Vector and Raster: A Marriage Made in Illustrator
In the graphics world, we all know that Illustrator = vector and Photoshop = raster. It’s been that way since the dawn of digital graphic time. But as these tools have developed, there has been some cross-pollination of sorts.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to create a postcard, website design, or whatever that required me to use both vector and raster elements. While Illustrator is definitely stronger at dealing with vector, you can also import raster images you create elsewhere and make certain transformations to them without leaving Illustrator.
In this article, I want to show you how Illustrator integrates raster content, and discover what we can and can’t do.
Placing and Updating Raster
First off, Illustrator is not meant to be a raster image editing program. That’s what Photoshop and other programs like it are for. But, it can place and link to image files like PSD, PNG, TIF, JPG, and more.
Placing images in Illustrator is almost identical to how you do it in InDesign. There’s even a shortcut for placement (Cmd+Shift+P or Ctrl+Shift+P). By default, images are linked when you place them. That means if the original image is edited in Photoshop, for instance, it can be updated in Illustrator. If you choose to deselect the Link option, the image will be embedded and have no tie to the original image (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Embedding an image when placing
When you place certain image types in Illustrator (File > Place), like .PSD, you can select Show Import Options in the Place dialog box to show options for placement. In order for the import options to appear, you also have to embed the artwork by deselecting the Link option.
With Show Import Options selected and Link deselected, you will see the Photoshop Import Options dialog box (when you place a PSD). Here, you can choose from the saved layer comps (saved in Photoshop), chose whether to flatten or leave the layers intact, and choose whether or not to import hidden layers or slices (if present in the PSD) (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Choose import options for a Photoshop file
After your image is placed in Illustrator, with Edges showing (View > Hide/Show Edges), if you see an X across the image, it’s linked. If there is no X, it’s most likely embedded. You can select a raster image and either embed or unembed by clicking the appropriate button in the Control panel. The Control panel is a great place to see information about a selected raster image, like file name, resolution, whether or not it’s linked, and more (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Image information in the Control panel
In order to keep track of your placed (or pasted) raster images, you can open the Links panel (Window > Links). The Links panel is a great place to replace a linked image, edit the original (which opens the program associated with the file type), and more (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 The Links panel
If you link images to your Illustrator file, one of my favorite features in Illustrator has to be the Package command (File > Package). Like in InDesign, packaging in Illustrator will collect (and copy) all of the content linked to the Illustrator file, fonts, and the Illustrator file into a new folder. This definitely makes it easy to hand off a project to someone else or for printing (see Figure 5).
Figure 5 Package options in Illustrator