May 27, 2008

ASK MORDY: Preview Without Bleed

Today’s question comes in from Ran, a graphic designer in Israel:

Many times, when working in Illustrator, I have shapes that extend off the artboard, and when I want to preview my work, I have to create a clipping mask in order to see what the final design will look like. This is very tedious when trying to work and preview constantly. In InDesign, I can press the “W” key to preview only my artboard. Is there a simple solution in Illustrator?

I feel you brother – if you were to run some kind of analytical program on my computer to monitor my usage of Adobe Illustrator, you’d find that I use the Blend function in Illustrator more often than just about any tool. But that’s only because the default keyboard shortcut for the Blend tool in Illustrator is the “W” key – and I am constantly pressing it because it’s second nature in InDesign. How I wish we had such a feature in Illustrator as well. Alas, there is none, and we are indeed relegated to the use of masks in order for us to temporarily “hide” parts of our artwork.

Of course, I say temporarily because any designer who is required to specify bleed has come across this issue in Illustrator. All we want is a way to see what our artwork is going to look like when it prints – without the bleed getting in the way.

While I can’t offer a quick solution, what I can do is suggest a better way to create and use your masks. Instead of using clipping masks, utilizing layer clipping masks will not only make it easier to manage your artwork, it will also make it a one-click operation to show and hide your bleed or non-necessary artwork.

Step 1. The artwork displayed below features a common Illustrator file (the art elements came from the fabulous iStockPhoto folks). There are three layers, and I’ve create crop marks so you can see where the art will get clipped. Of course, the goal is to preview the art as it will appear when clipped. You don’t need to use layers, but I have used them in my file. My only suggestion is that even if you have a single layer, rename it to something more meaningful (like ARTWORK, etc). In general, it’s a good idea to name your layers (especially since more and more applications are beginning to recognize Illustrator layers, including InDesign, Photoshop, Flash, etc.)

Step 2. Create a fourth layer, and name it MASK. Create a rectangle to match the exact size of the trim size, or the area to be clipped, and apply the None attribute to both the fill and the stroke of the path.

Step 3. A layer clipping mask works as follows: The topmost object in any single layer becomes a mask for EVERYTHING else that exists within that single layer. Every layer in Illustrator has a mask, and that mask is either active or it isn’t. Our goal is to use the path we created in the previous step as a mask for the three artwork layers in our file. To do that, we’ll need to bring those three layers INTO the MASK layer. In the Layers panel, simply shift click on the three layers and drag them into the MASK layer. Make sure the path is sitting above the three layers, as you see in the Illustration below.

Step 4. At this point, you have everything you need in order to preview your art without the bleed. In the Layers panel, click once on the MASK layer to select that layer in the panel (you don’t have to have any art selected). Then, activate the mask for that layer by clicking the Make/Release Clipping Mask button at the bottom left of the panel. The button is actually a toggle, so clicking repeatedly on the button shows and hides your clipped artwork.

Obviously, once you have the mask set up, it’s pretty painless to switch between “previews” on your screen. But admittedly, it does take a minute to set up the mask. If you do this a lot, you may benefit from setting up a template that already has a mask layer set up within it.

An obvious benefit of this method is that you still may have some artwork that exists outside the clipped area that you want to stay visible all the time. For example, you may have some informational text, a slug, or some other element that needs to remain visible. By simply creating a new layer that exists on the same level as the MASK layer (meaning, it’s not a sublayer within the mask layer), the mask will not effect that layer at all. As always, the control is in your hands.

All told, it would still be lovely if Illustrator could somehow introduce a preview mode similar to that found in InDesign. But until that day arrives, a layer clipping mask will have to suffice.


Anonymous said...

It's nice action.

Unknown said...

For some reason, when I have other masked objects in the layout, releasing the layer mask releases ALL masks. I even tried putting the layer mask shape on a new layer and moved the art layer inside it as a sub-layer. I've had this problem for a while because I've been using this "preview" method for some time. Is this a bug or is there a setting somewhere I missed?

Anonymous said...

When I preview my art in illustrator I use the save for web preview window.

That's the easiest way for me to do it although it takes a second to load.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, the fact that if you release the layer clipping mask (with layer panel button) all your other mask is also released is a bug that Illustrator have for some version. To avoid this, select it, and use the menu Object >Clipping Mask Release. Or if you just want to delete it, select it in the layer panel and drag it to the trash icon of the panel.

Anonymous said...

There's another way that doesn't require moving layers. Unlock all the layers, select all, and copy. Create a new layer and paste (in front or in back, to ensure the placement of all elements is consistent. Add your layer mask to this new layer.

That way, you can toggle visibility on the "mask layer" to see what you're going to get, or turn it off to continue working on the "master image" layers, so to speak...

Granted, it does make the file size bigger, but you could delete the "mask layer" once finished with the file.

DiC said...

here is a quick trick i use. open the navigator up from the windows tab. drag the lower left corner to expand the window, and it will only show art that you have in the artboard. quick and easty!

Nils Ververs Lübke said...

Great tip, thanks Mordy :)

I have a quick and dirty tip:

Use the Save For Web & Devices preview. The shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+Alt+S. Presto! Insta-preview :)

Rob Clark said...

A much easier way is to save a copy as PDF - then in the PDF save options select 'Marks & Bleeds' and untick the Bleeds options so that they are all set to '0' and then save and preview - much easier and you can send it to your client for review without the bleeds!

Anonymous said...

in case someone finds it useful, I wrote a small script to create a "preview without bleeds" in Illustrator.

The script creates a Compound Path made of two rectangles for each artboard (inside a nonprinting layer on top) to cover the bleed.

You can download it from here:

Enrique said...

in case someone finds it useful, I wrote a small script to create a "preview without bleeds" in Illustrator.

The script creates a Compound Path made of two rectangles for each artboard (inside a nonprinting layer on top) to cover the bleed.

You can download it from here:

To install the script:
copy the file to Applications -> Adobe Illustrator CS5 (or CS4) -> Presets -> en_US -> Scripts
Restart Illustrator and run the script from the file menu

Anonymous said...

IN case someone cares, I just tried to use this in CS6 on artwork with multiple art boards. I had to have multiple sublayers. In order to get the mask button to work with a certain art board, I had to drag that artboard's path to the top. I couldn't get a mask on all art boards simultaneously.

I tried the script link but it went to a page jumbled with text that couldn't be used without a lot of cleanup.

However, DiC's Navigator trick worked GREAT. My situation is often that someone is looking over my shoulder (:-p) and they're too impatient to wait while I drag paths!

Unknown said...

Yes, DiC has it right, it's the quickest way.
Shame on illustrator not to provide this feature. I mean, isn't it obvious that you should be able to see what you are actually going to be printing with the click of a button?
Anyway, thank you DiC!!1

Unknown said...

Use DiC's navigator trick, it's quick and easy and you won't risk screwing up your work by fiddling with masks and layers.

Illustrator creators, take note, you need a "preview" feature like the one in Indesign. Anyone working with the program has a need for this feature all the time, it's way overdue.