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Adobe Flash Catalyst CS5 : Preparing a design document

5/1/2013 1:39:41 AM
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Knowing that you can turn your static artwork into working applications is pretty exciting. But before you get started, take a moment to review these best practices for preparing your design document. The way you approach the design and organization of your artwork has a significant impact on the structure of the project in Flash Catalyst and the underlying code. The following ideas will help protect the integrity of your design and minimize re-working or re-structuring assets after bringing them into Flash Catalyst.

Choose your design application

Flash Catalyst imports files saved in the Flash XML Graphics format (FXG). You can generate the FXG file from any document created in Adobe Fireworks, Adobe Illustrator, or Adobe Photoshop.

In fact, if you create your design using Photoshop or Illustrator, you can save yourself the step of exporting the FXG file. Flash Catalyst has an import feature that makes opening PSD and AI files a cinch! We’ll get to that in a moment.


When choosing Adobe Illustrator as your design application for Flash Catalyst artwork, use the Illustrator Flash Catalyst document preset. In the Create New section of the Adobe Illustrator Welcome screen, choose Create Flash Catalyst Document.

What is FXG?

When creating structured graphics for use in Adobe Flex or Adobe Flash Catalyst, you can save your design in the Flash XML Graphics format (FXG). FXG is a graphics file format based on a subset of MXML, the XML-based programming language used by the Flex framework. You can use FXG files in Adobe Flash Catalyst to develop rich Internet applications and experiences. When saving as FXG, images must be under 6,777,216 total pixels and less than 8,192 pixels in width or height.


In Photoshop and Fireworks, set your design document color mode to RGB. Spot and process colors are not supported in Flash Catalyst. Set an image resolution of 72 pixels per inch.

Plan the structure of your application

There are different approaches to structuring your application. The two most common ways to structure the application are:

  • Import all artwork in the design document to a single page state. Distribute artwork to pages in Flash Catalyst using the Flash Catalyst Pages/States and Layers panels.

  • Define the main pages of the application in your design document using Layer Comps in Photoshop or multiple artboards in Illustrator.

In both approaches your design document includes a hierarchy of clearly named layers and groups to define the pages and functional component of the application. Any layers and groups that you define in Illustrator, Photoshop, or Fireworks are maintained when you import the project into Flash Catalyst.

Importing all artwork to a single page state

When you create a new Flash Catalyst document by importing an FXG file, Photoshop document, or Illustrator document with a single artboard, your artwork appears on one new page state in Flash Catalyst. You can then duplicate or add pages and use the Flash Catalyst Layers panel to define which artwork appears on each page. This is a common workflow for structuring your application in Flash Catalyst, and that’s what we’ll be doing in this course.

Using Photoshop Layer Comps and multiple Illustrator artboards

A Photoshop Layer Comp (composition) provides a snapshot of which layers are turned on and off in your Photoshop document. When preparing a document for import to Flash Catalyst, you can use Layer Comps to represent each page state in your Flash Catalyst application. You can then import each Layer Comp to a different state in Flash Catalyst. To do this, you need to import each Layer Comp separately using the advanced options in the Photoshop Import Options dialog box. When you import artwork in a Photoshop Layer Comp, the artwork is centered in the Flash Catalyst artboard. To preserve the layout and positioning of your Layer Comps, include a background layer that is the same size as the Flash Catalyst artboard.

When you import an Illustrator document with multiple artboards, each artboard appears on a separate page state in Flash Catalyst.

The organization of your content is extremely important. You’ll need to identify and select these objects when separating artwork onto different pages and states or converting artwork into functional components in Flash Catalyst.

Here are some tips for organizing your artwork using layers:

  • Use top-level layers (or Layer Groups in Photoshop) to represent the main pages or screens of the application.

  • Add a layer for common objects that appear on every page. For example, you may want a layer named “background” or a layer named “navigation.”

  • Use sublayers (or layers within a Layer Group in Photoshop) to represent the elements on each page.

  • Use sublayers to organize the building blocks or parts of individual Flash Catalyst components such as scroll bars, menus, and buttons.

Group complex objects

Much of the artwork you create is made from a collection of complex parts, including images, shapes, lines, text, symbols, and so on. Grouping complex objects before bringing them into Flash Catalyst makes them easier to manage.

Flatten artwork with filters and effects

In Illustrator, Photoshop, and Fireworks, you can use layers to apply a large selection of filters and effects to artwork and text. Some examples include drop shadows, opacity masks, and blends. In Photoshop these are called Adjustment layers. By placing the effect or filter in a separate layer, you preserve the original artwork or text. Unfortunately, not all filters and effects import correctly into Flash Catalyst.


Flash Catalyst includes a small collection of filters, including blurs, shadows, bevels, and glows. You can apply these to objects by using the Properties panel in Flash Catalyst.

When you import a Photoshop file, Flash Catalyst rasterizes all Layer Effects for image, shape, and text layers. Use the following settings to help preserve the appearance of artwork created in Photoshop:

  • For text layers with effects or masks, use Vector Outlines or Flatten Bitmap Image.

  • For masks applied at the Layer Group level, use Flatten Bitmap Image.

  • For opacity changes at the Layer Group level, use Flatten Bitmap Image.

The following Illustrator filters are supported in Flash Catalyst. All other filters and effects are rasterized or expanded during import.

  • Drop Shadow

  • Inner Glow

  • Outer Glow

  • Gaussian Blur

Name everything

The layer names you use in the original design document are brought into Flash Catalyst. These names are also reflected in the Flex code that gets generated by Flash Catalyst. This is the same code that will be used by Flex developers if the Flash Catalyst project file is imported into Flash Builder for additional development.

Use a consistent naming strategy throughout your design. For example, you could use “name_btn_up” and “name_btn_down” to specify artwork that will be turned into button components. It’s a good idea to agree on a naming convention with other designers and developers before beginning a project.

Embed images in the design document

Most rich Internet application projects involve a team of designers and developers working together in an iterative process. By placing images within your design file, rather than linking to them, you can share a single file and you’ll know that everyone has the assets they need to continue working on the project. Images and other assets appear in the Library panel within Flash Catalyst.

Manage fonts when sharing files

When collaborating with teams, make sure that everyone has the necessary fonts installed. This is essential if you plan to keep your text editable, for example if the design includes body copy that needs to change over time. Even with the necessary fonts installed, editable text doesn’t always look the same when brought into Flash Catalyst. Things like kerning or leading may differ. For text objects that need to look exactly as you’ve designed them (a logo is a good example), you can:

  • Convert text to a shape or bitmap (raster) image.

  • Convert text to vector outlines in Illustrator.

Identify duplicate component assets

It’s often necessary to include repeated buttons, text input areas, and other visual elements to represent the overall visual design of the application. In Flash Catalyst, you want to define a single object for each unique piece of artwork, but avoid defining objects where the artwork is the same. To make your work easier in Flash Catalyst, you can identify any duplicate items in your design document.

There are several ways to do this. You can use a unique naming convention for duplicate components, such as inputText (for the master) and _inputText (for a duplicate). Another option is to identify them visually using color or opacity.

Set component properties in Flash Catalyst

Before you begin a design, take a few minutes to explore the available properties for formatting text, shapes, and components in Flash Catalyst. This will help you determine which objects and states to define in the design document, and which to save for Flash Catalyst.

Create sample artwork for a list of images or text

When browsing the web, you may notice that lots of applications include scrolling lists of data (images and text). In Flash Catalyst, a Data List component is used to display a collection of data that is stored outside the application. When designing artwork for a Data List component that will be bound to an external data source, you don’t need to include every item in the list, just a representative model. A best practice when preparing your design document is to include the first item and a separate group that serves as a guide for alignment and spacing.

Hide, show, and lock layers

When you import a layered design document into Flash Catalyst, the layer structure is preserved. This includes which layers are locked or hidden. You can save yourself a few steps by locking layers that you don’t need to edit, such as background or border graphics. You can also hide layers that are hidden in their initial state, such as the over and down states for an interactive button.

Exporting an FXG file from Adobe Fireworks

Adobe Fireworks users may feel a little left out when they first launch Flash Catalyst. One of the first things they’ll notice is the absence of a direct Fireworks import option in the Welcome screen. In reality, Flash Catalyst imports only FXG documents regardless of where they originated—in Photoshop, Illustrator, or Fireworks. Flash Catalyst just happens to have the ability to convert your PSD and AI files into the FXG format automatically. Following are the general steps for exporting an FXG file from Fireworks to import into Flash Catalyst. The steps to export an FXG file from Fireworks CS4 and CS5 are different. Refer to the appropriate steps below for instructions on exporting FXG files from your version of Fireworks.

Fireworks CS4
Start Adobe Fireworks CS4 and open the design document you want to import into Flash Catalyst.

Choose Commands > Export To FXG.

The Select Folder dialog box appears.

Locate and select a destination folder for the FXG file.

Enter a name for the file and click OK.

You can now import the FXG file into Flash Catalyst.

Fireworks CS5
Start Adobe Fireworks CS5 and open the design document you want to import into Flash Catalyst.

Choose File > Export.

The Export dialog box appears.

Open the Export pop-up menu and choose FXG And Images.

Open the Pages pop-up menu and select which pages to include in the FXG.

Click Save.

You can now import the FXG file into Flash Catalyst.
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