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Adobe Illustrator CS5 : Printing from Illustrator (part 1) - Exploring the General Print Panel

11/8/2011 4:58:15 PM
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Printing a file should be a straightforward experience, but it wasn’t always that way in Illustrator. Prior to Illustrator CS, getting a file to print correctly often meant opening the Page Setup dialog box, the Document Setup dialog box, and the Print dialog box. When Adobe released Illustrator CS, however, it updated the Illustrator printing engine and interface and modeled them after the Print dialog box in InDesign. Ever since that version, you can go directly to the Print dialog box and control all your print specifications in one place.

Exploring the General Print Panel

While you’re designing a job, printing quick and accurate proofs to your laser or ink-jet printer is just as important as printing final output to an imagesetter. For this reason, you’ll find that Adobe put many often-used settings in the General panel of the Print dialog box (Figure 1). This way, you can quickly print consistent and accurate files from Illustrator without having to dance between multiple dialog boxes or panels. At the top of the Print dialog box you’ll find a pop-up to choose from predefined print presets , a pop-up to choose which printer you want to print to (extremely useful for those who have several different printers at their disposal), and a pop-up to choose a PostScript Printer Definition (PPD) file.

Figure 1. The General panel in the Print dialog box contains the most often used print settings.

Tip

One of the options available in the Printer pop-up is Adobe PostScript File, which allows you to print your document as a PostScript file that can then be downloaded directly to a printer or converted to PDF using Acrobat Distiller.


A PPD file contains specific information about a printer, including media dimensions, color information, and printer-specific settings such as resolution. Illustrator makes an educated guess about the right PPD file for your selected printer, although you can override it and choose your own if you want (however, if you’re not familiar with PPD files, it’s best to leave this setting alone). You can choose a PPD only when an Adobe PostScript device is selected as your printer.

Along the left side of the Print dialog box is a list of all the panels you can choose from to specify a range of print options. Beneath the list of panels is a print preview that gives you a better idea of what will print. But this is no ordinary print preview—it’s interactive. You can drag the artwork around in the preview to determine which part of the paper the art will print on. By holding the Shift key while dragging, you can constrain movement to the X or Y axis; by double-clicking the preview, you can reset the positioning to the default. As you specify changes in the Print dialog box, such as adding trim marks, you’ll see those changes appear in the preview as well.

Setting Basic Print Options

Note

The items we’ve discussed to this point appear across the top and along the left side of the Print dialog box and are always visible no matter which panel of the dialog box is active.


As in just about any other program, in the Print dialog box you can specify the number of copies as well as the range of pages (or artboards) you want to print. This is especially handy now that Illustrator bestows multiple artboards to its faithful users. When you specify a range of artboards, use a comma as a separation device and a hyphen to indicate a continuous string of artboards. For example, you can specify a range of 1-3, 6, which will print artboards 1, 2, 3, and 6 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. If your document contains multiple artboards, you can click the left and right arrows under the preview to view how each page will print.


In addition to page range, you can specify the following options when printing your artboards:

  • Reverse Order. This option prints your last artboard first and your first artboard last.

  • Ignore Artboards. If you do not select this option, Illustrator will print each of the artboards in your document. If you select this option, Illustrator will not print separate pages for each artboard. Instead, Illustrator will treat all artwork as one single large artboard (determined by the total bounding area of all the art), as shown in Figure 3.

    Figure 3. You can choose to print each artboard separately or ignore artboards altogether.
  • Skip Blank Artboards. If you have artboards that haven’t been filled with artwork yet, save paper by selecting this option.

In the Media section of the dialog box, you can specify the size of the paper on which you want to print. The items that appear in this pop-up menu are defined by the PPD file that is chosen for your printer. If your printer supports it, you’ll also have the ability to define custom media sizes; being able to do so is extremely useful with large-format ink-jet printers or for printing to imagesetters or platesetters. Checking the Auto-Rotate option will automatically print pages at their correct orientation, which is perfect for documents that contain artboards with both landscape and portrait settings. Additionally, you can choose an orientation to flip a page on its side. Changing the orientation can be extremely important when printers want to choose which side of a sheet the press will grip. It can also be useful when printing to a large-format printer that uses rolls of paper, enabling you to save paper by positioning your document to use the longer side of the roll.

You can use the Print Layers pop-up menu to specify which kinds of layers will or won’t print: Visible & Printable Layers, Visible Layers, or All Layers. Additionally, you can set a custom scale size at which to print your file. The Do Not Scale option prints your file at actual size, the Fit to Page option reduces or enlarges your artwork so that it fills the entire size of the output media, and the Custom Scale setting lets you specify any scale size for the height or the width. The Placement option lets you reposition your artwork on the artboard either by entering values in the X and Y fields or by manually dragging your artwork in the preview window.

Using Page Tiling

Page tiling was initially added to Illustrator to let users print a single large file across several smaller pages. This allowed a designer to assemble a large document at the actual size using a printer with smaller media sizes. However, over the years, designers learned to use this feature to create a single large artboard, using the tiled areas as a substitute for multiple pages. For example, setting up a document at 11 by 17 inches with page tiling would result in two 8.5-by-11-inch pages. Now, of course, with multiple artboards, this workaround is unnecessary.

You can now choose from two page tiling settings (Figure 4):

Tip

When you’re using Tile Full Pages or Tile Imageable Areas, each tile is assigned a number, and you can specify which tiles you want to print by entering a tile number in the Page Range field in the General panel of the Print dialog box.


  • Tile Full Pages. The Tile Full Pages option divides a single artboard into multiple sections, or tiles. Each tile matches the media size you choose in the General panel of the Print dialog box, and Illustrator creates as many of those tiles as necessary to cover the entire document. Tile Full Pages also allows you to specify an Overlap value in case your printer doesn’t print to the edge of each sheet.

  • Tile Imageable Areas. The Tile Imageable Areas option divides one artboard into multiple tiles. Tiles match the media size you choose in the General panel of the Print dialog box where possible, and Illustrator creates custom-sized tiles as necessary to tile the entire document.

    To tile a document with multiple artboards, you must select the Ignore Artboards option.

Figure 4. Tiling enables you to print large artwork on smaller sheets of paper that you can then assemble manually.


Because tiling is something you might want to set in your document before you even start working, be aware of the Done button at the bottom of the Print dialog box. Clicking Done keeps the settings you’ve made in the Print dialog box and returns you to the document for further editing and designing without actually printing the file. Although it may seem odd to open the Print dialog box to specify tiling settings, remember that the main reason for tiling in Illustrator is specific to printing.

 
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