August 20, 2007

Lite Brite Art (Part 1 of 3)

At a recent Vector Conference, I shared a cute tip on how to create a "Lite Brite" effect in Illustrator.

When I was younger, there was never a shortage of toys that allowed me to develop my creative side. Etch-A-Sketch, Play Dough, Lego, Spirograph, Paint-by-Number, etc. One of my favorites though was Lite Brite, basically a light box with a plastic grille on the front. You would place a piece of black construction paper over the grill, and then push colored plastic pegs through the paper into the holes in the grille. When you turned on the light, the pegs would glow giving you a really cool design.

This 3-part project starts out with some standard artwork in Illustrator and ends up with something that looks like it was created with Lite Brite. In Part I, we’ll focus on the Object Mosaic filter, and in Part II, we’ll move from the Filter menu to the Effect menu and make use of some effects that at first glance, seem totally useless. Finally, in Part III, we’ll unleash the power of the Live Color feature, found in Illustrator CS3. I know, I always like to save the most exciting things for last…

Let’s begin.

1. For this example, I used a cute illustration of a clown, which I found from an artist named MKucova over at (file number 3108562). The artwork was available in vector form, which was good because I placed the clown on a solid black background for a more realistic effect (Lite Bright pegs are pushed into black construction paper).

2. Next, we’ll rasterize the artwork by choosing Select > All, and then choosing Object > Rasterize. I chose to rasterize the artwork at 150 ppi, and clicked OK.

Are you Wondering why we rasterized our vector artwork? Because in order to make the artwork look as though it were made up of little pegs, we’re going to use Illustrator’s Object Mosaic filter. It’s actually one of the few really useful items left in the Filter menu, and unfortunately, many people do not even know of its existence (although, that changes today).

Object Mosaic is kind of like Live Trace in that it takes embedded rasterized content and converts it into vectors. However, the result is not traced paths, but rather a mosaic (or grid if you will) of rectangular shaped paths. If you’ve ever seen mosaic tiles, where artwork is made up of little solid colored squares, you’ll understand. As you’ll soon find out, the Object Mosaic filter will give you full control over the size of each colored tile, the number of them, and the amount of spacing between them (you can think of this as the grout lines between the tiles). Now that we’ve rasterized our artwork, we’re ready to apply the Object Mosaic filter.

3. Select the image and choose Filter > Create > Object Mosaic. Leave the current and new size as is, and specify a value of 1pt for both the width and height for the Tile Spacing. In reality, we won’t really need Tile Spacing, but for now, it’s a great way to see some immediate results. Tile Spacing is akin to the grout lines that normally appear between mosaic tiles. For the number of tiles, I entered a value of 60 for the width. If the Width option is chosen in the Options section, you can simply click the Use Ratio button to have Illustrator automatically calculate the value for the height. If you want to be truly accurate, Lite Brite is 45 pegs wide. The higher the value you use, the more detail you’ll end up with. For the Result setting, choose Color, and the check the box marked Delete Raster. Unfortunately, there’s no Preview option, so just click OK, and if you aren’t happy with the results, Undo, and try again.

So that takes us to the end of the first part of our Lite Brite project. In our next segment, we’ll learn how to turn all of these cute little mosaic tiles into cute little round plastic pegs.


Anonymous said...

Cool -- I can't wait to try this step to create cross-stitch patterns! Much better than hand-coloring grid paper or superimposing a grid on top of scanned art (or buying a cross-stitch pattern creator program which isn't usually Mac-compatible).


Anonymous said...

just oune more question. is it possible to covert mosaic in other form than elipse or rectangle? a star for exemple? thks