Intuitive Tools for Digital Artists

How to Create a Gift Card and Prepare Artwork for Printing Using Adobe Illustrator and Phantasm CS

Important product change information

Since this article was originally published, Phantasm CS, Phantasm CS Studio and Phantasm CS Publisher have been separated into three individual plug-ins:

Phantasm: color control and vector halftones
Rasterino: the ultimate embedded image solution for Illustrator
InkQuest: control of common pre-press tasks

Existing customers of Phantasm CS / Studio / Publisher can find full details of how this affects their licenses by reading this article.

Vector Gift Card prepress

This tutorial covers the issues concerning the creation and pre-press workflow of a vector file. When creating an artwork that you are going to print, you should take into consideration the design’s technical factors. Phantasm CS allows you to quickly analyse and prepare the created artwork for printing. Let’s get started!

Step 1

Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. Since our image has to be prepared for printing, select Print Document.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Such document already contains the parameters needed for printing: CMYK color mode and a 300dpi resolution for raster effects.

Vector Gift Card prepress

If you open another type of the document or you are already working in the document with different parameters, you can always set the parameters required for printing. To set the color mode, go to File > Document Color Mode > CMYK color. To set the resolution for raster effects, go to Effect > Document Raster Effects Settings… and set 300dpi in the dialog box.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 2

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle.

Vector Gift Card prepress

To round the corners, use the Dynamic Corners Tool that is one of the tools of the VectorScribe plugin. So, take the Dynamic Corners Tool, open its panel (Windows > VectorScribe > Dynamic Corners), and set the radius of rounding in this panel.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Of course, the radius depends on the size of the rectangle and you must judge it by eye. Now simply click on all the corners of the rectangle to round them.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Note: alternatively, with VectorScribe, it’s possible to use the Dynamic Shapes tool to create a rectangle without rounded corners in one go. Please refer to VectorScribe’s movies page.

You do not need worry if you set a wrong radius, you can change its value after applying the tool to any corners or to all the corners simultaneously. This can be done by keying a new parameter in the Dynamic Corners panel or by dragging the end points of each corner.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 3

To create a Gift Card, we will be using a paper bitmap texture. For this, I have been using the Paper Texture Pack by Zememz which you can find following this link: Paper Texture Pack 2. Paste the bitmap texture into the workspace of your document (File > Place …). The resolution for raster textures should not exceed 300dpi, if you are planning to print the file as this will typically just increase file size and processing tims without any notable increase in end print quality. Now press the Embed button on the upper panel.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 4

With Phantasm CS, you do not need to pre-process the raster texture in Photoshop; this plugin has everything you need to do this directly within the document. Let’s replace the color of the texture; to do this, go to Effect > Phantasm CS > Hue / Saturation…, tick the “Colorize” option, and by moving the Hue and Saturation sliders, set the desired color.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Most of what you can do in Photoshop is now available directly in Adobe Illustrator using the Phantasm CS. For example, you can adjust the Levels of the image. To do this, go to Effect > Phantasm CS > Levels… and achieve the desired effect.

Vector Gift Card prepress

You can always change parameters of the applied effects; in order to access them, open the Appearance palette (Windows > Appearance).

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 5

Now our texture should take the shape of our Gift Card, place the texture below the rounded rectangle, select both objects and click on the shortcuts Cmd / Ctrl + 7, creating a Clipping Mask.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Vector Gift Card prepress

Select the Clipping Path in the Layers panel, copy it and paste it in front (Ctrl / Cmd + C, Ctrl / Cmd + F). Fill a new object with a radial gradient from white to light beige colors.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 6

Set the Multiply Blending Mode for this object in the Transparency panel.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Please note that Blending Modes have different properties in different color models. That is why it is important to set the CMYK color mode at the beginning of the work if you are not using the Print Document default profile. Setting this color model in the final stage of the work may lead to unpredictable results. The picture below shows the same artwork in RGB and CMYK color modes.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 7

Create an edge on the card. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle with no fill and a stroke of any color. Set the stroke width in the Stroke panel. With the help of the Dynamic Corners Tool, round the corners of the rectangle.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Select an edge and go to Object > Expand, then go to Object > Path > Offset Path… and set the offset value in the dialog box. In my case it is equal to -1mm.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 8

Fill the bottom, wider path with a linear gradient containing brown and yellow colors.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Fill the upper path with a linear gradient fill, which consists of alternating orange and yellow colors; make one gradient stop white in order to create an impression of reflective glare.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now go to Object > Blend > Blend Options… and set the number of Specified Steps in the Blend Options dialogue window. Select both paths and go to Object > Blend > Make.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 9

To write the title on the card I used the Linux Libertine font, which you can download at the following link (Linux Libertine). You can adjust the settings of the text with the help of the Character panel (Windows > Type > Character).

Vector Gift Card prepress

It often happens that you send the source file to the publishing house to be printed and, most likely, the font you are using will not be installed on computer there. There are options to ensure that, if output as a PDF, the necessary font characters can be embedded in the saved file. Equally – and especially for a small amount of text as in this project – it is safe to convert the editable text into regular vector objects.We will use the latter method which is possible by selecting the text and opting for Type > Create Outlines.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now you will avoid confusions with the font.

Step 10

Select the writing and a linear gradient fill, creating a play of light on the golden letters as shown in the figure below.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now add some volume to the writing; select the whole text and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow… and set the parameters in the dialog box shown in the picture below.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 11

Decorate the Gift Card with a red ribbon bow. You can read about how to create a bow in my Vector Tuts+ tutorial “How to Create a Fancy Gift Bow using Adobe Illustrator“. Place the bow and ribbon in the corners of the card.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now hide the parts of the ribbons that go beyond the boundaries of the card. Select the rounded rectangle created in step 5 and paste it in front and place it above all the objects (Object > Arrange > Bring to Front). For clarity, I set a blue stroke, but it is not necessary that you do that.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 12

Keeping the rounded rectangle selected, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and set up a little offset value.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now, the original path should be removed. Select the ribbon and the upper path, and use the shortcut Cmd / Ctrl + 7, thereby creating a Clipping Mask.

Vector Gift Card prepress

We have created a Clipping Mask a short distance from the card in order to create the impression of depth.

Step 13

With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create a shape of a shadow under the bow. Round the corners of this shape with the help of the Dynamic Corners Tool.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Keeping the shape of a shadow selected, go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and set the blurring radius in the dialog window.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Now set 70% opacity in the Transparency panel.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 14

This step is only relevant for those who are running the Phantasm CS full 7 day trial version or have purchased Phantasm CS Publisher.

Phantasm CS Publisher’s advanced tools allow you more flexibility in customizing the shadow. Let’s see how it can be done. Select the shape of the shadow and go to Effect > Phantasm CS > Curves…, now in the dialog window choose the Cannel: Image Alpha. By changing the shape of the curve in the dialog box, watch the changes occurring with the shadow.

Vector Gift Card prepress

These manipulations can change the intensity of the shadow, remove its borders, change the smoothness of transition. In addition, you can apply the Phantasm CS Curves effect to the shadow multiple times to better achieve your desired result. In other words, you get a full control over the shadow.

Oh, I love being in charge on the situation! More information about the application of the Phantasm CS Curves effect you can find by clicking on the following link: Phantasm CS movies.

Step 15

Now that all of the Gift Card elements are created, group them up (Cmd / Ctrl + G) and turn them at a certain angle.

Vector Gift Card prepress

With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create a shape of a shadow under the card and fill it with gray.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Blur this shape, using the technique described in the previous step.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Step 16

Preparation of vector artwork depends on a lot of specific printing settings such as the type of print method (eg. offset, digital, flexo, etc.); the type of paper to be printed on; your printer’s or publisher’s color management policies; the time that you should spend on printing and, finally, your budget.

To keep this tutorial from extended into 10’s of pages, we will stick to most default settings. But it is worth noting that you should consider specifying the type of paper you intend to print on by opening Edit > Assign Profile…. With a properly calibrated monitor (or indeed most non-calibrated ones), it is possible to notice differences in how different paper settings affect, for example, how Illustrator calculates the leve of ink coverage permitted for rich black, especially when handling transparency effects. This, and other related print topics have been discussed previously on this blog, including in the 10-part series Avoiding 10 Illustrator publishing pitfalls entries.

If in doubt, always ask your printer for assistance and advice. Good printers will always like to help as it will usually save them time in the long run, avoiding the need to heavily rework and prepare your artwork for print.

It is also possible to employ Phantasm CS Publisher to help you check for critical prepress print issues. For example, you can check the ink coverage to avoid areas excessive inking which can lead to long print drying times, soaked paper stock and print hold-ups. To check it, go to View > Output Preview > Ink Coverage.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Warning triangles indicate levels of excessive color overlay based on the profile assigned to the document (see previous).

The “Base Levels on Profile” button automatically calculates recommended levels of acceptable ink coverage based on the profile assigned (Edit> Assign Profile …). You can also manually enter the parameters (these parameters can suggested by your printers as well) and the Phantasm CS Publisher tool allows you to visually check for problematic areas in the artwork.

Vector Gift Card prepress

If you have a certain profile which is likely to be re-used, you can save the settings as a default. See the Ink Coverage movie for more information.

Step 17

At the bottom of the Phantasm CS Publisher Output Preview dialog window we can see the approximate amount of total ink coverage required to print the image. For very high print volumes, the amount of ink required can have an effect on the total print cost. You may therefore wish to adjust your artwork and re-examine the ink coverage results to see if its possible to reduce the total ink usage and therefore the cost.

Vector Gift Card prepress

To remove any issues and / or reduce the amount of ink we can use the range of Phantasm CS color adjustment tools such as Hue / Saturation, Shift Color and Curves. This kind of correction is the topic for future tutorials.

Step 18

Phantasm CS Studio and Publisher also allows you to prepare a file for Screen printing. The Separations Tool is intended for these purposes (Window > Phantasm CS Separations).

Vector Gift Card prepress

After clicking the “Generate Separations” Phantasm CS creates a new file where the colors are separated and all necessary printing markings are generated. Once fully sepearated (each ink channel maintaining as much vector information as possible), it is possible to fully examine each separation and even further edit them. Many apparel sceenprinters already use this tool to help augment their designs or reprofile come areas using the Curves tool to help boost white base inks, etc.

Vector Gift Card prepress

Conclusion

Artwork pre-press is a complicated process which has a very important practical significance. Of course, I cannot reveal all of its aspects in one tutorial. Your interest in this topic will help to create a series of these kinds of tutorials. So be active, ask questions, suggest topics and wherever is possible will be covered on this web-site.

More information about using the Phantasm CS used in pre-press processing may be found at the following links:

Written by Nicholas

Nicholas

With a strong engineering background and a flair for innovation, Nick steers the team to create great stuff.

Comments

  1. This is a really nice well wrote tutorial. You can tell a lot of effort went into writing it. When designing websites I find that usinig a nice background like you have done there can really push the design. You could even modify this tutorial and make it as a featured free delivery or telephone number/s.

    Really well wrote out tutorial well done.

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