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The power of “Transform Each”

December 03, 2002

It seems to me that Adobe Illustrator is one of those programs that everyone knows a little bit about, but not many consider themselves experts on. Often eclipsed by its big brother Photoshop, it packs in a heck of a lot of great features that you don’t find elsewhere.

I’ve recently been doing a lot of work in Illustrator, and I’m reaching a familiarity level that’s coming close to my main squeeze, Photoshop. One of the little gems I’ve been making a lot of use of is the “Transform Each” function, to be found under the Object menu. (Object>Transform>Transform Each, to be precise)

what it does

The idea behind this function is that if you’ve got a bunch of objects that you want to modify in subtle ways (scale, transform, rotate, and any mix of the above) you can select them all, open up the panel, play around with the settings and modify all of them at once. While somewhat simplistic sounding, the real power behind this feature is when you check the “Random” checkbox in the control panel.

Selecting Random allows arbitrary transformations on each object, within the range you set in the panel. That means that each individual object in your selection is modified differently, and this can be a tremendous time–saver when you need to fill an area with a somewhat random pattern.

figure 1
figure 1.

In figure 1 above, I’ve started with a group of squares to use as my source objects. This set was created by placing a single square on the canvas, duplicating it, selecting both new squares, duplicating them, and so forth. Using the power of exponents like this, you can create a set of objects quickly. The colour variations were a simple matter of using the ‘Blend Color’ filters under Filter>Colors. Changing each corner point on the square to a different colour, I selected first the top–most horizontal row and applied the ‘Blend Horizontal’ filter. Modifying each of the four edges in this manner to create reference colours for each row, I then selected each row individually and blended horizontally.

figure 2
figure 2.

Once I had a collection of objects to work with, I selected all of them and loaded the Transform Each dialogue. This is where the fun begins, the result shown in figure 2 above.

There are a couple of sliders for controlling the scale and offset, as well as an angle indicator. If random isn’t checked, these settings are applied to every object equally, eg. changing the width to 150% of the starting value adjusts all objects selected by that amount. When random is checked, these values represent ranges for the transformations. If width is set to 150%, that means any object can be modified up to 150% of the original starting width, or anything in between the two. All objects are affected differently, but on the same scale. The scaling and angle ranges work much the same way.

figure 3
figure 3.

Interesting things start happening when you use different shapes and repeat the process. There’s also no reason to limit use of this function to just an array of identical shapes — any shape works, and you can of course mix and match freely. The only glitch I’ve found is that grouped objects aren’t treated as groups; each object within the group is acted on individually. This makes it much less effective on anything but simple shapes, unfortunately.

In figure 3 above, you’ll notice that each star is given space between it and the next. This is something that had to be done manually after applying the transformation. The function doesn’t distinguish between objects, and overlaps are fairly common. Sometimes this is desired, sometimes it’s not. Adjustments are inevitable when the space is needed, but lucky they’re not too tedious. Well, at least not as tedious as creating each shape individually and transforming it by hand at any rate…

Transform Each is a powerful tool, and one of those simple little tricks that can prove to be so effective time and again.

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