Industries that employ designers such as advertising, marketing, industrial design, feature film, gaming companies and publishing houses are generally unified in what are expected skill sets for creative staff hires. In this current day and age, computer skills are pretty much mandatory across the board wherever you go except for the toy industry, which is a veritable potpourri ranging from extremely proficient to, well, um, not so much.
This industry dynamic poses a challenge for students entering our field not to mention the young professional designers who want to continue their personal and professional growth. While you can certainly learn a great deal from your team leaders, digital skills may be much harder to acquire on the job depending on your area of concentration within the toy industry.
If the emails and LinkedIn correspondence sent to me from readers of Global Toy News is an industry indicator, the average designer needs to seek other avenues to professional growth such as online teaching resources or just deciding to opt for the easiest solution of winging it on the fly to get the job out the door. The latter explains why Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files vary so much from company to company with some being well executed while others are an absolute mess. Just say’n.
The reason for my Toy Tech blog is to provide an approachable resource for those who wish to continue to grow their conventional and digital skills by clearly presenting relevant, job specific technical notes. In turn, this also works to decrease company loss margins by implementing more strategically streamlined workflows and cost saving techniques.
Please know that my demos and recommended process guidelines are only a starting point and you can certainly add more steps to make the process your own. Adobe applications provide for more than one way to execute a given objective, so the point here is to arrive at a place that meets your individual needs empowering you and your company to represent the highest professional standards.
The visuals featured in this article cover the subject of creating eye deco art in Adobe Illustrator, which is a standard creative department deliverable required to manufacture a toy. This art, if executed properly, should have fully editable paths with clearly defined layers and groups. Unfortunately, many such documents are not done in a way that allows for editing of pen tool paths and have a seemingly endless smattering of layers with no coherent groupings to organize the file.
As legend has it, hidden within mysterious fog at the end of a long winding path known to only a few, there is a huge stone at the very peak of a Himalayan mountain with these words chiseled with extreme care—“Simplicity is an art.” That’s pretty darn amazing! I mean, image the weight of such a heavy stone and hauling it all the way up to the mountain top using nothing more than a donkey. Serious.
Ok, I actually made that up. Sorry. Truthfully, though, the most talented people I have ever known have the ability to organize their complex thoughts in such a way as to make the communication simple and easily attainable. With that said, the complexity of Illustrator files should be so well organized that editing paths or re-arranging elements would actually be a straight forward task saving costly time at the back end of the production process. Wow, that was a long sentence.
It's key to know you can organize paths into Groups as well as Clipping Masks—think of the latter as having the ability to not only group several shapes together but also hide elements without deleting them for future editing. As detailed in the first image of this article, the basic placement of multiple path layers is clearly illustrated showing the structure that builds up to the final deco art composite which is grouped into a Clipping Mask. It is important to note each path (except for the clipping path which is only a shape) has a specific PMS color and must be completely editable in terms of color, contour and arrangement within in the layering structure.
So, instead of just gathering paths into a standard Group and then cutting out details making the illustration more difficult to revise down the road, the process featured here groups individual elements together without cutting or deleting so everything is fully editable and easily re-arranged whenever the need arises. Keep in mind, troubleshooting not only happens at the home office but also at the factory located on the other side of the globe. In the long run, this process reduces drama and cost overages.
For eye deco art, make sure each of your elements such as the white of the eye, pupil, iris and highlight are layered in the correct order and then arrange your clipping path layer to be above them all. This pen tool path is called a clipping path because it clips or hides anything outside of its enclosed shape—think of it as a mask. As stated before, unlike other procedures, this clipping mask doesn’t delete anything but simply hides them. This is key to editing all of those elements later on.
All right, now you have your Adobe Illustrator pen tool paths in place and ready to create the clipping mask. Select all of the layers and go to the Objects menu and choose Clipping Mask and then Make. This will group all of the layers together within the top layer-clipping path causing unwanted areas to be hidden.
To edit this clipping mask group later on, simply go back to the same Objects menu, select Clipping Mask and then choose Edit Contents. Now you can click on any individual element to move, re-arrange, modify path contour or simply change the PMS color content.
To release all of the layers from the clipping mask group, select Objects menu, Clipping Mask and then choose Release to collapse the group into individual layers. Dishes are done! Please remember the process detailed here will only work if the clipping path is above all of the other paths. Anything outside of the shape of that path is hidden until released.
Now, once you master these steps you’ll be running at full speed. This process looks more complex on paper than it really is so don’t lose heart. Win, lose or draw, trying new techniques and modifying outdated work patterns will at the very least help keep your mind active and your marketable career skills up to date. For those of you more experienced with digital tools, we'll be discussing advanced tricks of the trade in future posts. For now, continue to dream big and play hard my friend.