November 3, 2008

CS4: Be Smart - Give Smart Guides a Chance

If you have Illustrator CS4, you have undoubtedly noticed something different since you started using it. As you mouse around your screen, objects "light up" and words like "path" and "anchor" pop up everywhere. These are all part of the Smart Guides feature found in Illustrator -- and in CS4, Adobe has decided to ship the product with the feature turned on.

The immediate reaction from most people is to yell out in frustration and quickly find a way to turn the feature off. After all, nothing is more annoying than paths and anchors highlighting all over the screen as you move your mouse around. And in all honesty, I agree -- Smart Guides in this way is totally annoying -- I too would turn it off. While I could probably find some benefit to having the boundaries of paths light up, I can find even less reasons for having Illustrator identify objects as "paths" or "anchors" -- first of all, I like to think I'm smart enough to figure that out on my own, and second, what can I DO with that info? When would there EVER be a reason for why I'd need to have something identified as a path or an anchor?

OK, so most people run to the View menu and choose Smart Guides -- which effectively disables the Smart Guides feature in Illustrator. Here's where I offer my plea: Don't turn off Smart Guides. There are just too many important benefits to the feature, and by turning it off, you are doing yourself a disservice, especially so in Illustrator CS4. Let me explain.

Have you ever tried snapping an object to a guide or another object, thinking those objects were perfectly aligned? Only to zoom in really close and see that there's actually a gap? Of course you have. A common misconception about Illustrator is that you have to zoom in REALLY really close in order to make sure that object line up correctly, and that this is a cause of Illustrator not being accurate enough. In reality, it's due to the fact that the snapping behavior in Illustrator is calculated from the position of the CURSOR, not the object you're moving. That means if you click on a particular anchor point and move your object to snap to a guide, you might THINK that you're snapping the point to the guide, but you're really snapping the position of your cursor to the guide. In other words, if you don't click directly on the anchor point, your anchor point won't end up being aligned perfectly to the guide.

That changes in Illustrator CS4 -- IF -- Smart Guides is turned on. When Smart Guides is on, Illustrator can snap the object bounds of objects to paths and guides (the way InDesign does). In other words, with Smart Guides on, your objects will snap, and you won't have to worry about exactly where you click to move an object from, and you won't need to zoom in really really really close to ensure your objects are aligned correctly. That's a pretty big benefit, don't you think? Then add the additional benefits of Smart Guides -- quickly aligning objects as you move them around. You'll find yourself using the Align tools a lot less. And you'll find yourself zipping around your work, and being more productive.

But what about all the highlighting and stuff? Well, Smart Guides is actually a complex feature that encompasses six different TYPES of guides. In my book (shameless plug -- it's coming out December 18!), I detail each of these six guides. But here, I'll tell you which guides I use and find to be important.

Illustrator has a preferences panel specifically for Smart Guides.

The Smart Guides behind the flashing and the highlighting are Object Highlighting and Anchor/Path Labels. Turn those off for a heaping dose of peace of mind. TURN ON ALIGNMENT GUIDES -- this setting allows you to easily align objects as you move them around the screen, and more importantly, it activates the snapping behavior I mentioned above. As an added benefit, Alignment Guides also work on Artboards when you're in Artboard Edit mode. Finally, as an added suggestion, I personally like the Measurement Labels setting -- this displays values as you move, draw, and transform objects.

So instead of turning off Smart Guides, learn to control them -- make them do only what you want them to do. In the end, you get a better Illustrator experience overall.*

*Go ahead, I know you've got a burning question: why did Adobe turn on the Object Highlighting and Anchor/Path Labels setting in Smart Guides? Did they really think people would find it helpful? I don't have a good answer. Maybe it was so that I would be able to write this blog post :)


Anonymous said...

Also notice that this snapping no longer works as in previous versions for objects on locked layers. How is that helpful?

With the ANNOYING alignment guides unchecked in preferences, you no longer can snap to objects and their paths and anchors and center points on locked layers. (Unless there is a toggle for turning that back on that I missed.)

I have used anchor labels very successfully for quite some time. They really are unobtrusive and give some positive feedback. In CS4 the don't always work as in past versions.

If you ask me, the changes they made in this area were not really necessary given the hundreds of other improvements that could and should have been addressed.

George Coghill said...

So the snap to guides with object bounds only works with the Smart Guides turned on?

Either way, glad to finally have that feature, not sure why the big issue with including it earlier.

Anonymous said...

While moving objects if Control/Command key is kept pressed this causes the mouse pointer to snap (to objects and guides which are on in preferences) not the object boundaries. In other words this gives the same functionality as in AI CS3.

Richard said...

I think SG is very usefull but sometimes it can mess the interface. So I am always using CMD+U to turn it on and off.

chegr said...

I was very frustrated with new Smart Guides. They took all the functionality SG have in CS3 and threw it out. Now I can't take several objects by the path and snap them to the other path; I can't snap one text string to another (only to the side edge or descender line); I can't virtually drag a guide from any anchor, according to chosen angle, with the object grabbed — only when creating new objects; and so on. Alignment guides are wonderful, but why they castrated old features? And sorry, I'm from Russia, I can misspell.

AnimeShippuuden said...

I normally don't post comment, but i would like to say that your post is really very interesting.

Anonymous said...

The CS3 functionality is available as it is, it's just that one need to make appropriate settings. Simply turn on 'Construction Guides' (specifying the angle at which you want guides out of anchor point), and 'Transform Tools' from Smart Guides preferences. Turn off alignment guides and measurement labels if you don't want those. You would start getting CS3 functionality. Remember while moving objects you need to press Cmd/Ctrl to get the CS3 behavior, you would effectively be using Smart Guides from CS3 if you do this.

Greg said...

"While moving objects if Control/Command key is kept pressed this causes the mouse pointer to snap (to objects and guides which are on in preferences) not the object boundaries. In other words this gives the same functionality as in AI CS3."

THANK YOU!!! I was about to get very frustrated. (No combination of checkboxes in the pref pane seemed to get me there, but control does it presto!)

Now I am in total jaw-drop-mode about the new smart guides. Thanks for the great post. This is the biggest point release of illustrator since about v10, I'd wager.

Anonymous said...

Functionality the same as CS3-OK but to get there in circumstances such as snap-copy-vertical you are now holding down 3 keys with your left hand! I'm sure it was just recoded without a thought paid to keeping the interaction the same!Why? "because we CAN!"

Manek said...

Well, thanks to SG, you may now edit text with effects, text with clips, text enveloped in a giffy! Otherwise this feature was just hidden in the previous version.

That's not all SG is quite nicely integrated with artboards - on scaling, positioning elsewhere.

Regarding object highlighting, well it is a handy little goody! Eh! It actually highlights based on the layer/sub-layer. Sounds cool to me!

susan said...

Thank you for the control key comment. I was about to pull out all my hair. I love SG and have been using them for years. Great to hear from others that use this as well. I am still a bit frustrated that SG will now snap to hidden layers. The layers are hidden for a reason!

Anonymous said...

i import 3d drawings (top view) from autocad into illu cs4. i use illu to make illustrations onto the acad drawing so they can be exported to a text-program.

there are sometimes lines they are double in the acad drawing (because of 3d). and i can say there are alot of lines in that acad drawing.
what i try to say is, if you have lots of lines in the drawing, the _new_ smart guide features start to dance - and gets pretty much confused. i think some elements snap not on the path they snap to the outer thikness of the lines :-( ...
i constantly used smart guides in CS3 and was pleased with it. i think i go back to CS3. i can't work with it!

PixelOz1 said...

I have been using Smart Guides for years and like somebody else said here if you don't like them you can always turn them off.

For more irregular artwork they sometimes get in the way but for more "angular" or "straight lines" artwork like modern artwork, logos or for technical drawings they are terrific.

The error for many artists is to pass judgment on them too quickly and say "I'll just turn them off" before learning to really use them.

I just turn them on and off with Ctrl-U all the time depending on what I'm doing and I don't want an illustration program that doesn't have them, as simple as that, they are tremendous time savers.

I put them with all the features on and just turn them on/off at will with Ctrl-U so I don't mind the highlighting but if that bothers some people it can be turned off and there is the Cmd/Ctrl key that makes it work more like CS3.

I also use CorelDraw and it has a very similar equivalent (Dynamic Guides) and that is one big reason why they are my favorite two vector illustration programs.

Now, for people that don't know it yet Serif Draw Plus X4 now has Dynamic Guides too and many other improvements and more speed so it may be an alternative for those that can't afford CorelDraw or Illustrator.