it's not that easy - in fact, that method only makes you emit loud painful noises. Instead, you must subselect the text by one of three methods: Select the text/object and double-click Contents in the Object panel. Repeat until you see the correct text color appear in the color well in the Tools panel. Then change the color. (see Figure 5) Another method is to select the text/object and choose Edit>Select>Subselect until you can make the change. The best way is to use a custom keyboard shortcut for Subselect (I use Command+Option+X or Control+Alt+X) to quickly burrow down to the nitty gritty.

19.  Use Master Pages for layout approval.
If you have to create the look for a Web page or brochure and you're down to color choices, make a Master Page of all the elements that could have their colors change. Then set up a page with elements that won't change. Make duplicates of the Master Page, and edit them for color. With the common element page open, apply one or another of the Master Pages to it and see the effects immediately. Yes, you could simply duplicate the pages, make color changes, and then click between pages, but using Master Pages means you can make global changes somewhere down the line.

20.  Import tables directly from Excel.
Just save the Excel file as a Tab Delimited file and it will import fine. Each cell's information will be intact. No, it will not "function." Any formulas or cell references will be inactive, but the resulting data is there.

21.  Use custom views.
If it's common for you to create a similar layout for many jobs - such as product labels - create a template that contains custom views. Zoom in on the product name area and save a custom view (View>Custom>New), then go to the directions or application area and do the same. Make a view for every instance that you usually need; then save the document as a template (or Master Page). Then you can choose the working view you need from the View menu in the Toolbar, or from the Magnification menu at the bottom left corner of the application window.

22.  Trace problematic fonts.
On a Mac, some Multiple Master fonts look fine on screen, but change to another font weight when converted to paths (see Figure 6). To retain the on-screen image, trace the text with the Trace tool.

23.  Instead of Copy and Paste, use Clone.
Artists coming from the "other side" will spend a long time trying to find "paste in front/back." In FreeHand, clone the object and it's automatically copied and pasted directly in front of the original object and remains selected.

24.  Use the Option/Alt key for copies.
Select a text block on an object. While the mouse is down, depress the Option/Alt key and drag the mouse. A clone of the object will be moved.

25.  Power duplicate.
Most people don't take advantage of the power duplication feature in FreeHand. Select an object, and either clone it and move it, or use the previous tip to Option/Alt+drag to move the clone to a new location. Then choose Edit>Duplicate to move a new clone exactly as the previous object was moved. That includes horizontally and vertically, so you can place objects on an angled line if you want.

26.  Power do a lot of things.
You can create a clone of an object, rotate it, scale it, skew it, and move it. Then choose Edit>Duplicate as many times as you want to keep the process going. It?s an easy way to create a path of objects getting smaller or larger on a spiral (see Figure 7).

27.  Time heavy extrusions just before lunch.
If you have an object that contains a lot of smaller objects or compound paths (read: text) and you apply an extrusion to it, time will be a minor factor. But it becomes a monstrous factor if you apply a bevel to the extrusion. Increase shading or bevel steps above the default of 5, and you have an even more time consuming process. Moving such an object a pixel or two can cause a wait-time of several minutes or even more than an hour. When it happens, Force Quit FreeHand and start again with a less vigorous extrusion.

28.  You've heard it before: Vote Early and Vote Often.
Oops, wrong saying. What I meant was SAVE early and often. Especially before doing a memory-intensive task such as extrusions, tracing, switching to other documents or applications, and even printing. You'll breathe a lot easier knowing that you won't have to start from scratch if the computer hangs.

29.  Option/Alt+drag guides.
Instead of traveling back and forth to the top and left of the screen to create multiple guidelines, power-drag them. Save time and exercise by creating one guideline for horizontal or vertical, then press and hold the Option/Alt key as you drag multiple guides from the original.

30.  Place Guidelines accurately.
We often overlook the precision FreeHand offers us. If you open a new document and go to Guides>Edit menu, you can select the Add button. That opens a new dialog box where you can choose from horizontal or vertical guides, and then enter numbers that put guides exactly where you want them - you don't have to try to make the guides snap to the rulers! In fact, you can create a grid very quickly by using "Add by" count or increment. Note that the guideline grid you create will not act the same as a true Grid, also found in the View menu. You won't have the same snap-to attribute, and the guides are moveable - unless you lock them (View>Guides>Lock or lock the Guides layer in the Layers panel).

31.  Create vector shadows with blends.
To bypass the possible problems you may incur with Raster Effects, create drop shadows the old fashioned way (see Figure 8). One way is to clone the object that you want to have a shadow, and use Modify>Combine>Union or Join if necessary to create a single object. Then distort that object with an Envelope or the 3D Rotation tool so that the object is the shape of the outer edge of the shadow. Fill that with the background color (subselect if necessary to do so) , and clone the object. Reshape/resize the form directly beneath the original object, and give it the darkest color the shadow should have. This could be a gray, or a combination of the background color it compliments. Then blend the two shadow objects. It takes very little time, and you don?t have to worry about resolution or RGB/CMYK conversion issues.

32.  Create vector shadows with Contour Gradient Fills.
Start as in #31, and make the outer shadow shape. Then apply a Contour Gradient Fill, using the appropriate shadow and background colors. Adjust the contour ramp until the shadow looks right.

33.  Can't open an EPS file?
FreeHand doesn't have a PostScript interpreter. Therefore, you can't work "inside" an EPS file. If you've exported a document as an EPS and checked the "Include FreeHand Document" box, then you will be able to work with the file. If not, you must open the file in Adobe Illustrator. At that point you may be tempted to just do the job there, but fight those urges! Be Strong! Persevere! Export the document from Illustrator as an Illustrator 8 or 9 file. Then open that document in FreeHand.

34.  Consistent color.
Pick just about any color from the Pantone Swatch list, and drag it to the Mixer panel. Note the CMYK color breakdown. Now go to Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator and select the same Pantone color and note its CMYK values. Who do you trust? It's a tough question. I rely on printed sample books from Pantone because I'm looking at actual printed examples of CMYK on paper. Trust the numbers. If I'm matching colors in a Photoshop image, I use Photoshop's eyedropper tool to get the color breakdown, and create a custom color in FreeHand using those values. Or I create my color in FreeHand and use those values in the Photoshop document - it works both ways. The Pantone books are not cheap, but it's a pretty inexpensive investment compared to reprinting an entire print job!

35.  Create quickie Web page navigation with the Action tool.
The Action tool is so easy to use it should be illegal! Choose the Action tool, and click the "button" on the current page. Then click on the page you want the button to link to. Continue through the entire layout. Finished results can be seen in Figure 9. It takes seconds, and there's no code to write! Choose File>Publish as HTML, and sit back. The screen redraws and partially redraws for a few seconds and becomes still again. Go to the folder you've created (pay attention to the location as you're publishing), and double-click the first page. It will open in your selected browser. Click the buttons and amaze your boss! Keep all the files in the folder intact, and don't be tempted to rename them. FreeHand has a very specific way of creating the HTML files and doesn't play nice - if at all - when you tinker with them.

36.  PDF exports are a pain!
Speaking from a Mac standpoint, don't use the obvious Export as PDF routine. You'll have one problem or another sooner or later. Just give up and accept the most common approach. Choose Print, then change your printer selection to Adobe PDF and choose Output Options. Put a check mark in the Save As File box, and then choose PostScript from the Format drop-down menu. Please try to ignore the PDF choice, and the large "Save As PDF" button at the bottom. Now, choose FreeHand MX from the main drop-down menu and make sure that everything is in order here - whether you want separations or a composite print, printers' marks, colors, page size, and so on. Then click Save. A PostScript file will be created. When it's done, you must run the file through Adobe Acrobat Distiller, and there you can select the degree of quality for the file. Note that you must have the "full" version of Adobe Acrobat to have access to Distiller - but it's more than worth the investment cost.

37.  Use a digital tablet.
If you're a more traditional artist, you will fall in love with a digital tablet. Some have more features than others, and costs vary from $50 to over $2,000, but they're priceless. Look for a review in an upcoming issue of MXDJ.

38.  Change the end points of the Connector tool arrows.
The Connector tool is great for organization charts and flow charts, but by default the arrows always go from the center of the object's bounding box. Working with rectangles or ellipses doesn't present a problem, but other shapes (stars, triangles and so on) are inconvenient. To trick the viewer, create a small decoy - say a pixel or two square - without a fill or stroke. Zoom in and place the decoy above the target image, where you want the arrowhead to point, or the connecting path to begin. Then use the Connector point to create the path to the decoy. If the path wants to select the target, hide it (View>Hide Object) until you've made the Connector-connection.

39.  Apply bitmaps on the Perspective Grid.
Can't do it, right? Instead, in FreeHand import the image you want to have in perspective, and draw an outline of the image (shown in red in Figure 10). Apply the outline to the Perspective grid, then copy that path (Edit>Special>Copy Special) and choose EPS for Photoshop 4/5 from the menu. Then open a copy of the image in Photoshop and Paste the outline as pixels (on a new layer). Select the image layer and choose Edit>Transform>Distort. Using just the corner points, adjust the image to fit the FreeHand path. Hide or delete the FreeHand path, then save the image with a clipping path, import it into FreeHand, and place it on the grid.

40.  Distort bitmaps with the 3D Rotation tool.
Can't do it, right? Heard that before? You can proceed as described above, or you can use the Trace tool to create a vector drawing of the bitmap. Be mindful that the more accurate the tracing is, the more points and objects it has created. You can make a tracing that is larger and more complicated than the original bitmap. But if you can use a minimum number of colors, just trace the bitmap and distort away with the 3D Rotation tool, Fisheye Lens tool, Envelope tool, and Perspective grid.

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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