Illustrator as a Tech Pack Generator
As recently as last week I was shown a complicated tech pack that was created in Illustrator. It reminded me how people tend to use the tools that they are most comfortable and familiar with. Prior to the advent of PDM/PLM systems, Illustrator was a tool of choice for tech packs. Designers used Illustrator to create tech packs because that was the tool they had installed on their computer. It worked better than the other options available to them – Word or Excel – but Illustrator was not intended to produce this type of document. Illustrator is an authoring tool for images and graphic designs and was not meant to handle the pagination and layout issues addressed by tools like InDesign. InDesign is a publishing/layout tool, suited for creation of a variety of documents and reports.
When Adobe released CS3, many of our customers purchased the Suite for the first time; instead of buying Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat individually, Adobe sold the full suite for cheaper than the three individual applications. For most, this was the first time they’d dipped their toes into the InDesign pool. And as it turns out InDesign has a steep learning curve so, naturally, many ignored it completely despite the fact they owned it. InDesign would have been a better choice for the tech pack.
Rather than forcing Illustrator to manage the abundance of text and image required in a tech pack, an InDesign template could have place holder text boxes along with associated image containers. This template can force uniformity among the tech packs and make printing much easier. The user can populate the placeholders with objects from the shared library (requiring few edits for this particular style) and publish the tech pack.
Link Images & Data in InDesign
When images that are created in Illustrator or Photoshop are placed into InDesign, they can be “linked” – meaning when the image is edited, the changes will appear in InDesign. The user can also launch Illustrator or Photoshop by simply right-clicking and selecting “edit original”. Once they save their changes, InDesign will also have the current image. This allows the user to use their authoring tools to create and maintain their images and use InDesign to create and maintain their layouts and publications.
In addition to linking images, InDesign can also link data. There are several methods (and commercially available tools) to link data from databases and even files to your InDesign documents. This can reduce data entry and typos as well as keeping the data accurate and up to date. There are even tools that will link InDesign directly to your PLM systems. This provides users with self generated reports from the PLM system with little or no programming required.
Best Practices: Templates, Shared Libraries & PDFs
InDesign templates can be used to enforce business standards; ensuring each user’s documents comply with a standard “look and feel” and layout. InDesign documents created from the templates can act as place holders allowing the user to start the publication while the images are still being created in their authoring tools. Text boxes can hold places for data that has yet to be defined. This allows the publication process to run parallel with the creation process, shortening the time it takes to generate all of your documentation.
With InDesign Creative Cloud (CC), users can share libraries of images and assets that can be used across the company’s publications. Common images like logos and other branding can be standardized. Multiple users can access and work on the same publications as well as the images and content.
InDesign files can create PDFs for easy distribution. InDesign is also part of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) so your output can go directly to your website, tablet, phone or almost any other device.
If you are one of the many who have InDesign available to them but have not mastered its use, you should take the time to learn how InDesign can change your publishing processes. There are a multitude of resources on adobe.com as well as several other sites: tutorials, sample templates, ‘how to’ guides, etc. It does require some effort but it will be worth your time to produce professional publications efficiently.
InDesign is probably the most underutilized application of the Creative Suite or Creative Cloud applications. It has the power to change how you design, collaborate, communicate and implement your business processes. When combined with content creation tools (Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, Excel, etc.) InDesign becomes the hub for your published information. Include a content or digital asset management system to keep track of all the individual assets and the final InDesign output and you have a complete enterprise publishing system.
By using InDesign and linking the images, the overhead of having to edit multiple documents can be drastically reduced.
Adobe Illustrator is the premier drawing tool of the Apparel, Fashion and Retail Industry. We found 6 ways to save time through improved efficiency and consistency.
Set up a Common File Structure
An artist, designer or tech designer will store their files in a designated local working location. Once the user has the work to the point where they want to share it with other users in their department or company, it will be moved to a designated shared location on the network. A folder structure is typically used to organize the files. Best practice is for an administrator to create the structure prior to the users saving the files. The folder structure should mimic the companies processes; typically season, product type, division, gender, etc. The number of levels should be adequate to categorize the files but small enough to reduce complexity. The order of the levels can also be crucial; if a company manages its business by season, season should be one of the top levels – not at the bottom. This makes file management (archiving, sharing, security, etc.) much faster and easier. Four of five levels is usually adequate and anything over seven can make navigation too time consuming.
Start with Templates
In order to maintain consistency among multiple users, these files should be based on templates. The temple will implement standards, but will also be flexible to support various uses. Multiple templates can be used support various functions and product types. Typically there will be different templates for Artists (artwork), Designers (style sketches and colorways) and Tech Designers (details and call-outs); in smaller companies or departments, the same people may perform these roles so the templates may also be combined.
Variations of the templates may also be required to support different products or markets. Some companies use one template for knits and another for wovens, or a template for Men’s, another for Women’s and a third for Children’s. As product complexity changes, different templates may also be required; T-shirts and lingerie may not be able to share a template.
In almost all cases multiple images are maintained in a single Illustrator file. They might be sketches for the front, back and side views with additional detail images with callouts; it might be a plain black and white drawing with a “filled” version for each colorway; it might be one piece of artwork with size variations for different applications (the artwork may be used on the garment, the label, marketing material, websites, in-store signage, etc.). Keeping these multiple images in a single file makes maintaining changes that impact all of the images much easier for the user. The template should be created with a “place holder” for each of these images. Originally this was accomplished using layers and sub-layers; with the addition of multiple artboards in Illustrator, artboards may also be used. This approach allows the user to easily maintain all of the images in the file while making exporting the individual images easier so they can be provided to their particular recipient.
A template can include an object library of pre-existing approved objects. Logos, branding standards, buttons, trims, standard call-outs, etc. can be included. The object library can be specific for the intended usage of the template – only keeping the relevant reusable objects so that searching is easier.
Utilize Standard Libraries
The usage of these libraries should be standardized. In some cases the object should be copied and others linked; by linking a logo, any changes made to the logo can update all the instances in the file. Copying makes more sense when the each instance needs to be maintained individually.
Utilize Standard Color Palettes
A similar practice should be used for color palettes. A standard and a seasonal color palette should be included in each template. This doesn’t keep the user from creating their own colors but it does encourage the usage of the agreed upon palettes. Note this makes the templates seasonal, meaning they will need to be updated with the correct palettes each season.
Store Metadata with the file
Most templates also include a standard header and footer; the header usually contains the information about the file and its intended usage; season, collection, designer, delivery, product type, size range, etc. The footer typically contains copyright information, company information as well as date/time stamps.
Many of the values contained in the header may also be the same values used in the folder hierarchy. These values are data about the file; metadata. Many companies have Master Data Management projects/systems; this means the company is implementing an enterprise level taxonomy and vocabulary (simply put – every one agrees to call things by the same name). The metadata should comply with these standards. Illustrator (being an Adobe product) supports embedded metadata (using the Adobe standard XMP). The future is to embed the file’s metadata within the file itself using the XMP standard. XMP metadata is available to applications without the need to open the file. Applications like Bridge can allow users to search for files based on the metadata.
E-Spec, Inc. is an Adobe® Solutions partner, which means images are at the forefront of our focus. From the creation of an image, we embed XMP data that flows through your business systems. This creates a digital image workflow through the combination of image files and related data; allowing images to flow to all systems instead of remaining locked inside a single database or location. Our suite of products and services utilize Adobe® technology to embed data within the image file; Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, JPGs, PNGs and PDFs; so the files become self-aware, allowing the image to drive your business.