Today's question comes from Michael Hamm:
As a longtime Illustrator user, I just sometimes take things for what they are but I recently had a student write, "When one has an open document (image) in Illustrator, you know the scroll bars for vertical, and horizontal for the image you are working on? Well, even if I have an [Artboard] area that is say, (total) 200px by 400px, the work area, or "white area" outside of the actual image is HUGE."
I'm not sure what to tell her really but I though you might have some insight into this. Maybe it's one of those nagging questions everybody thinks but rarely asks.
Well, I'm not sure if my answer is the "official" one, but it's what I can muster up based on my understanding of the application. Teri or others might be able to offer more insight.
From a historical perspective, Illustrator was never much a "page" based application. Basically, you create a document and draw an illustration. More often than not, that illustration would end up being saved as an EPS and dropped onto a page in a real page layout application. So the actual page size didn't really mean much to Illustrator. In fact, when you save your file as an EPS file, the artwork bounding box is honored. So no matter what size your artboard is, the final size of the artwork is based on the art that you draw. For more detail about bounding boxes, and Illustrator's new behavior in where PDF honors page size by default instead of artwork size, see EPS is dead to me (or is it?)....
Illustrator's largest artboard size is 227.5" square. But if the artwork bounding box is what really defines the size of an exported graphic (and not the artboard size), then by definition, Illustrator would need to allow me to create artwork up to that size, regardless of the page size itself. Therefore, no matter what size your "page" is, Illustrator will always give you a canvas of the full 227.5".
Now, if we could only add real multiple artboards within that overall 227.5" area....