There’s a lot to like about this approach, especially the integrated type point and station marker (two overlaid points define both elements and both can be placed simultaneously) and the use of paragraph styles (an often-overlooked feature in Adobe Illustrator) gives the ability to quickly change things if required later on. The downside is the need to adjust margins via the tedious Character palette, although is that actually any worse than manually nudging with arrow keys?
This post is in response to Cameron Booth’s Point Type Label tutorial on his rather excellent Transit Maps blog. I’m writing this here because it feels a bit more efficient than bombarding him with a few dozen tweets.
I too use point type for labels on transit maps. But I also like to integrate paragraph and character styles wherever possible. I do this because, in theory, it makes it easier if I decide much later that I need to make a broad sweeping change (like choosing a new typeface or updating the character colour).
What I’ve also found is that by adjusting indents and baseline shifts, I can place the text point right in the middle of a station dot or at the intersection of two gridlines (see the second and third pictures for example; I’ve also shown how it can work for different station markers). If you’re using Smart Guides, everything should snap nicely into place.
Here’s a sample set up, which you can see in the first picture:
- A character style for the basics, such as font family, size, leading, tracking, colour. I made a second style for a terminus station which is the same as the base, but with bold weight.
- A number of paragraph styles for a variety of station type alignments. Here I’ve got a map with lines at 45 degree angles, so I’ve eight styles and named them after compass directions.
- I made one bonus style to show how you can set one up for text that’s been rotated (and yet the text point remains in the middle of the station marker).
Now the whole point of Mr. Booth’s post was to show that Illustrator doesn’t actually align text precisely; some manual adjustment is necessary to get everything looking optically correct. He moved each label manually. My method doesn’t solve the problem of requiring some adjustment. But now instead of moving each label, you leave the label in place and adjust the left or right paragraph indent (see last picture).
There are some downsides to this technique The primary problem I run into is with multiple line station labels. If the label has a positive baseline shift, then you’re going to need to update the baseline manually or create a new paragraph style. And then you might start to end up with an unwieldy amount of styles.
Another downside here is that manual adjustments override the paragraph style. So if you update the style at a later date, it may not affect something you’ve adjusted manually (it depends on what you’re updating).
Lastly, there is the issue of Illustrator itself. Its paragraph and character styles palette just isn’t that great, especially compared to InDesign. I don’t blame it; Illustrator is meant for… illustration. But having spent years building books in InDesign, you really notice what’s missing in Illustrator’s style options. InDesign has so much more; you can create keyboard shortcuts for specific styles, you can have styles based on other styles, you can reorder the styles. Illustrator does well, but I often find myself frustrated with it.
Is this an ideal solution? Not entirely. it is very mathematical, so to get everything looking perfect you’re still going to need to do a lot of eyeball adjustments. However, I find it’s a good way to get everything set up initially and keep things consistent throughout a project.