Illustrator Tips, Tricks and Techniques: Working With Layers

Hey everyone! I did a video look at how I use layers and some of the effects that I employ when I use them. This is a good next step from Dawn Griffin’s Adobe Illustrator 101 videos (part 1 and part 2)

Illustrator Tips, Tricks and Techniques: Working With Layers

Hello there! My name is Ken Drab of the Webcomic Alliance and today we’re going to take a quick look at a feature in Adobe Illustrator that I feel is extremely important – at least it is in the develop of my comic ‘Rick the Stick’ – and that is layers.

I basically use 12 layers – and I’ll typically add three more towards the end – but that’s for when I set up my comic for book layout in black and white – it will save me time down the road.

I start out with the sketch layer – and that can feature something I sketch out right on my cintiq or something I draw free hand and scan it in and place it as a reference. Very basic stuff.

My next layer is the ink layer where I actually ink everything in the foreground – usually the characters and anything they’re holding or interacting with, a soda can, a steering wheel, you get the idea. It’s important for me to keep this layer separate because this will be the main layer for the black and white version as well. One thing I do here is color in whites since that won’t matter with the different versions.

The next layer below that is the main color layer – and I use that to color my foreground characters or objects. I like this layer separate and behind the inking layer because as I pointed out I use the inking layer for black and whites – and by coloring in behind the inking layer, I don’t have to be precise so it gives me a little freedom to create some shortcuts.

The layer below the main color layer is background ink layer – and again, I keep ink and color layers separate for the black and white version of the comic. In this layer, I try to keep it simple and not distract from what’s going on in the foreground, but I want something there that will visually add a sense of scenery or action. I’ve duplicated this layer because I wanted to point out an important effect that has been useful to me, and that’s layer transparency. As you can see, the way I have this layer set up now is just outlines – but that won’t do it for me visually so I actually colored in the shapes and by simply clicking on the small ‘click to target’ circle on the right hand side of the layer in the layer palette, it selects everything on this layer for me. Pretty useful so you don’t have to lock other layers to just get at the items on this layer. With everything selected, I go to the transparency palette and select multiply and everything on this layer is set to multiply – even anything I add later. This is important – especially for shading – because overlapping shapes of the same color value don’t create a darker color where they overlap. The next important thing to remember about this is that if I were to mask this layer in with the other layers, it loses it’s transparency effect – the multiply reverts to normal which is a bummer so I mask this layer separately and it keeps the effect. On a side note – when I come across the situation where I have to mask this layer separately I generally do the same thing for the background color layer to preserve the layer order. Which leads me to the…

background color layer – and I’m usually pretty loose with this layer because regardless of which background inking layer I use, most of this stuff will be masked out later.

Moving back up the layer palette, I have the mask layer where I get to the point where everything is coming together and I like to clean it up. I unlock the layers I’ll be masking and select the panel.

Before I mask everything, I’m going to duplicate three layers we’ll use later. This mask layer, the main ink layer and the background ink layer. A nice feature that Illustrator has that isn’t really apparent is in the layer palette and in the option tab on the top right of the palette is an option to ‘collect to new layer’ which basically puts them all in a layer I treat as a folder.

Now getting back to masking, Illustrator takes the top most object and uses that to mask everything selected behind it. So as you can see here, it’s a simple box the size and shape of the panel of the comic. Under the Object menu, go down to clipping mask and select ‘Make’. Boom – done – easy peezy.

The layer above that is the shadow layer where I drop in shadows using the technique I explained in the background inking layer. I click on the small ‘click to target’ circle on the right hand side of the layer in the layer palette, it selects everything on this layer for me, then I set everything to multiply. Since this layer is above the masking layer and since I don’t want to lose the multiply effect, I try to keep within the borders.

The layer above that is a static and locked layer which are the borders to the panels, then I have the static text layer above that which features my domain name and copyright information.

The top two layers are the word bubbles. I do them last and I resize and redraw accordingly.

Touching back on the layers we duplicated later, I keep them for the black and white version and use the same masking technique.

I hope everyone learned a little bit here and look forward to some more in depth Illustrator techiniques in the future!

Thanks again, I’m Ken Drab of Webcomic Alliance.com and my comic is Rick the Stick.com

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