A personal testimonial and cry for help from a less-than-expert Illustrator user who likes his layers labeled. By rogermexico.

This writer isn't much of a designer. So any time I get a helping hand from an iStock illustrator it makes my day. Grouping the key elements of your Vector together can make a huge difference.

The designers and clients who download iStock illustrations fall into all points along the Illustrator user-savvy line. For every person who builds their own Illustrator Actions in order to save time on repetitive tasks, there's someone else who never remembers what the difference is between the two arrow tools.

As someone who falls into the latter demographic, let me tell you: any help that you, the iStock illustrator can provide is greatly appreciated.

When I download an illustration, more often than not, I'm specifically interested in a specific part of it. The brilliance of vectors is the way you can pick out a certain element, quickly isolate it from everything else, and then pluck it and plug it into the design you're working on.

That picking, isolating, plucking and plugging is all made much easier when the different elements are grouped together into individual clearly-lableled layers.

Identify the main elements

Have a look over your masterpiece and try to identify the main things that someone might want to click on. Group all those major objects together into individual layers.

Imagine different uses

Put yourself in your design shoes and imagine the different uses that various parts of your illustration might be put to. Then make it easy for someone to get into your file and do those things.

In the illustration that we used for our header graphic here, each of those tags has it's own grouped layer:

The smart illustrator behind the file knew that someone would be just as likely to want a single tag as the whole set. So they made isolating just one as easy as clicking off the other layers. If you wanted to work further with the different objects that make up the tag itself, like the shadow, you just need to open up that group.

If you name, be clear

Naming your layers can also be really helpful. Remember though that not everyone who downloads the file will speak English. Heck, you might not speak English. So if you do name the layers, keep them clear and simple.

Some people choose not to name their layers at all. This is fine, as long as the layers are easy enough to figure out without names. The layers in our label example aren't named, but figuring out which was which was completely easy just by looking at the thumbs in the layers palette. So naming certainly isn't necessary.

Don't go overboard

It's possible to go too far: a file that has a hundred different ungrouped layers can be as difficult to manage as a file with just one. Stick to a few clearly-labeled groups that focus on the main objects. Too many will quickly become overwhelming.

Layer and Group Tips

So all those ounces of prevention are worth plenty of cure, but what's someone to do when they open up a Vector and just can't interact with the different elements the way they expect to? Here are some common issues and ways to address them.

I can't click on an object to edit it.

Two things could be happening:

• The object itself is locked. Go to Object > Unlock All to unlock everything in the file. Read more.

• The artist may have used a clipping mask. Right-click on the shapes and choose 'Release Clipping Mask' to remove it. Read more.

The shapes in the file are ungrouped.

• If the file doesn't have a background, click-drag your Direct Select cursor (the black arrow in the AI toolbar) to select all the shapes. Go to Object > Group to group the shapes

• If all the shapes you need are the same color - say for example it's a grunge texture, select a shape that's the color you want and go to Select > Same > Fill to grab all other shapes with this fill color. You can also select shapes with the same stroke color, or fill and stroke colors.

• If you want to put shapes onto separate layers in order to lock them, select the shapes you'd like to move. Go to Edit > Cut, then in your layers palette, create a new layer. With the new layer selected go to Edit > Paste In Place to paste your shapes into the new layer. You can then lock these layers so you don't accidentally move anything around.

Image Credits

Labels by grki

Pens and Pencils and Beach Babe by bortonia

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