Adobe Illustrator: The Harsh Layout Mistress

beer-can house costume

I’ll keep this short and to the point: Don’t do page layouts in Adobe Illustrator. Ever.

I have no beef on AI’s remarkable tools for drawings and diagrams. It ain’t made for page layout. To elaborate:

  • It has a very kludgy interface for placing images
  • Type handling characteristics are not pleasant
  • There is no Collect-For-Output feature.
    You leave a file behind, you won’t know it until your service bureau/color house/pub calls and says “hello, bucko, you’re missing x fonts/images. Now what?”
  • When it comes time to save, the unwary are confused between “Save With Links” and “Embed”

I suppose some people started using AI back when Quark was the only page layout game in town, and they couldn’t get used to viewing a low-res image in a picture window.

Hint: Make a quickie PDF of that page/spread. It’s called a “soft-proof”

In the last several years InDesign has eaten a lot of Quark’s lunch. (It was long overdue, which will be the subject of another post).

However, in the context of this AI post–people liked the hi-rez preview. And I got to examine a lot of AI layouts. Here’s how I’d handle these files:

  • Start by opening the fonts in Suitcase or other font utility. Oh, how I miss Adobe ATM <sigh>
  • Now open the file. Do pushups while waiting, in some instances.
  • Watch for the missing image alerts
  • If there was an image folder/files available, try to link to them.
  • Sometimes, the designer had started with low-rez jpegs, and swapped out w/ hi-rez files. Maybe they even have the same names.
  • Now the file is open. Look at it in outline mode to see if there are ‘phantom files’ in the layout or margins. Its happened more than once.
  • Got bleed? Lotsa folks don’t understand that 1/16″ is precious little between a bleed and a sliver of daylight which can make them look like an idiot.
  • Go to the Links palette, and click the images one by one, noting size and enlargement. Anything over 300 lpi was home free. Hey! I’m not paid to make aesthetic judgements. To quote the late Brandon Tartikoff, “If I programmed what I liked, the network would be dark 4 nights a week”

Inshallah, everything checks out OK. The file is released to production.

There are some of you out there thinking “Gee Mr Pre-Press? How come you didn’t spank the file with Markzware Preflight??”

I wished it were so. What I discovered about PreFlight, a program I love, is that when it looks at AI files, half the time it does not dig down into the second and third layer below the surface. Like when a monster AI file is imported into an IDCS document just so it can be proofed. I got stung earlier in the season by a Workbook advertiser who sent a file that was incomplete that way, and it involved multiple catch-ups to get the file ripped and the proof back to the customer.

And that is the short take on why Adobe Illustrator Is The Harsh Layout Mistress

4 responses to “Adobe Illustrator: The Harsh Layout Mistress

  1. I was shocked the first time I saw people using AI as a page layout program. Scary. I was a die hard Quark person, until InDesign V.1 Love it.


  2. It is shocking when you know better. I’m an InDesign convert too. I know non-professional designers use AI because they don’t want to (or need to) spend the money on page layout software. I’ll be passing this how-to on to a few of my favorite folks. Great blog, btw.


  3. Thurston Thighslipper

    Very touching stuff. I was moved by the plight of the color blind photographer by the way. I’m hoping that in later webisodes he finds true love. I did think however that the character of the narrator was poorly developed though. What are his motivations? Why is he such a hard ass? Why does he melt into a puddle at the sight of an Illustrator file? A bit more depth would help flesh things out a bit. Either that or more pics of K-Kard’s booty. Either way, you’re off to a good start.


  4. Hmmmm… this article is all a bit ‘black and white’. Any designer worth their salt would know not to supply an .AI file to anyone other than another designer, certainly not when its destined for print, but to convert it to the necessary format; they would also ensure all fonts and images are embedded before even thinking about handing it over for print. I do a lot of magazine work, and find a mixture of Illustrator and Quark are by far the best tools. Keeping the page ‘design’ and the document itself separate make things much more flexible, and while Illustrator cannot be beaten as far as design goes, Quark cannot as far as typography and layout are concerned. InDesign just doesn’t cut it for me, it’s for folk who are scared off by the more powerful and flexible applications.


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