Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Adobe Illustrator CS3 Tutorial: The Stroke Panel

I will grab the opportunity from my last post regarding multiple strokes and fills, and I will explain in detail the Stroke Panel and its functions. You use the Stroke panel to control whether a line is solid or dashed, the dash sequence if it is dashed, the stroke weight, the stroke alignment, the miter limit, and the styles of line joins and line caps. So let's see all that in detail.

Start Illustrator and have a look on the right dock. Locate the Stroke Panel, click to open it and expand it by clicking on the small two-sided arrow symbol, so we can see the rest of the settings available.

Small Tip:
Alternatively go to Top Menu, Window > Stroke.

Now you should be able to see the fully expanded Stroke Panel. For demonstration reasons I've divided the panel in 5 areas. So, let's see what each section does.

1. Adjust the width of the stroke.

Quite straight forward. Select your path, just enter a value in the box (or just click the arrows) and you adjust the thickness of the stroke.

So start Illustrator, create a new document and draw a straight path using the pen tool (or any other tool you prefer) so that we can experiment with. Try creating something like that.

The larger the value, the thicker the stroke.


Please keep in mind that in all the above cases, the path looks the same . If you select View > Outline (or just click CTRL+Y) from the Menu bar, you shall see that in all four cases the path is identical.

Ok, let's return to Preview Mode and move forward. Select View > Preview (or just click CTRL+Y) from the Menu bar.

2. Change the cap style of a line.

A cap is the end of an open line. You can change the caps of a line by changing the object’s stroke attributes. In the following image you may see the different result of each selection.

The Butt Cap creates stroked lines with squared ends.
The Round Cap creates stroked lines with semicircular ends.
The Projecting Cap creates stroked lines with squared ends that extend half the line width beyond the end of the line. This option makes the weight of the line extend equally in all directions around the line.

3. Change the joins of a line.

A join is where a straight line changes direction (turns a corner). You can change the joins of a line by changing the object’s stroke attributes.

The Miter Join creates stroked lines with pointed 'sharp' corners. Have a look below:

The Round Join creates stroked lines with rounded corners. Have a look below:

The Bevel Join creates stroked lines with squared corners. Have a look below:

Let me explain to you now what is the Miter Limit. You can consider the Miter limit as a threshold above which a pointy 'sharp' corner is transformed to a bevel. How is this threshold defined? Have a look at the following illustration. There is a 6pt stroked line and I have set the Miter Limit to 5. This means 5 times the line thickness (6 X 5 = 30 pts). So If the Mitter Length - 'the corner head' (the overlapping common area of the two segments that form the corner) - is more than 5 times the stroke thickness of the path, then the corner will be beveled.

Here is an example.

On the above image, you see that the arrow head length barely exceeds 24pts, this is a bit more than 4 times the line thickness. Since the limit is 5 and we stay below, the sharp Miter Join is maintained.

Ok, now I have reduced the Miter Limit to 4 times the line thickness of the segment. See what has happened. My nice sharp and pointy corner has been replaced by a chamfer. The limit has been violated, therefore the Miter Join is now replaced replaced by a Bevel Join.

The Miter Limit controls when the program switches from a mitered (pointed) join to a beveled (squared-off) join.

4. Align the stroke along the path.

This option is only available in closed paths. So, let's draw a rectangle as shown below so that we explore all three options.

a. Align Stroke To Center

As you see, the stroke is symmetrically aligned to the center of the path.

b. Align Stroke To Inside

In this case, the stroke is aligned to the inside of the path.

c. Align Stroke to Outside

Here, the 30 pt amber stoke is aligned along the path to the outside area.


Be cautious when you try to align objects, to use the same stroke alignment settings, otherwise you will not be able to achieve perfect match and alignment.

5. Create a dotted or dashed line.

This is a handy tool that helps you quickly draw dotted lines or dashed lines. Let me show you how.

Draw a straight path segment so we can experiment with.

Select the line and in the Stroke panel, check the Dashed Line checkbox. You can specify a dash sequence by entering the lengths of dashes and the gaps between them. I have used a sequence consisting of 5pt dashes and 20pt gaps. So just input these values in the first two boxes as shown below.

The numbers entered are repeated in sequence so that once you have established the pattern, you don’t need to fill in all the text boxes. The square-ended dashes result from the Butt Cap setting being selected. Select the line and toggle between the Butt Cap, the Round Cap and the Projecting Cap line ends and see what happens.

As you would have probably guessed, the Round Cap option creates rounded dashes or dots and the Projecting Cap option extends the ends of dashes.

Try playing around with the values in the dash size and gap size and produce really nice patterns. For example if you input the values shown in the following image, you will end up with a nice dotted line.

Finally, you can create completely custom line patterns by filling all the values. For example, have a look at the following image. If you enter the values shown you will get the following nice interesting line pattern.

That's all folks...


Anonymous said...

Your explanation about the stroke pane is very detailed!! I have a question thou... Is it possible to control where my dash line begins on my stroke? Sometimes in my layouts I need the dashes to accurately begin at a certain point or be symmetrical! Please advise, thx!

klethegr8 said...

If I have correctly understood the question posed, then I must say that I am not aware of an 'easy' way of doing what you say. One possible way though of achieving a symmetrical pattern of dashes (with exact positioning included) would be to create multiple strokes to your single path (of known dimensions), alternating each stroke's color (let's say black & white), testing various sequences of dashes and gaps, and playing with gap and dash sizes until you reach the desired result.

Maybe some other forum viewer could enlighten us both in this subject.

Nelson said...

I am trying to understand open and closed paths.
For example, I have created hand-lettered words in Flash (because it has what to me is a realistic "brush" stroke that Illustrator seems to lack) and saved as .ai format. When I open the file in AI and try to add strokes to the paths, some of the letters will allow me to align the strokes and others will not.

After a lot of trial and error and experimentation, I found that I could select some of the letters (objects?) and apply a "Join"; this would then allow me to specify where to align the stroke. But just as often, I would not be allowed to Join... I'd get the dialog box about open paths, etc.

The letters (objects) were all created at the same time in Flash; exported together, and the new file opened -- so why are some of them "open paths" and some not?

Some (like A, B, etc) are compound paths, but the "ordinary" paths seem to often be "open" as well.

Is there a simple way to tell if a path is open?

What am I overlooking?

For the project I am working on, I much prefer Flash's tools - particularly the brushes -- but it's RGB.
I have to use Illustrator, to convert to CMYK... and the conversion process is frustrating and erratic.

I hoped that there would more compatibility between Flash and AI by now.
It'd sure be nice to be able to copy a drawing in Flash and be able to paste it into Illustrator without getting erratic corruptions...

klethegr8 said...

Nelson hi...

As soon as I received your comment I tried doing exactly what you described. I created hand-written text in Macromedia Flash 8 by using the Brush tool, and then exported it as an .ai file. After I opened the image in Illustrator CS3 and after ungrouping the letters of the word, I was able to apply multiple strokes to each letter, use the align stroke option as i would normally do and in general i did not meet any open paths causing me trouble.

Things were different though when I tried to do the same thing by using (in Flash) the Pen tool, the Line tool and the Pencil tool. Then I realised that I could not align the stroke on any of these objects not until I expanded each one of them. After expanding, it's normal procedure.

In general, whatever I drew in Flash with the Brush Tool did not give me any trouble later in Illustrator.

So my suggestion is that you should use the Brush tool for creating your text in Flash, otherwise you will have to do tedious things in order for things to work in Illustrator.

Let me know how you finally dealt with this...

Nelson said...

I went back and opened an AI file that I had created in Flash - using only the brush tool.

Once in AI, I selected the letters I had drawn and applied one-point strokes to them.
The effect I want is hand-lettered words (fills) with outlines (strokes) of a contrasting color.

AI seems to default to aligning strokes to the center of the path - and this causes half the width of the stroke to cover the fill.
What I need is to be able to adjust the stroke alignment to "outside"... but I can't find a way to make this happen consistently.
Sometimes there will be one letter in a word that can be adjusted in the way I want. This happens whether I select individual letters or the complete word.

I experimented with "Expanding" (something I've not used before) but was only to see a result when a letter had a stroke applied to it; the stroke would "expand" and become a separate object, but I could see no change to the fill.

Trying to Expand a fill without a stroke didn't seem to have any result; no options box, nothing.

Unfortunately, Flash doesn't seem to have a similar "align stroke" function, or I could use that...

I can get close to the effect I want in AI if I make a copy of my letter(s), paste them behind the original, and apply a wide stroke.
But this is time-consuming and frustrating - especially if I need to change a letter...

I've been experimenting... and I THINK I have been able to occasionally select a path (using the subselection tool) in Flash; copy it to the clipboard; and paste it into AI.
I think this has worked a few times... but other times, the resulting object (in AI) is badly distorted, appearing to consist of all straight line segments - no curves.

Even saving a Flash-created file in AI format seems to work inconsistently; when I examine the drawing in AI, it appears that the conversion process has added numerous anchor points.

Anyway -- enough of my complaining...
I appreciate your help!

Nelson said...


I started using Illustrator many years ago -- Illustrator 88 - but I find it too "technical" for much of my artwork (I do mostly cartoons and animation). When I discovered Flash, I was delighted: a vector based application that I could use to achieve much the same effects as using actual brush and ink on paper!

I've tried other applications, but Flash (despite some frustrating habits) works best for my purposes.
However - since it works only in RGB, I've had to try and adapt it to AI.
The results have been disappointing: the problem with strokes; the apparent added anchor points; and the extreme color variations when converting to CMYK.

I'd be willing to use AI to create my art - and avoid the conversion problems - but unless I've overlooked something,there's no "brush" in AI that works like the one in Flash.

If I could draw a brush stroke in AI that allowed me to vary thickness several times... then close it on itself (a circle, for instance)... then apply a fill of a different color... (sigh).
I keep wondering if I've overlooked or forgotten such an AI tool...

Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

I am trying to change the color of the stroke that I have used. I used red because I traced over a silhouette that was a dark color. Now I am getting rid of the image I traced and want the lines to be black. I have tried selecting lines and then simply changing the red color to black but the black color just goes underneath the red stroke (so the it looks like two strokes are layered on top of each other, but the strokes are not separate). If I try to delete the red stroke, the entire stroke gets deleted. Why is this happening?!

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Choose the Export option under File in Illustrator, select Photoshop (or others) in the drop down menu, an option menu will come up, choose maximum editability (and the other options that suit your final use).

Nick said...

Good job on the tut,

Can I ask, is there a way of applying different stroke styles for different parts of the same line?

For instance I'm making a diagram of a path along a sphere, I want to make the path on the visible surface filled, and the path on the other side dashed.



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I made a design on Adobe Illustrator and tried to export it but it said it was insufficient and not enough memory. So I erased like all of my pictures to where I'm saving it to and it still says it. What's wrong?

Used Automobiles said...

I tried to simply open the Illustrator file with fireworks, but some things are not showing up the same sizes as they were in illustrator cs3.

Used Automobiles said...

You can't preserve Illustrator layers going into photoshop. I'm unfamiliar with Fireworks, but I suspect that is true for it as well.

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Even saving a Flash-created file in AI format seems to work inconsistently; when I examine the drawing in AI, it appears that the conversion process has added numerous anchor points.

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If I could draw a brush stroke in AI that allowed me to vary thickness several times... then close it on itself (a circle, for instance)... then apply a fill of a different color... (sigh).
I keep wondering if I've overlooked or forgotten such an AI tool...

Web Design India said...

If I could draw a brush stroke in AI that allowed me to vary thickness several times... then close it on itself (a circle, for instance)... then apply a fill of a different color... (sigh).
I keep wondering if I've overlooked or forgotten such an AI tool...

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