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FrenchBlue Joy:
Hi Emily!  Would you be willing to respond to a few questions I have about vectorizing calligraphy for Letterpress?  There are so many things I'm not sure about, because my letterpress printer takes my photoshop files and deals with the vectorization herself.  I want to learn, and I'm trying to piece together an idea of what I can gain (besides savings), if I learn Illustrator. 

If there are any other Illustrator users on this board, please feel free to jump in, too!  I would SUPER appreciate anybody shedding light on the subject for me.   :)

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I'll start out with what I know:  Vectors are not made up of pixels, and so a vector graphic can be made any size without changing image quality, and they don't look like they're made up of a bunch of little squares, the way they do when you open them in Photoshop.  Yes?

That kind of brings me to question #1:

If a calligrapher scans in her lettering and opens it up in photoshop for clean-up and layout, won't she necessarily have a pixelated graphic once she opens it up in Illustrator?  Is it possible to deal with clean-up and layout directly in Illustrator and skip the Photoshop?  I would have thought so, but this isn't the way my Letterpress printer works, so I'm a bit confused...

Question #2:
(This one risks sounding critical but here's one that really has me scratching my head.)
I see a lot of Letterpress stuff out there on the Internet and I'm a bit confused about the wiggly, bumpy hairlines that make it all the way to print.  It seems that some calligraphers who are strong in graphic design are able to smooth out their letterforms using Illustrator.  I'm guessing this because when I look at the vectors which they have used to do their branding stuff (website headers, etc), I see very smooth forms.  When I look at their lettering, I see shaky, wiggly hairlines and "imperfections".  Is this something they're doing in Illustrator or Photoshop?  (This isn't universal, of course.  There are some calligraphers where everything they do, including headers and branding stuff, always show "imperfections".)

Question #3:
I don't have a particularly shaky hand myself, (anyway I try to use whole-arm movement and I put a lot of practice effort into steadiness), and "on principle" I wouldn't necessarily think of myself as a calligrapher if I regularly used  "erase the shaky" software techniques   ;D, BUT...  Are we talking about a vast range of skill in Illustrator which gives out really different qualities of vectors?  I kind of wonder why some calligraphers would make such shakey-quakey hairlines if there was something they could do about it using Illustrator.   ??  Or a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator...   

((( propos of shaky vs. smooth and all that: Our dear Erica remains an inspiration to me, as her lettering is smooth and precise and doesn't look like it needs to have a thousand(s) dollar suite of software thrown at it to look good.  It's my overall intention to have a smooth hand and not necessarily to fake everything in using PS and Illustrator, but I'm dying to know what their capabilities actually are!)))

Question #4: 
I hear people talking about the "line tool" and about the bezier curves.  Do these have something to do with each other?  Does mastery of this stuff give designers the ability to produce smoother-looking letterforms?  Whereas if all they do is the "trace" function, things come out wiggly?  (I'm getting ahead of your answers and making guesses now.  I'm not actually sure what "trace" does, I've only just heard of it.)

I'd ask my printer all this, but she's in another city and I'm not sure what she's doing to my stuff when she vectorizes it.  I scan it at 1200 dpi and then send it directly to her without making it a PS doc these days.  It comes back looking exactly like I wrote it, so I guess she's not doing any "smoothing" of anything. 

MILLE MERCIS in advance if you have the time to answer some of my questions! 

ewigginton:
Joy, I can't really answer your technical questions about calligraphy and Illustrator since I'm a relative newbie to both. But, I can direct you to one of the best illustrator teachers out there. Laura Coyle teaches AI via Renee Peterson http://www.reneepearson.com/classes/ and since the site will be closing due to Renee tending to her husband following a serious health event, all classes are now 50% off. The closing is only to new enrollees after the first of the year. If you purchase a half-off class in December you'll still be able to access it indefinitely, as always.

I would encourage any of you who are interested in learning Illustrator to take advantage of this special offer. I'm not affiliated in any way, only want to make others aware of the site. Laura is a wonderful teacher and you'll learn Ai quickly. Her classes were already very reasonable but now they're an incredible deal. I'm convinced she will be teaching new classes via another venue once she researches her options. If you have any questions let me know or you can email Laura at [email protected]

Ellen

Emily:
Well, I'm pretty new to vectorizing my own calligraphy in Illustrator (actually signed up for Molly Suber Thorpe's Skillshare class for this  ;) ), but I've been using the program itself for several years, so I'll answer what I can.  :)  If anyone else has more insights, feel free to jump in!

Yes, vector graphics are not pixelated, so you will get a high quality look no matter what size the graphic is (hence the desirability).

1. Yes, you're right, as far as I know you don't scan directly into Illustrator. But a vector graphic will never look 'pixelated' the way a Photshop graphic will, since it's not made up of pixels. So whether you decide to clean up the image or not, if it's put through Illustrator, either as an image trace or another process, it will be a vector graphic and won't lose its detail.

2. My guess is if you're seeing Letterpress stuff with wiggly, bumpy hairlines, that calligrapher is not working with a vector graphic. I will admit that I don't know a whole lot about Letterpress.

3. I would think this is more of a personal preference - whether to keep the calligraphy looking as authentic as possible (while not sacrificing quality for size), or making it an entirely smooth vector.

4. It's not so much the line tool, but the pen tool that's used for bezier curves. The image trace function will give you anchor points that can be manipulated to smooth a line or curve it as you wish, but it will give you A LOT of anchor points. However, if you don't wish to manipulate it much, it will give you a straight-up vector graphic. The pen tool is used for tracing an existing image, or drawing a new image. If you're working with thick lines, like a Gothic or Fraktur style, you could trace (not the image trace function, I'm talking about the pen tool) the outer edges of the forms with the pen tool; if tracing pointed pen, you could trace using different types of Illustrator brushes. Then those can all be manipulated using the anchor points for the bezier curves. That's a time-consuming process, but it's just one way you could go about it. Pen tablets make that much easier, as you can draw or write just as you would on paper, and it's immediately a vector. I just recently purchased an Intuos 5 tablet, and I've seen that there's actually a stylus you can buy with calligraphy attachments, which is very intriguing...  :)

I'd be interested to know your printer's process as well... hopefully I'll get more insight into all this as I research it further. Like I said, I'm very new to vectorizing my own calligraphy, but I hope this helped you at least somewhat... I hope it even made any sense at all!  :o  Not sure how you're planning to learn the program, but www.lynda.com is a great resource for software classes.

Emily:
Thank you for the link, Ellen! I'm actually going to take a couple of these classes as refreshers, and hopefully learn a few new tips and tricks I didn't know before. Guess I know my plans for the new year... I'll be completely immersed in about 8 different online courses...  :o

ewigginton:
Emily, the written materials are worth so much as just a resource book and the videos are priceless! So glad you're interested. We also have an online forum but as I understand it, the forum (for paid students only) may be ending or at least not be moderated by Laura any longer after January. If that's the case, I'm sure someone else will offer to maintain it or start a new one. We love the forum!!!

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