by infinite_resolution


March 26, 2009

The Joy of Charting

Contributed by Brenda Sutherland, Illustrator Team Rowing Captain

Last Friday Terry talked about some of the exciting new libraries and How To’s that we shipped with Illustrator CS4. I wanted to take time today to focus on some additional new CS4 Sample Art Files that show how Illustrator can be used to create visually intriguing, creative flow charts. Yes, you heard me right, I did say “Visually Intriguing” and “Flow Charts” in the same sentence!

Jennifer Willis
is one of those rare designers who doesn’t cringe when taking on information graphics. Instead she has found a way of infusing her creative style into flow charts, while obviously having a great time doing it. Jennifer uses a variety of symbols and arrowheads that she creates. This adds a personal touch that reflects not only the designer but the client as well.


Can you count the number of Pattern Brushes used in the Imperial File (snapshot above)? Not only does Jennifer use Pattern Brushes for some of the design elements, like the cityscape and the people, she also uses them as the connector lines in the org chart. The advantage of using Pattern Brushes for arrowheads is that not only can you create your own custom arrowheads, you also have control over their scaling.Another advantage to using Pattern Brushes for creating arrows or connector lines is that you can give them custom corner tiles. In the snapshot below, from the sample file, you can see how Jennifer used corner tiles in the pattern brush to make her connector lines that much more interesting. She also used Pattern Brushes with corner tiles around the frames (for the Bride and Groom. This file contains multiple artboards, each one a scrapbook page, including a family tree). As if using pattern brushes wasn’t cleaver enough, Jennifer also created symbols for all the repeating elements. This saved her time when she wanted to edit as well as kept the file size down.Heirloom.jpgSpeaking of symbols, in the file that Jennifer created, she has symbols inside of symbols inside of symbols! You might not have known that that was possible, or even thought that it might be useful, but when you look at this file you will see what a time saver this is.Illuminate.jpgNo doubt you have also noticed that Jennifer makes great use of Patterns, Gradients and Graphic styles in all of these files. We’ve made all of this content available in CS4 as libraries. You can find the Charting Sample Art files, which are installed with CS4, in the Cool Extras>Sample Art folder,If you are new to Pattern Brushes and want to try creating them David Nagel of Creative Mac has some great techniques for creating pattern brushes, especially those tricky corners in this tutorial.I also like how Levent Leo Buyukgurai creates his pattern tiles in his tutorial.I’ll leave you with one last tip, when working with brushes be aware of your “Scale Stokes and Effects” setting in general preferences. If it’s off, and you scale your Brush object, you are literally scaling the path and having the brush reapply to it. In other words, the brush will retains its default size. If you want your Brush appearance to scale along with other objects, turn ‘Scale Strokes and Effects’ on. Use the shortcut, cmd/opt – K to quickly open the General Preferences dialog.I hope that this has inspired you and opened your eyes to new possibilities when it comes to charting, and the next time a client asks you to create a flow chart you’ll see it as a project full of creative opportunities.


  • By utm - 2:53 PM on March 26, 2009  

    These are pretty cool examples. A lot of the “meat & potatoes” work I do in Illustrator happens to be org charts, flow charts and other staples of bureaucracy so it’s nice to see people pushing on that bland boundary. One thing I’ve never understood is why text in Illustrator don’t have the option of vertically justifying in the middle or bottom of its box. Maybe I’ve missed something. But it would simplify things to not have to have text as separate objects than the boxes that contain it. Even InDesign even has vertical justification with basic rectangular boxes and it’s not as mature as Illustrator. 🙂 I did maps wayfinding symbols for a well-known US zoo an made extensive use of pattern brushes and symbols for all the illustrations. Those features helped me so much.Got an tips on making really compelling art with Illustrator’s Chart Tool?Glad you liked it, and glad to hear that you are also using pattern brushes and symbols in creative ways!By Chart Tool, I believe you are talking about the Graph Tool. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll be sure to cover it in a future post.You’re feature request regarding vertical type has been noted. In the meantime, try this. Create a Vertical type object, select it, and in the appearance panel add two new fills. The top one fill with the color you want your type, the bottom one with the color you want your rectangle. Now select the bottom fill in the appearance panel and apply the Convert to Shape>Rectangle effect and create teh rectangle the size you want (notice it can be absolute or relative to the type object). It will also be centered. -=Brenda

  • By sukanya - 11:36 PM on August 17, 2009  

    great template

  • By Corrie Toombs - 2:32 AM on December 19, 2010  

    some genuinely interesting details you have written.

  • By karl - 4:08 PM on January 25, 2011  

    Is it possible to set up a color swatch set that can be dynamically used in data driven charts in Illustrator? Powerpoint has this feature through the Design tab. I find that with Illustrator charts I have to individually select pie slices, or bars and then choose colors from the Swatch palette (or sometimes I’ll use the eyedropper tool on some color chips I have on the pasteboard of my templates)
    Obvisously, this is a time consuming and repetive task.
    Thanks in advance for any tips!

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