3 Simple Steps to Keep Complicated Illustrator Files Organized

Let’s face it, not every logo is going to be a Plain Jane one color, single layer mark. At some point in your career a project is going to come your way that will require complex art and careful organization. But are you going to be prepared when the project comes your way? I’ve outlined the basics of how I approach complicated artwork to minimize the pain and suffering of bad organization.

1) Plan after Initial Sketches

Always…always…start with sketches. Lots of them. After you are done sketching out your character or artwork think about how you could group parts. For example, if your doing a human-esque character, I’d group each limb, head and torso. Down the road I plan on recreating parts of the character for different poses and this way I can turn off that groups visibility, such as an arm (so I don’t have a bunch of different files cluttering the folder). Even at this point, right after I have decided on a sketch to use, I lightly write notes about whats getting grouped (dorky, but believe me, the little bit of planning goes a long way).

2) Work in Layers (and group within)

Being the lucky recipient of many designers “print-ready” artwork at a print shop, I can tell you that layers are your friends (as much as you might think they don’t exist). Often times artwork comes all on one layer and poorly organized, making any last minute changes on our end, impossible. But mostly when I receive layer-less complex art, I wonder how long it takes for them to make a change. Besides using layers for efficiency, what about the fun possibilities of layered art?

What I recommend for complicated artwork is to put basic clumps into layers. And within layers, make groups. This way your artwork breaks down like an outline. You’ll be able to find pieces easy and activate different versions visibility.

3) Name objects

What a PIA factor (Pain in the  A$$), but oh so worth it down the road. Name everything that can be named, as long as its useful. I’ll use abbreviations like “RH”, for right hand. When working with say a finger I’ll name the group “RH F index” (for right hand, finger, Index). Once you start rolling with your project, you’ll find this tedious activity saves you lots of time down the road when looking for an element to change, especially a when you start making different versions.

Now, naming every layer isn’t always a big deal and doesn’t always make sense. I mean, on simple artwork, just click the element as you see it. You don’t need to look for anything in the layers pallete. But if your going to have different versions to play with, you’d be best off to name each of them.

Organization is Professional

What I am talking about is efficient, productive design techniques for designers creating complex art. By no means is being organized in artwork files a requirement, but it is professional. It shows diligence in your work and a level of professionalism above most. As a client, they will appreciate your speed in making revisions and changes (because you spend less time with your hands on your head screaming). But again, I am not saying that art should be technically precise, especially for one time projects. But thinking ahead for projects will save you time, make your work more valuable and give you peace of mind in the long run.

As with all of my posts, I would be glad to hold a discussion in the comments.

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