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Adobe Flash Professional CS5 : Applying Modify Shape Menu Commands

11/29/2011 4:12:23 PM
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Three specialized commands found in the application menu (under Modify => Shape) provide modification options that you cannot achieve with any other tools in Flash.

1. Convert Lines to Fills

Lines to Fills does exactly what its name implies: It converts lines defined by single points into shapes defined by an outline of editable points. To apply the Lines to Fills command, simply select any lines that you want to convert before choosing Modify => Shape => Convert Lines to Fills. After a line has been converted in this way, you can edit it like any other filled shape, including adding bitmap or gradient fills or applying the Selection or Subselection tools to adjust the corners and curves of the outlined shape.

You can render strokes and lines by using gradients without converting them into fills.

2. Creating scalable artwork

The Lines to Fills command is especially important because it provides the one solution for maintaining line-to-fill ratios when scaling raw graphics that would require lines to appear at smaller than 1 point size. Fills do not have the same display limitation as lines, and they maintain visual consistency as they are scaled larger or smaller. In Figure 1, the image on the left was drawn with the Pencil tool to make lines around the eyes and on the whiskers of the cat cartoon. When it was scaled, the lines were not visually consistent with the fills. The image on the right was modified by using the Lines to Fills command before scaling it down to 25 percent size. In this case, the ratio between the outlines around the eyes and the whiskers was consistent with the other filled shapes in the cartoon.

If you convert your raw graphic into a symbol before you scale it, the ratio of lines to fills also stays consistent.

Figure 1. Use the Lines to Fills command to ensure consistency when scaling raw graphics.


Remember that in Flash, the smallest line size that can be displayed is 1 point. Lines with a height of less than 1 point all appear to be the same size on-screen when viewed at 100 percent scale. The difference in size is visible only when the view is scaled larger (zoomed in). However, the lines print correctly on a high-resolution printer and are visible in the published .swf if the content is zoomed.

3. Expand Fill

The Expand Fill command has two options you can use to size fills up or down evenly on all sides of a shape. To apply the command, select the fill(s) that you want to modify, and then choose Modify => Shape => Expand Fill. The Expand Fills dialog box appears, where you can choose to expand or inset (shrink) the fill by a specific pixel value. Keep in mind that this command applies differently than a normal scale modification. The fill expands or shrinks from all sides evenly, so an extreme modification can cause a shape to bloat to the extent that unfilled areas are obscured, or conversely it can cause a shape to shrink to the point that some of the areas are no longer visible. When applied moderately, the Expand Fill command can be very helpful for adjusting multiple filled shapes consistently, without scaling lines in the same area of the artwork.

You cannot apply the Expand Fill command to drawing objects with strokes unless you first break them apart or open them in Edit mode so that you can select the fill without also selecting the stroke.

Figure 2 includes a rectangle, a cartoon cat, and a sketch of some grapes. The original shapes are shown on the left, the expanded fills in the center, and the inset fills on the right. As you can see, expanding fills often obscures the strokes surrounding a shape, whereas choosing to inset a fill leaves space between the fill and any surrounding stroke.

Figure 2. Modifying an original shape (A) with the Expand Fill command, using the Expand option (B) or the Inset option (C), respectively, bloats or shrinks a fill by a specified pixel amount.


Each of the fills in the graphics shown in Figure 2 was added by clicking or Shift+clicking (rather than dragging out a selection marquee) to avoid including any strokes in the final selection that were modified with the Expand Fill command.

You can also use the Expand Fill command to create custom text forms. Figure 3 shows how the original text shape (left) can be modified by using either the Expand or Inset option. To create bloated balloon-like text (center), or shrunken, eroded text (right), you first have to apply the Modify => Break Apart command (Ctrl+B/+B) twice to reduce the text to simple filled shapes. By selecting all the letter shapes before applying the Expand Fill command, you can modify the whole word at the same time.

Figure 3. Text broken apart into letter shapes (A) can be expanded (B) or inset (C) to create custom text effects.

4. Soften Fill Edges

The Soften Fill Edges command was the closest thing to a static blur available before Flash 8. Fortunately, Flash 8 and newer versions support a much more sophisticated Blur filter that renders smoother softened edges and enables you to change the color of the item even after the blur is applied. The only advantages that the Soften Fill Edges command has over the Blur filter are that you can use it to modify raw shapes or drawing objects and choose whether to render it inside or outside the item's original fill boundary. This command, as with the Expand Fill command, can be applied only to fills and gives you the option to expand or inset the shape by a specific number of pixels.

Flash enables you to select a line and choose the Soften Edges command from the Modify => Shape menu. After you apply the command, however, the line just disappears from the Stage — surprise! If you make this mistake, you can recover your line by immediately choosing Edit => Undo (Ctrl+Z/+Z).

The blurry effect of Soften Fill Edges is created by a series of banded fills around the original fill that decrease in opacity toward the outermost band. You can control the number and width of these bands by entering values in the Soften Fill Edges dialog box (shown in Figure 4) to create a variety of effects, from a very subtle blurred effect to a dramatic stepped appearance around the edges of the fill.

Figure 4. The Soften Fill Edges dialog box with settings for controlling the edge effect

The Soften Fill Edges dialog box controls the following features of the fill modification:

  • Distance: Defines the number of pixels the original shape expands or shrinks

  • Number of steps: Sets the number of bands that appear around the outside edge of the fill

  • Expand or Inset: Controls whether the bands are added to the outside edge of the fill (expand) or stacked on the inside edge of the shape (inset)

Figure 5 shows how the original fill (left) appears after Soften Fill Edges is applied with the Expand option (center), or with the Inset option (right).

Figure 5. Applying Soften Fill Edges with the Expand option and with the Inset option

The width of the individual bands equals the total number of pixels set in Distance divided by the Number of steps. When the edge of the shape is magnified, the individual bands can clearly be seen. Figure 6 compares a series of eight bands, each 1 pixel wide, created by using a Distance setting of 8 and a Number of steps setting of 8, compared with the smooth softened edge that results from applying a Blur filter with an X and Y setting of 8.

Figure 6. A magnified view of the banded edge of a fill created by applying Soften Fill Edges (left) compared to the smooth softened edge created by applying the Flash Blur filter (right)

As with the Expand Fill command, Soften Fill Edges can create interesting text effects when applied to broken-apart letter shapes. Figure 7 shows an effect created by combining the original white text with a "shadow" made by applying the Soften Fill Edges command to a broken-apart copy of the text that was filled with dark gray.

You can achieve an effect similar to the shadow shown in Figure 7 by applying the Glow filter to an editable text field and selecting the knockout option.

Figure 7. A glow effect created by layering the original text over a copy that was broken apart, filled with dark gray, and modified by using Soften Fill Edges
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