September 15, 2008

ASK MORDY: Limitations between Flash and Illustrator

As they are both lumped together in the category of "vector" applications, one can easily assume that objects can be moved freely between Illustrator and Flash. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Today's question comes in from Elisabeth:

I work for scientists and make presentations for them in Flash. I create the storyboards to go with them in Illustrator. In doing this I often have to copy and paste text from Flash to Illustrator and instead of text I get vector objects. Is there any way to get around this?

The reality is that when it comes to integration between these two powerhouse applications, there's a big fat "one way" sign, and the arrow points from Illustrator and leads to Flash. Try going from Flash to Illustrator and you're faced with a huge "Do Not Enter" sign instead.

Actually, go back a few versions and you couldn't even find a reliable way to go from Illustrator into Flash. While Illustrator and Flash are indeed both vector-based applications, their graphic engines and the way they export those vectors aren't the same. In fact, if you think about it, Flash was built to display artwork in one place, and one place only -- the Flash Player. Even as recently as Flash 8, importing Illustrator artwork into Flash resulted in some pretty ugly paths. In the CS3 release, Flash actually implemented Illustrator's vector graphics engine under the hood, which finally allowed Flash to interpret and maintain the integrity of each anchor point and respective control handle.

To understand the significance of this, take into account the screenshot that appears above. I drew a circle in Illustrator and copied and pasted it into Flash. The circle on the left is how the circle appears when pasted into Flash CS3. The circle on the right is how the same circle appears when pasted in Flash 8. Sweet, eh? In fact, Flash CS3 is pretty intelligent when it comes to pasting content from Illustrator -- live drop shadows from Illustrator become live editable drop shadows in Flash, gradients come in as gradients instead of bitmaps, clipping masks come in correctly, text become editable -- the list goes on.

Here's the thing though -- the code for bringing artwork into Flash was updated, allowing art to move from Illustrator into Flash, but the code for exporting artwork FROM Flash hasn't changed at all. Meaning that while there's a way to get awesome graphics INTO Flash, there's no way to go the other way around. Hence, if you try drawing a circle in Flash and then copy and paste it into Illustrator, you'll get the same result as you see in the circle on the right, in the above image. Likewise, text is also lost when going the "wrong way".

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fireworks CS4 now shares the same text engine as Illustrator does, making it now possible to move text easily between FW and AI -- but sadly, that isn't the case for Flash.

Looking forward, Flash Player 10 (recently released) does have support for something called FTE (Flash Text Engine -- formerly known by its codename, "vellum"), although support for this isn't available within the Flash application itself just yet. I would guess the hope would be that at some point, the FTE technology and the ATE technology (Adobe Text Engine) found in Illustrator, Fireworks, Photoshop, After Effects, etc, would be able to communicate with each other to allow text to move freely between all of these applications.

To wrap up, my understanding is that MOST people need to bring content from Illustrator into Flash, and so that workflow has a higher priority, and those pain points were addressed first. Workflows where designers need to bring content from Flash into Illustrator aren't nearly as common (although I'll admit I've been hearing more people ask for this lately). But since this workflow isn't as mainstream, it doesn't get a high priority at Adobe. If you're a designer and you feel differently, let Adobe know. Either comment here, or contact Adobe directly with your requests (yes, Adobe actually does listen).


AlexH said...

Getting vectors made in flash into illustrator can be tricky.

You can work around by using the export function in flash, export it as .ai or .eps and then open it in illustrator.

RickH said...

Thanks Alex! That was the key! FXG worked well too.(imported into Illustrator)
Nice, clean vectors.