December 29, 2005

Celebrity Death Match: Paste Inside vs. Mask

In the Real World Illustrator book, each chapter offered what I called a "Feature Matchup" which compared and contrasted two features that may have appeared similar, giving a better understanding of when to use on over the other. In reality, I wanted to call these "Celebrity Death Matches" -- the concept was really along the following lines: You're blissfully moving along, working on a project, or reading the book, and you come upon two features that seem to be about the same. how do you know which one to use? So I was looking at these feature matchups akin to the way Trinity needed to fly a helicopter in the first Matrix movie. She pulled out her cell, called Tank and had him download a helicopter pilot program to her. Her eyes fluttered for a second and then she had the info she needed to proceed. My attempt with the feature matchup was the same -- to stop what you're doing, flutter your eyes for a few seconds to get the info you need, and then proceed with the task knowing what to do.

One thing that I couldn't really do in the book though, was contrast such a matchup with Freehand. And the truth is, now, many FH users are looking at using Illustrator (notice I said using, not switching). So I thought it might be interesting to do a matchup with the way both FH and AI work. There's a lot we can talk about here, but in this first installment, I wanted to talk about Freehand's Paste Inside feature and Illustrator's Mask feature.


Freehand has an extremely elegant and simple way of masking items. You can take any object, select another object, and choose "paste inside". When doing this, it's similar to what QuarkXpress does (sort of like InDesign, but not as much though). Basically, the object becomes a frame for the art that you pasted inside of it. You can move the art around within the object, but you can't select it by clicking outside of the object. I'm not sure exactly what the limitations are, but I believe you can go up to seven levels deep (have 7 nested "paste insides" that is). Unless I'm mixing that up with lenses?


Illustrator can achieve the same effect, although getting there is a bit more challenging, and editing maybe even more so. In Illustrator, you can have any object become a mask for other artwork. Anything within the mask is visible, and anything outside teh boundaries of the mask is not. However, one can still select artwork even if the artwork isn't visible (i.e., it's outside the boundary of the mask). This makes it all to easy to accidentally select artwork that you don't intend to select, and usually results in the requirement to constantly lock and unlock objects.


For simple and quick work, paste inside is a dream. It doesn't require much brain power and allows you to build elements quickly, and edit them without accidentally selecting unwanted artwork. However, Illustrator contains 3 different types of masks, and once you understand how they all work, you have a tremendous amount of power and control over your artwork. Especially so with Opacity masks and Layer Clipping masks. However, it requires more work as in order to really take advantage of these (especially Layer masks), you really need to plan out your file correctly, or at least organize it in a way where you won't be changing stacking order just by creating a mask. I like paste inside alot, and give it the edge for most of the work that I do (mainly because most of the work I do is simple stuff), but for complex documents, maps, etc, you couldn't pull masks out of my cold dead hands.


Newmango said...

Oooh! Illustrator vs. Freehand! Back in the days of Mac vs. PC, every community had a MUG. I used to participate in our MUG's annual Illustrator vs. FH Shootout. I would stand up in front of the room and demonstrate something cool I could do with Illustrator, while the other guy would show how he could do the same thing easier or faster in FH. And then we'd do the same thing going the other way.

You had to really be at one of these events to appreciate how much the two programs were more alike than they were different, and which one you preferred depended a lot on which one you learned first. I hated "paste inside", hated how (comparatively) difficult it was to edit the masked artwork, and hated how FH users made it a single word - pasteinside. But really, it's just another way of doing the same thing, and they each offer advantages for different workflow styles.

Now I'd like to see Mordy offer a definitive answer to "Why does Illustrator have 15 path editing tools while Freehand needs only one?"

Mordy Golding said...

How can I not respond to an open challenge like that?

I just heard an ad on the radio the other day for Duracell batteries. It was about some eye doctor who performed thousands of needed eye surgeries in Africa - using the light of a Flashlight. No fancy light fixtures that reflect light in fancy shmancy ways using who knows what kind of expensive light bulbs, with different settings and angles and doodads -- a hand held flashlight (oh, powered by Duracell batteries of course).

But my point is, find me an eye doctor in the US who doesn't have the many different doodads. "They are necessary" he would claim. "I've always done it this way" another would say. One would surely venture to say "using the fancy lights is the better way".

Sure, Illustrator has lots of tools -- each finely tuned to perform a specific task. Freehand's outlook on the situation is -- hmmm, let's just work with one tool and it will cover most of what you need. Maybe it won't be as elegant, but it works. And then the funny things is, at the end of the day, Freehand's method *IS* more elegant because of how simple it is.

As for the real reason of why Illustrator has 15 tools while FH has only one, I'm almost afraid to answer that question, because it's a monumental difference not about the applications, but the people who define and create it. And that's something I may just have to blog about....

Vonster said...


Nice Blog I'll be bookmarking it.

There is no limit (Nested or otherwise) that I've ever encountered with using Paste Inside? I just finished an illustration that had about 400+ items pasted inside a shape. No problem printing or copy/pasting into Photoshop to raster it either.

Just thought you'd like to know

Mordy Golding said...

Thanks for the comment Vonster.

I'm not sure if you understood what I meant when I said "nested". Can you take an object and then paste it inside another shape. And then take that overall shape and paste it into yet another shape? And then take that shape and paste it into another one, etc...? In other words, you'd have a shape that's pasted inside a shape, that's pasted inside a shape, that's pasted inside a shape, etc... And if so, how do you edit each of them?

Michael H. Phillips said...

Another handy feature of Freehand's 'paste inside' is that if you subsequently cut contents, the masked objects return to their original layers.
Incidentally, the same 'return to original layer' behaviour applies to grouping and un-grouping in Freehand.

miked said...

Thanks for starting this blog. I check it every day, along with the Illustrator User to User Forum.
The thing that drives me crazy about clipping paths is the way they use the entire size of the clipped items as the object's size and placement values. This makes using the Align and Transform palettes useless with clipping mask objects.
I often need to arrange lots of cropped images in one file. Since it's impossible to use the Align functions to put them in neat rows and columns, I've had to create elaborate work-arounds to create and place cropped versions of the images rather than the original full-frame image inside a clipping mask.
I also often use the Transform palette to precisely size and position objects. Again, it can't be done with Clipping mask objects.
I and others have often requested in the Feature Request section of the Illustrator Forum to have this annoying behavior fixed, to no avail. InDesign, by the way, does this correctly. I can't imagine why it was ever designed this way in the first place, but why hasn't it been fixed yet?
Thanks again.


Mordy Golding said...


EXCELLENT point! I'll be brutally honest and tell that I had no idea that you couldn't align masked objects with the Align palette. At first, I thought that the Use Preview Bounds option would correct the behavior, but it does not.

It seems the only way to align masked objects in AI is manually, using a guide or something.

InDesign doesn't use masks, but rather "frames". This is due to InDesign's inherent nature as what I like to refer to as a "structured" design application. Illustrator is unstructured. For example, in AI, you can place a picture directly on your artboard, and you can do the same with text. InDesign requires all elements to live within a frame -- and so you always have the frame to align with.

I've often wondered about the repercussions of making Illustrator conform to a structured "frame" paradigm. Although as an instructor myself, I can tell you that people who use InDesign often struggle with the concept of content in frames (which could just be the way the feature is implemented in ID).

JET said...

"Maybe it won't be as elegant, but it works. And then the funny things is, at the end of the day, Freehand's method *IS* more elegant because of how simple it is."

Mordy, in my understanding of its use in the context of software (stemming from the common application of it to describe Mac OS in the early days) the term "elegant" embodies user simplicity and ease simultaneous with greater power.

That is, something simple is not necessarily "elegant." It also has to be more powerful. Elegance in this context means "able to do more, with greater ease." And fact is, FH's interface for basic tasks is very often (indeed, I would even say "usually") more elegant. That is, simpler to use and more powerful. The bottom line of this is greater efficiency for the proficient user.

One obvious example is the matter of converting points on paths as you draw them. In FH, using nothing more than the two most common keyboard modifiers (Ctrl/Cmd and Alt/Opt), you can at any time while drawing with the pen:

Convert any number of point(s)

Extend/retract any number of handle(s)

Bend any segment (including straight segments)

Add/delete point(s)

and more...

...and simply resume drawing the path with the Pen when you release the modifier keys.

You can do a few of these manipulations in Illustrator and have the Pen poised to resume, but not nearly as many or as cleanly as in FH. Making path alterations as you are drawing with the Pen in Illustrator involves more keyboard shortcuts, requires deselection/reselection, and in general is more difficult to learn, more tedious to perform, and--all things considered--less efficient.

In Illustrator, one of the main offenders in this regard is the need to make a "hard tool switch" to Illustrator's separate Convert Tool, just to extract handles from corner points.

So Illustrator's separte Convert Tool is a prime example of having too many separate and too limited tools where an interface can be both more elegant and more powerful with a single simpler to use yet more powerful tool.


JET said...

A much larger example of Celebrity Death Match or "one tool vs. several" and "elegance" could be FreeHand's genuinely contextual interface design.

AICS2 made what I consider a rather poor effort to tack onto Illustrator's dated interface scheme a contextually-sensitive Control Palette in answer to the demand to alliviate some of AI's palette clutter and feature scatter.

The Control Palette is neither a proper palette dock, nor a tool-contextual options bar, nor a comprehensive selection-sensitive options panel--it tries to be two of these, but acomplishes none of them very satisfactorily.

The problem, to my admittedly cynical eye, is obvious: It is a marketing-driven "tagged on" feature where what is really needed is a more thoroughly integrated and comprehensive solution.

Illustrator users (myself included) often stress the importance of keeping the Appearance Palette handy--and rightly so.

But the Appearance Palette is also quite inelegant. By what justifiable logic does it display "Group" as the object type when a Clipping Path is selected and the Ungroup command is unavailable? By what sense of "elegance" or "efficiency" does a Stroke listing fail to include its weight? (For that, you have to refer to yet another palette.)

(On a similar aside, where is the "elegance" in AI's Swatch Palette listing newly added colors as a worthless and wordy "New Color Swatch 1" instead of defaulting to the component values as does FH?)

But FH's Properties Palette (originally called the Object Inspector) first appeared as part of a truly comprehensive modernization of FH's interface which, prior to that point, was structured much more like Illustrator's still is.

FH's Properties Palette consolidates the equivalents of both AI's Control Palette and its Appearance Palette, plus much of the most important information in AI's Info Palette, even while providing access to more settings and object information and in an easier to navigate fashion.

And even as FH's interface is centered upon a properly contextual and much more thorough inspector metaphor, it also provides completely customizable toolbars which you can populate with precisely the tools you want, and then dock to the top or side of the document window in single-width bars. Palettes can be docked together like AI's and can be docked into a screen-side drawer.

I believe any objective observer, setting mere favoritism and familiarity aside, would have to admit that a FH-like contextual inspector-based interface is more more informative, more space efficient, and easier to use--in a word, more elegant--than AI's dated collection of modal dialogs and closely related settings and options scattered across multiple single-purpose palettes.


JET said...


AICS2 does show stroke weight in the Appearance Palette stack. (I was typing the previous from memory on a laptop without AI installed.)


Sandee Cohen said...

Neat, one of my favorite topics.

There is so much that Illustrator has these days, that I no longer pine for FreeHand.

However, there are a few "must haves" from FreeHand that I'm hoping show up in Illustrator:

An easier way to convert the type of point. I was to be able to select a point and then use anb icon or keystroke -- NOT clicking with the Pen -- to convert the point from corner to curve to anything else.

I want to be able to extend or collaps handles without having to drag.

And I want something from XPress too: the ability to position the angle and length of BEZIERT HANDLES.

It is embarassing that the company that invented PostScript doesn't have this type of precision.

Anonymous said...

Any one want a freehand vs illustrator race on round corner boxes create and edit??

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