Detail from Daily Planner #3

Vector First Aid

A life-saving plug-in from Astute Graphics

After all the trouble with my OS crash recently, I found myself just out of the mood (and habit) of creating art pages. However, going through my assets to make sure they were all backed up, I did get in the mood to make better use of them, especially when it came to creating new elements I could use with art journaling. If, like me, you enjoy creating composites, whether for scrap, journaling, photo art, or planner pages, you’re probably also not going to want to take the time to create each and every element from scratch—not when designers spark your imagination with their kits. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never want to figure out what they’re doing, even if simply to appreciate the effort that goes into these elements by trying it yourself.

Some of the creative assets I buy don’t come from scrapbook sites, but from sites dedicated to designers. Here you can find fonts that are terrific for scrapping or art journaling, textures that are perfect for papers or photo art, brushes of all kinds, as well as things like flowers, figures, and flourishes. These asset sites, such as designcuts.com or creativemarket.com, often sell bundles of assets at extremely good prices. But as they are geared for designers, assets are also often in a vector format as well as being PNGs or JPEGs. The vector assets almost always come in EPS format, which is a universal vector format, so many programs can open them (although they may rasterize them), but much of the vector artwork has so many anchor points along their paths that not only are the file sizes very large (and will slow Illustrator down), they’re nearly impossible to edit in their original state.

PathScribe dialog & selected artwork
Astute Graphics’ PathScribe plug-in shows the number of points selected AND the number of paths, as well as their open/closed status. PathScribe includes a Smart Remove Points feature, as well as a Smart Remove Brush for “brushing away” the excess points without deforming the path beyond your tolerance setting.

This is where Astute Graphics’ latest plug-in, Vector First Aid, is uniquely able to save our sanity. If you’re not already familiar with Astute Graphics, they create plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator that make working with vector almost easy, even for us pixel artists. I began using Illustrator at the same time as I began learning to use Photoshop, and I liked what could be made with vector, but it wasn’t until I learned about Astute Graphics plug-ins that I began to relax and enjoy creating vector graphics with the combination of Astute Graphics tools and Illustrator’s powerful features, such as Recolor Artwork and the Pattern Options panel.

For a long time now, Astute Graphics main drawing tools, PathScribe and InkScribe, have had a feature called “Smart Remove Points.” PathScribe has even dedicated a brush to removing points, letting you simply brush along paths to remove the excess points that interfere with editing. The Smart Remove Points feature is smart enough to adjust Bezier handles wherever possible, to know if the resulting path will deviate from the original by more than you have determined was acceptable, and leave necessary anchor points intact. Illustrator doesn’t care what happens to the path when you delete a point, and will never adjust the handles to retain the path’s shape, nor leave a point in place if the path depends upon that anchor.

Super Smart Remove Points icon
Vector First Aid incorporates the Smart Remove Points technology with the additional benefit of being able to apply it to the entire file—useful for files created with Image Trace, the Pencil tool, or in EPS format, all of which are well-known for having excessive numbers of anchor points.
Vector First Aid Preferences
Preferences for Astute Graphics plug-ins are often overwhelmingly comprehensive, but the default settings suit most of the time, and the ability to finely tune to customize the feature or tool is one of the reasons their use is so unlimited compared to similar features found in Adobe Illustrator. Here the Smart Remove Tolerance can be precisely adjusted to best suit the paths that will be affected.

This feature alone made it possible to use Image Trace on simple artwork that had been scanned, objects drawn with Illustrator’s Pencil tool, and EPS objects. Now, however, with Vector First Aid, all I have to do to start cleaning up paths is select the paths, push a button and relax. Vector First Aid looks at the entire selection and removes the excess points, not deviating from the original path any more than I’ve allowed in its Preferences.

Vector First Aid panel with action results & artwork
After running Super Smart Remove Points, almost half the points have been removed at a tolerance of 15 (default is 20), chosen to best preserve the shape of the paths and still produce paths with a manageable amount of points. From here, PathScribe’s Smart Remove Points feature (or brush) can be used in a more individually targeted fashion to reduce more points if desired.

While that feature alone is worth the price of admission, it’s a mere fraction of what Vector First Aid can do. Another really useful feature is its ability to join paths, and unlike Illustrator, to do so smartly. Instead of manually searching a document for every open path that should be closed, and then using Illustrator’s Join command which always joins any two points with a straight line, Vector First Aid will search for you for any paths whose end points are as close as you specify for paths that should be joined. It then joins smartly, preserving smooth or corner anchors, rather than arbitrarily making them all corner points.

Vector First Aid Icon strip
Vector First Aid includes icons for the most common issues: Super Smart Remove points, Rejoin paths, Combine point text, and Replace missing fonts.

Illustrator has always been able to import many different formats, but not always all that cleanly. Much of Vector First Aid is dedicated to fixing the problems that come with the files we open in Illustrator, but we also create our own problems when creating from scratch, and Vector First Aid has us covered. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll see how very powerful the plug-in is. Notice that you can configure it to perform several tasks at once, so that even if you could do those tasks with Illustrator commands, you’d have to either write your own actions or scripts (to cover the different issues), or you’d have to perform them one at a time—and that’s just if Illustrator can do the same thing.

Vector First Aid menus
The pop-up menu provides access to the many individual features used to fix documents that have acquired faults and unnecessary baggage during their construction, or that have become broken in the import process. You might consider Vector First Aid in part as Illustrator’s missing Preflight feature, as well as first aid for the many types of files Illustrator doesn’t handle with total compatibility.

Personally, I’m as keen on Astute Graphics plug-ins for Illustrator as I am on Nik’s filters for Photoshop. They’re always looking at what we do and asking themselves how could we do something more easily and better. And then they give us a fantastic plug-in that does just that.

Daily Planner #3 for Democracy series
Daily Planner #3 from my Democracy series of White House and Congressional “planner pages” of actions taken by them. Credits belong primarily to RMcMeen and Holliewood.
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