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Adobe Illustrator CS5 : Organizing Your Drawing - Working with Groups

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1/6/2013 6:24:47 PM

Creating groups is a way to organize the elements in a file. Most importantly, groups allow you to easily select or work with several objects that may belong to a single design element. You can also nest groups, meaning you can have groups within other groups. For example, you might have a logo that consists of an icon and a type treatment that has been converted to outlines. You can group the objects that make up the icon, and you can put the items that make up the type treatment into a separate group. You can then create an overall larger group that contains the other groups within it.

Figure 1. An example of a nested group structure.

When you think of groups in this way, it’s simply a matter of labeling certain objects that belong together. But in reality, a group is more than just a concept—a group is actually an entity itself. A group exists, just as an object does, only we don’t see it. Illustrator refers to a group as a container—something that contains the objects within it. This introduces two important concepts: The container itself can have attributes applied to it, and the container can affect the way the grouped objects interact with each other and other art elements in your file.

Adding a Soft Drop Shadow to a Group

Let’s take a look at a simple example using the Drop Shadow effect you just learned about in the previous section:

1.
Start with a set of several overlapping shapes, and create an exact copy of that set of shapes.

2.
Select one set of shapes, and choose Object > Group to create a group that contains the set of objects.

At this point, you’re looking at two design elements, each identical in appearance, but one is a group while the other is just several individual objects (Figure 2).



Figure 2. The design elements shown here are identical except for one fact: The elements on the right have been grouped.


3.
Using the Selection tool, select the set of individual objects, and look at the Appearance panel.

The target for your selection is listed as Path with Mixed Appearances (because each shape is filled with a different color).

4.
Select the grouped objects, and again, take a look at the Appearance panel. The target is now listed as Group.

This is actually the smart targeting in Illustrator at work—by selecting the group, Illustrator didn’t target the individual paths within the group; instead, the group becomes the target. When the group is targeted, the Appearance panel displays the word contents, which are the paths that are found in the group (Figure 3).

Figure 3. When you select a group, Illustrator automatically targets the group. The elements within the group are referred to as the contents, which are listed in the Appearance panel.


You learned that appearances aren’t applied to a selection; rather, they are applied to the target. Keeping that in mind, let’s apply the Drop Shadow effect to these two sets of objects. Select each set of objects, and apply the Drop Shadow effect. You’ll notice that when the drop shadow is applied to the set of individual objects, each object appears with its own shadow. However, the grouped objects appear with a single unified drop shadow—as if all the objects were really one single shape (Figure 4). This happens because the group was the target, so the drop shadow was added to the group, not to the paths. You can clearly see evidence of this by using the Direct Selection tool to select just one of the shapes within the group and then copying and pasting that shape into a new document. You’ll notice that in the new document the shape doesn’t have a drop shadow at all.

Figure 4. Applying a drop shadow to individual objects (left) is different from the same drop shadow applied to a group of objects (right).


Let’s take this concept, that a group is a container, one step further. Say you have a group of objects and you apply a drop shadow. As you’ve already learned, the drop shadow is applied to the group. But what happens to the drop shadow if you then choose Object > Ungroup? By ungrouping the objects, you’re deleting the container. And it was the container that had the Drop Shadow effect applied to it, not the objects themselves. So if you ungroup the objects, the drop shadow simply disappears.

Adding a Stroke to a Group

To strengthen your understanding of how groups work in Illustrator, let’s explore another example using a group of objects. You already know that a group can have attributes applied to it, as evidenced by the drop shadow you applied earlier. You also know you can apply multiple attributes to objects. Using this knowledge, you can add a stroke to a group:

1.
With the Selection tool, select the group, and take note that the group is the target in the Appearance panel.

2.
Click the Add New Stroke button in the Appearance panel to add a stroke to the group, and just to make it easier to see, change the stroke weight to 4 pt.

The stroke is applied across all paths within the group (Figure 5).



Figure 5. When applied at the group level, a stroke appears across all the paths.

It’s interesting to note that all the objects in the group exhibit the appearance of the stroke, even objects that appear beneath other objects in the stacking order. A close examination of the stacking order in the Appearance panel reveals why: the contents of the group are drawn before the stroke is painted. At the group level, all objects are considered as they are combined (as you saw with the drop shadow example), so the stroke is applied equally to all paths. Dragging the stroke to appear beneath the contents in the Appearance panel stacking order will result in a stroke that appears only around the perimeter of the group (Figure 6).

Figure 6. By adjusting the stacking order of the group, the stroke appears only along the perimeter of the group.

You can clearly see how groups can have attributes applied to them and how they can control how grouped objects interact with each other. In this context, you begin to see that grouping objects is more than just making files easier to manage. Creating groups can have a significant impact on the appearance of your art. Likewise, simply ungrouping art can alter the appearance of your file completely.

Tip

The current target is also displayed on the far left side of the Control panel.


The obvious questions you should be asking are “How do I know when I’m applying an attribute to an object versus a group?” and “How can I tell whether ungrouping something will alter the appearance of my file?” The answers lie in the all-important Appearance panel, which tells you what is targeted and what attributes and effects are applied (Figure 7).

Figure 7. When you select a single path within a group, the Appearance panel tells you that the path is in a group that has a Stroke or Fill attribute applied to it.


Type as a Group

Type is a special kind of object in Illustrator—it’s actually a group. The Type object is the container, and the actual text characters are like the objects inside a group. You can see this by looking at—that’s right—the Appearance panel. Select a point text object with the Selection tool, and the Appearance panel shows Type as the target. Switch to the Type tool and select the text, and the Appearance panel shows Characters as the target.

When you select a Type object with a selection tool, the smart targeting in Illustrator automatically targets the Type container. You can see Characters listed in the Appearance panel, and double-clicking the Characters listing automatically switches to the Type tool and highlights the text on your artboard (Figure 8). The target is now Characters, and you can see the Fill and Stroke attributes.

Figure 8. When a Type object is selected, the Appearance panel shows it as the container and the characters within it.

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