April 15, 2007

ASK MORDY: The Changing of the Guides

Chris Rogers sends in this question about guides:

Is there a way to create a guide at a specific point? Eg, a vertical guide at 167 pixels? Or a horizontal guide at 83 pixels? I’m thinking more like a non-traditional number/not on a number point that can be snapped to on a grid by dragging it out. Seems like I remember a way to click somewhere and enter a number and program creates it for you? Photoshop?

This is a great question, only because it provides a wonderful opportunity for me to also explain a change that was made in Illustrator CS3.

First, let's talk about Illustrator CS2 (and just about any version prior to that). Guides are really objects. When you drag out a guide, you can simply use the X and Y coordinate fields in either the Transform palette or the Control palette (at the top of the screen) to reposition those guides numerically. But there's a catch. By default, guides are locked. Meaning that when you initially drag out a guide, as soon as you release it, it becomes locked. And locked objects can't be selected. So what you must do is first unlock your guides (it's easily available by just right-clicking on the artboard). Then you can select a guide and reposition it numerically.

I should mention that InDesign's guides can also be repositioned this way, but the guides are unlocked by default -- making it easy to quickly drag out a guide, punch in a value, and move on.

I should point out that in both InDesign and in Illustrator as well -- since guides are objects, you can also copy and paste guides (or use the Align functions on them). Of course, all while they are unlocked.


In Illustrator CS3, guides are UNLOCKED by default. That means you can drag out a guide and immediately punch in a coordinate in the Control panel. Which is pretty cool.

HOWEVER, InDesign has the leg up in this case because of something important. You see, in InDesign, while guides are objects, they are "special" kinds of objects. And in InDesign, when you make selections, you can either select guides, or objects -- but not both. In fact, in InDesign, if you marquee select an area that contains both objects and guides, only the objects become selected. In this way, InDesign intelligently allows you to have unlocked guides that don't get in the way, yet can easily be repositioned at any time.

Illustrator CS3 suffers from a problem because guides aren't special objects -- they are objects. And so, if guides are unlocked, they become selected just as art does. The result is that while Illustrator CS3 makes it really easy to reposition guides, it's also really easy to constantly move and delete guides along with your artwork. In fact, you may find that one of the first things you do when using Illustrator CS3 is lock the guides so you don't keep accidentally selecting them.

If the Illustrator team wants to keep guides unlocked moving forward, I would recommend they adopt InDesign's logic for selecting guides as well. Otherwise, the guides just keep getting in the way.

An alternative solution is to create a new layer in your document -- and only add guides to that layer. In that way, it might be easier to just lock and unlock the entire layer (FreeHand anyone?).

Or here's another possible solution. Create your guides, and then group them. If you want to move individual guides without other objects getting in the way, double click on one of the guides to enter group isolation mode. Then only your guides are active in your document, and you can move them easily. Simply double click to exit the guide group and you're back to working.

Still, I like InDesign's implementation in this regard.


Teri Pettit said...

Re: Illustrator CS3 suffers from a problem because guides aren't special objects -- they are objects.

I wouldn't go so far as to say they aren't "special objects." There are many ways that guides are treated differently than regular paths even when they are unlocked.

Most notably they still function as guides, that is, objects will snap to them along their entire length.

Another difference is that even though they can carry fills and strokes, the fills and strokes won't show unless the guides are released. I could probably list three or four more ways they are treated specially.

It is just that marquee selection and Select All don't have special rules for them.

Is it really true that InDesign will not allow mixed selections of guides and paths? For example, is it impossible to select a guide and then shift-select a path?

I don't think I would like that. I think it would be fairly common to want to move a guide, especially a non-ruler guide, in tandem with the objects that it is related to. For example, you might have a picture of a building with perspective guides along the sides to help you place the windows, doors, etc. If you moved or scaled the whole building, you would want the guides to transform along with it.

But I do think it would be reasonable if "mass" selection actions such as marquee selection and Select All and targetting a layer would not add guides to the selection unless either the only things within the marquee rect were guides, or the guides were grouped with something else and every non-guide object in that group was selected.

So in the example above, you could group the guides for window placement with the regular paths comprising the building. If you marqueed around a window or two, it would not select the unlocked guides around those windows, since there were still unselected parts of the building. But if you marqueed around the entire building, the unlocked guides would get selected too.

Mordy Golding said...

The way I like to describe it in InDesign is, there are two "bizarro" worlds -- a world of guides and a world of objects. At any one time, you can be in either one world or the other, but you can't be in both at the same time. When you make selections that encompass both worlds, the world of the objects always wins.

So yes, InDesign's current setup, if you select a guide and then shift-click on an object, the object becomes selected and the guide becomes deselected. If your marquee rect encompasses both objects and guides, the objects become selected.

So how can you select ONLY your guides and not your objects? You can either marquee select them from their positions off the artboard, or there's a specific command that allows you to "select all guides".

I do agree that it would be useful in some circumstances to be able to select both objects and guides simultaneously (my students often ask for such functionality), and your proposed logic for "ignoring guides" during mass selections makes a lot of sense -- in fact, that idea would be a better implementation than what InDesign currently offers.

Teri Pettit said...

Another case in Illustrator where you need to be able to select guides and non-guides simultaneously is when defining a sliding graph design. The guide is used to indicate the division between the part of the design that moves to the top of the column and the part that stays at the bottom, and it must be selected to become part of the graph design.

By the way, it looks like you turned off the post moderation. When did that happen?

Mordy Golding said...

Yeah, I turned off the moderation when I left for vacation for 2 weeks -- I wanted people to be able to comment without having to wait two weeks to see it :)

I'm going to leave it off and see how it goes. I'm all for making it easier for readers to post comments :)

John Seckman said...

I have always liked the way Illustrator guides work as compared to how other programs implement them. It has also made sense to me that they are locked by default. I understand how this can be confusing to many users, but it just makes sense. I don't see why it needs to change.

A better option would be a preference to control the default behavior. Everyone could then have exactly what they want--a perfect world.

Mordy Golding said...

The good news is that luck/unlock guides is a "sticky" setting that is preserved from one document to the next. So you don't have to change the setting for each new document.

john Seckman said...

This is true, but whenever you quit the program, it reverts to the default setting the next time it is launched.

Oh well, maybe one day I will see the logic behind this improvement.

Mordy Golding said...

You and me both John. I was baffled when I first stumbled upon this change...

Mordy Golding said...

I wonder if Adobe did this to enable easier access with 9-slice scaling?... hmmmm

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Lynn said...

Way back in AI 5 (I think) there was a way to temporarily unlock a guide so you could drag it to a new location. I used that finger dance to drag a single guide back to the ruler to get rid of it. I'm not sure why Adobe got rid of that ability.

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