Astute Graphics recently released two new Adobe Illustrator plug-ins: WidthScribe and ColliderScribe. WidthScribe enables variation of multiple width strokes, while ColliderScribe is a toolset that enables you to position shapes accurately, placing any object precisely next to another when it touches or comes close.
When I saw WidthScribe announced, I must admit I thought Astute Graphics was losing it. After all, isn’t there an adjustable width brush provided with the latest version of Illustrator? But after looking at this new tool for more than a couple of seconds — which seems to be the attention span of most of us these days — it became clear they weren’t losing it at all.
Illustrator CS6’s new brush is a great tool, but it isn’t particularly user-friendly. Let’s say it supports your creativity, but not without hurdles. Unlike drawing with real pens and brushes, Illustrator’s native tool is a typical digital engineering piece of work: it forces a certain way of working upon you.
In contrast, WidthScribe allows you to use the plug-in’s “Width Brush Tool” to define variable width strokes with simple sweeps. It offers the nearest thing to a real brush and that does stimulate creativity more than when you need to think over how you’ll be setting up your widths along a curve.
WidthScribe has two drawing tools: the brush and a gradient tool. The “Width Gradient Tool” works a lot like the gradient tool in Photoshop, or better still the Alien Skin Bokeh plug-in (review here). You drag the linear or circular gradient tool in the direction you want the effect to gracefully diminish. In this case, it’s the width that will vary.
The Width Selector tool uses markers on your lines to taper them using sliders or numeric control. There are settings for averaging and smoothing, as well as randomisation and optimisation functions.
In the hands of a skilled Illustrator artist, the 46.00 Euros costing WidthScribe plug-in is gold and can save a lot of time, as well as bring back the fun in drawing.
Personally, I was even more intrigued by ColliderScribe. I have difficulty spacing objects consistently when drawing, especially when I’m drawing circles in a circular arrangement. That’s mainly because I don’t know the program well enough to remember all the key combinations that enable me to do that. And I lack time to learn about the interface for the six or a dozen times a year I use Illustrator.
Which is the reason why I was drawn to ColliderScribe like a bear to a honeypot. ColliderScribe costs a terrible 11.00 Euros, and it does two things — there are two tools you get. First and foremost it spaces objects at always the same interval.
By default it will place each object exactly next to another one. You don’t have to carefully see the objects touch. The tool can be set to act magnetically within any number of pixels. Let’s say you’re drawing ten circles inside a big circle. Then with ColliderScribe each circle will touch every other circle at the exact right spot. If you happen to have a circle at the centre of this pattern, the tool will place your “satellites” exactly next to every other satellite as well as the centre disc.
Great, but what if I want to have space between them? In that case, you just click the checkbox and set a space in pixels in the tool preference panel. Brilliant. But what if I want to rotate an object around a path while colliding? There’s a tool for that.
ColliderScribe is a godsend, especially if you’re drawing complex shapes within shapes. It sometimes will not behave as expected, though.
For example, I found that stars confuse the plug-in This is what happens if you are too lazy to follow through the videos that in this case replace the user guide. I always read user guides and they force you to do one thing at a time. With video tutorials, you think you can do something else while listening to the narrator — wrong! There’s nothing confusing the plug-in; it was the author of this piece who let his attention wander to other tasks. Dragging your object beyond the ‘advised’ magnetic touch point — you’ll be visually warned with a blue dot — will also cause the plug-in to search for other collision points and with some object forms those can be different from what you’re expecting.
But most of the time, ColliderScribe just is yet another clever tool from Astute Graphics.