by brenda


August 10, 2009

Taking out the trash . . .

Contributed by Brenda Sutherland, Illustrator Team Geologist

Tuesday is garbage day at my house. . . . In preparation, I run around the house emptying all the trash bins, gather up the recycling and haul out the green waste container and park it all on the curb. Hopefully timing these tasks before that big noisy truck comes along and takes it all away.

The experience is both tedious and cathartic. While I can think of an infinite number of things I’d rather be doing than my weekly trash chore, there is something refreshing about knowing that all of those things I no longer need or want have been taken away, and I’ll never have to smell, trip over, or store them away again.


Of course, some people are much better housekeepers than I am, and would be horrified to see my last minute scramble down the driveway. But at least I get it done! And I think designers are a bit like this with their files as well. Some are meticulous about handing off files that have been scrubbed clean, without a single erroneous anchor point or unused swatch. Every layer, sublayer and group has a unique and meaningful name, and there are no hidden objects, unpainted paths, or dead links to be found. I have seen these files, and they are a thing of beauty.

Think about when you pick your car up from the mechanic. How would you feel if you found the old spark plugs or empty oilcans lying in your car? Not to mention greasy handprints on the hood. When you pick up your car, you expect it to be ready to go, without any sign that someone’s been working on it. And you especially don’t want to be cleaning up after them!

Now think about how your clients feel when they get your files. When they open them up and the swatch panel contains not only all of the swatches from the Startup Profile, but also every spot color you tried out while working out your color scheme, every variation of a particular pattern or gradient you were working on, and all the different brushes you experimented with on that one object you ended up deleting anyway. And then of course are the objects no longer in use but still present in your document. They may not be visible, but their presence can have repercussions that can cost you time and money later. So it’s well worth the taking a few minutes to scrub your files before handing them off. Not only do tidy files look more professional, removing these items reduces the file size, and prevents problems and confusion further down the production line as people other than you open and work with them.

Many designers budget time into their schedules for file cleanup. Not that it takes a lot of time, as Illustrator provides time saving tools to help you sweep your files cleans of unnecessary clutter. Hopefully, you are already doing this. If not, read on and I’ll share some tips with you that will help you add this step to your workflow as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

What’s hiding in your closet?Does your Layers panel contain things no longer necessary to the finished file? Hidden objects? Guides? Template layers or images you used for tracing? If these things are no longer needed, it’s best to remove them. If you’ve got links to images you don’t plan to hand off with your artwork, then your client, service bureau, or whoever opens the file next will get a dialog at open telling them there are missing links. Since they won’t know whether or not these links are necessary, this might slow things down as they contact you to get the files.It’s worth the time to go through your Layers panel and look for any layers with visibility turned off. If the layers are no longer needed, then delete them. You can also choose to show all layers, but I recommend scanning the Layers panel first for hidden layers and objects as it’s easier to find items with the visibility icon (eyeball) turned off. Once you’ve done this, take another pass through the Layers panel for anything that might be visible, but no longer needed. Like duplicate layers, or template layers.LayersLinks.jpgYou should also open up the Links panel and take a look at all the rasters in your document. This is another way to identify and delete any images, placed or embedded, that you no longer need.If you like to work in the scratch area (the canvas of your document, outside the artboards) then you should also zoom all the way out to make sure there are no objects you might have left lying on the floor.Find those strays and move them out!Like feral cats that find their way into the shed if you leave the door open, stray anchor points can make themselves at home, uninvited. Small, invisible, and seemingly innocent, they can cause hours of wasted time as they retain information that can trigger missing font dialogs and make unused spot colors appear in the color list of Separations Preview. Stray anchor points usually result from either a single click with a tool (type, pen, etc.) or from deleting part of an object selected with the Direct Selection tool. While these guys are around, even though they’re not visible and do not print, any attributes they carry will appear in the Document Info panel. So if you were to use this panel to gather information about fonts or spot colors in use in your file, they would appear. Also, these anchor points will generate Smart Guide readouts. Sometimes designers create them specifically for this purpose, but if you haven’t, they can get in your way.Illustrator has a great tool for finding and removing these little rascals. Choose Object>Path>Cleanup to open the Clean Up dialog. You’ll see three options here, which can be run together if you like.CleanupDialog.jpgStray Points: Will delete all single anchor points from the document. This includes single anchor points that have been converted to guides.Unpainted Objects: Will remove all paths with no fill or stroke attributes. This does not include guides.Empty Text Paths: Will delete any text object that no longer has text. This includes threaded text blocks that are empty.Clean up will not work on locked objects, so if you want to be thorough, you should unlock all objects before opening this dialog.Unused Panel Contents: Swatches, Brushes, Symbols and Graphic Styles.If you only do one thing, than this is it. I’ve listed it last, because you’re better off removing unused objects from the document first, in case any of them contain attributes, like a brush definition or a graphic style, that’s not in use elsewhere. Clearing the panels of unnecessary content is really simple, thanks to one of the default actions that ship with Illustrator. To run the action, open the Action panel and look in the Default Actions folder for the “Delete Unused Panel Items” action. Select it and hit the play button. The action will automatically go through each panel, select the contents that are not in use, and then delete them, and it only takes a few seconds.ActionsAndSymbols.jpgYou can also do this manually, by choosing the “Select All Unused” menu command in each panel’s flyout menu, which will select the contents not in use, and then you can hit the trashcan icon in the panel.Just remember not to start with the Swatches panel. This is because swatches are considered “in use” by the application not only when they are applied to artwork, but also when they are included in other panel contents (symbols, graphic styles etc.). In Illustrator the content is part of the document, not the application, so when you run “Select All Unused”, even on a document without any art, there may be swatches that will not be selected. The only way to clear out the swatch panel completely is to delete content from the other panels as well, and to do it first. The trick is you have to do it in the right order, because some content can be used in other content (like a brush used in a symbol). The default action “Delete Unused Panel Items” has the correct order: Symbols, Graphic Styles, Brushes and then Swatches.After running the Action “Delete Unused Panel items”, you may notice some swatches in your swatch panel that were not selected or deleted. The black and white swatches will not be deleted through the action because they are part of the default style in all of the shipping document profiles. Also, any swatches that were used in pattern brushes won’t be deleted through this action. The reason is that pattern brushes aren’t really deleted until the file is closed and reopened. So if you have swatches used in pattern brushes you can either delete the pattern brushes first, save and reopen, then run the action, or just delete these swatches after running the action by selecting them manually.If you’ve taken the time to read this, then you’ll be relieved by how much less time it takes to run through these steps. I hope you make it part of your regular workflow, as you’ll find that the effort will be well spent and can save you headaches in the long run. Just try to look at it this way, once the file is complete, before handing it off, don’t forget to take out the trash.


  • By Merc - 10:42 AM on August 10, 2009  

    Thanks! I never knew there was an action for that!

  • By Bill Stapleton - 1:56 AM on August 14, 2009  

    This is a very informative & well written article. I only wish all “designers” would provide their file to me for output AFTER taking the time to read this…Thanks for trying to explain the problems that a person may encounter when trying to output a file that contains a bunch of extra elements that are not intended to be in the final printed peice. How are we to know since we are not the ones to create it?

  • By Chris - 3:28 PM on August 18, 2009  

    This post of course opens up an obvious feature request :PA final cleanup and package of illustrator documents that does all of that in one hit.Also retaining original link info even if the file is embedded, the option to package embedded links and the option to extract embedded links easily (I have my methods, involving acrobat and the touch up tool…)

  • By Andreas - 12:26 PM on September 7, 2009  

    Really nice info, thanks a lot!

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  • By Challenge Coins - 5:39 AM on October 20, 2010  

    Organizational skills have never been me strong point and being an illustrator myself I know this is a weak point for me. I can’t tell you enough how lost some of clients have gotten with layer upon layer not labeled well. This is kinda like hitting me on the nose with a rolled newspaper saying,”bad illustrator, bad illustrator.”…

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