Illustrator CS5 Bible

Adobe Illustrator Workflow: The Ultimate Werewolf Project

Adapted from Illustrator CS5 Bible (Wiley Publishing)

By Ted Alspach

In what follows I walk you through a project that uses all sorts of Illustrator functions and explain how and why I used Illustrator’s capabilities throughout the process.

Everyone uses Illustrator a little differently, and even as I wrote this, I realized that I could have done a few things differently in order to be more efficient. Each project that you work on in Illustrator results in a different set of tools and processes, and even if you do very similar things again and again, you find your workflows evolving over time.

Project Background

The goal of this project is to create the box for a brand-new edition of a game I published more than a year ago: Ultimate Werewolf. This would be the second box I created at this size with this particular printer, so I already have experience in terms of the production parameters. The illustration below shows the final box.

Above is a photograph of the finished box, with below that the artwork from the English version.

However, I made some mistakes the first time around, such as not including enough bleed (printed area that extends beyond the expected cuts) and fold space for the corners. While the bleed issue was an oversight on my part, the fold space was something totally new to me.

Boxes with printed covers are created by gluing a printed sheet onto flat cardboard and then folding the cardboard sides down to form the shape of the box. The printed paper is what holds the box together at the corners.

Because the cardboard is fairly thick, when the sides are folded down the printed paper on top slides up a bit to make its way around the corner. This has to be compensated for in the original design or the sides of the box will appear too close to the top of the box compared with the original location they were designed for. Once you understand this concept, adding a few millimeters in between the center (top) of the box and the sides is easy.

Tip: This project was printed overseas, where the standard forms of measurement are millimeters, not inches, so I did all my work in the metric system. Working in the measurement system of the printer is always a good idea, especially if there are changes to the files during the process. You don’t want to be doing the conversions either inside Illustrator or out, as that introduces some significant risk into the project.

The box was to be printed using the four-color process, although it's shown here in black and white. Ninety five percent of the work I do now is four-color process, as the savings from using just two or three spot colors tend to be miniscule. The other 5% tends to be black ink only, and that’s for items like score sheets or rules inserts — and the cost to produce those is still only marginally cheaper than using four colors!

Building the Documents

Despite using Illustrator for the last 20 years, I don’t consider myself an artist. In fact, if you take away Illustrator and stick me with a pad and pencil, the doodles that I would generate would embarrass a first-grade art teacher. So, I don’t sketch out anything first. Ever. Instead, I tend to bring all the elements of a project together and start working on it right away in Illustrator. The advantage to doing this is that I have a single file to work on that eventually is the one that’s used for printing.

The box consists of two pieces; therefore, I need two files for it: the box cover and the box bottom. I created a new document (CMYK, of course, because this would be printed) for the box cover first. In order to help me organize the files, I created layers for each of the components I anticipated needing: Guides, Background, Sides, Frames and Edges, UW logo, Front characters, tagline, flags, game info, Bézier logo, and peeps (how I refer to the people illustrations on the sides of the box).

I worked with a very talented illustrator — a person, not another program — who created a whole series of characters for the cards in the game as well as the cover illustration. The resulting images were Photoshop files with transparent backgrounds, allowing me a lot of flexibility in how I used them.

Setting Up the Document
The first step after the basic document was created was to get the guides in place. Because I had done a box previously, I could copy the guides directly from the existing file to the new one. In order to do this, I locked all the layers except my guide layer in my previous file; then did a select all and copy there. In my new document, I checked the Layers panel’s popup menu to be sure that Paste Remembers Layers was selected (to ensure that all pasted items go onto layers with the same names as where they were copied from) and then chose Edit > Paste In Front. Paste In Front keeps the location of the guides consistent between documents.

Creating the Front Cover
The first item I placed was the background image, as shown below.

The initial document with the background image in place. Note that all the layers are already created, but only the background image layer has any objects on it.

Next, I placed the logo. The Ultimate Werewolf logo, as shown below, was created in Illustrator (although it uses a pixel-based image for the texture for the letters), but instead of copying and pasting the logo from the original file, I placed it as a linked file. The reason I chose this method was twofold:

  • I was still tweaking the logo, and this way, any changes to the logo would be reflected in the artwork automatically (Illustrator automatically updates linked placed files).
  • I used effects with x and y coordinates, such as a drop shadow. The location of the shadow is based on x and y coordinates in the effect itself. These values always move in the same direction, so a drop shadow that’s set to the lower right of the artwork would be in the lower right of that art even if the artwork is rotated (when you look at the rotated art right-side up, the shadow would not be in the lower right anymore). When artwork is placed, those settings are relative to the original artwork, not the position/rotation of the artwork on the page.

    Tip: Whenever I combine different elements together in a project, I always place-link files as opposed to embedding or copy/pasting from other Illustrator documents. This is primarily so that changes made to the components are reflected in the final document. All elements I placed in this document were place-linked.

The Ultimate Werewolf logo file.

I then placed the Bézier Games logo, the flags (this game includes components for both English and German), and the front characters. I didn’t place the peeps for the box sides yet, as I was focusing on the front cover first.

I then typed the tagline, applying a drop shadow to it by choosing Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. I used the settings shown below to make the shadow small, as my main goal was to make the tagline as readable as possible.

The Drop Shadow settings for the tagline text.

I duplicated the tagline text by dragging it down while pressing Alt (Option) and Shift, ensuring that it didn’t move horizontally when I dragged. I then double-clicked the new type object to change it to text-editing mode, pressed Ctrl+A (Command+A) to select all the text, and pasted the translated German text (copied from a Word document supplied by my translator). I colored the German text a light blue (I do the same thing for the German text on the back of the box).

The last step on the front cover was to position the front characters (including the werewolf). I placed them on a different layer than the background image so that the werewolf would appear in front of the logo and then the other front characters would be in front of the werewolf. When working with my artist, I specified that the characters and their backgrounds should be on separate layers to ensure I would have this sort of flexibility. The illustration below shows the finalized front cover.

The box top of the box cover is complete.

Creating the Box Sides
The bottom/top box sides and left/right box sides are virtually duplicates of each other (just the peeps are different), so I knew that I could just do one of each and then rotate/duplicate each to create the opposite version. I started at the bottom first because it was right-side up on my screen.

For the background image for the sides, I jumped into Photoshop and created two smaller versions of the background I used for the front. I place-linked the longer of the two for the bottom side on the background image layer. The illustration below shows the placed image. Note that it extends beyond the guides. This isn’t just bleed; it’s also wrap. Wrap is the printed portion of the paper that goes around the bottom edges and corners of the box (look at any box that has a cover like this, and you see the wrap there, which is usually about 1⁄2-inch wide).

The bottom box side has a background image in place.

Next, I Alt+dragged (Option+dragged) the Ultimate Werewolf logo down and used the Scale tool to scale it so that it fit better on the side. When I scale in Illustrator, I find it’s best to keep the Bounding Box off (it only shows up with the Selection tool, and I use the Direct Selection tool more, anyway) and just press S to quickly access the Scale tool. After scaling, I press A to return to the Direct Selection tool.

I copied the Bézier Games logo down and scaled it up because it needs to be bigger on the box sides. I also added the URL info below it here (having it on the front cover would have added too much busyness, but having it on the sides doesn’t have that same negative impact). Finally, I copied the game information graphic (number of players, playing time, suggested age range) from another file. I didn’t place-link this graphic because the values are specific to this game, and there isn’t any place where this information appears on the product except the box cover.

Finally, I placed two peeps and sized and positioned them appropriately. The illustration below shows the bottom edge with everything in place. Note that the peeps are just slightly overlapping the Ultimate Werewolf logo; this was done to add an element of depth to the graphics.

The bottom side with all elements in place.

To create the top side of the box, I selected all the elements on the bottom side and rotateduplicated them 180 degrees. Normally, when duplicating a bunch of items that I want to move, rotate, or scale, I group them first. However, this wasn’t an option here because that would have moved all the objects to the topmost layer, and I wanted to keep all items on the same layers that they were on originally. Instead, I clicked with the Rotate tool in the middle of the cover portion (I just estimated this); then pressed Alt+Shift (Option+Shift) and dragged from the bottom side to the top, which snapped a copy of the selected artwork up almost exactly in place. To vertically adjust the art into the correct position, I used the up and down arrow keys, which moved the art 1 point per keystroke.

To swap out the characters with new ones, I selected each of them, chose File > Place, picked a different character, and clicked the Replace check box. Replace automatically applies any transformations to the new image that were applied to the previously placed image. In this case, that included scaling and rotating. Using this technique meant that I had to do only slight tweaking to the placed images on the top side of the box.

For the left and right sides, I first created the left side by rotate-duplicating just the logo and characters from the bottom 90 degrees. I just replaced the characters and added the smaller background side image. Then I selected the four elements (background image, logo, and two characters) and rotate-duplicated them 180 degrees to create the right side. After replacing the characters on the right side, the box cover was complete, as shown below. Time to work on the box bottom!

The box cover in its finished state.

Creating the Box Bottom
The box bottom essentially started as the box top. After saving the box top again, I chose File ➪ Save As and gave the file a different name for the box bottom. For the bottom, I worked a little differently. First, I deleted items I knew I wouldn’t need: The front characters went first, followed by the logos on the box sides. I kept the right-side up game information graphic because I needed that for the box bottom.

Then I started working backward from what I did for the cover: I swapped the top and bottom side graphics because they would appear upside down if I used them on the box bottom illustration. I added two additional characters to the top and bottom sides and then replaced all the characters with new ones. The illustration below shows the box bottom at this time.

The box bottom after the sides have been completed.

Next, I scaled the Ultimate Werewolf logo down and moved it into the upper left. I moved the Bézier Games logo to the upper right and added the location information below it. I placed three different card images below the Bézier Games logo and positioned them to fill up the space. These three cards are the only place on the box you see any components from the game directly (even though the characters are on all the cards), so it was critical that they be clearly defined as such. I gave them substantial drop shadows to ensure that they looked like individual cards.

Next, I placed the bar code graphic, added the Panda Manufacturing information, added the printing location, and added the rules (in English and German) as well as the copyright information.

Finally, I created a text box for the English text and pasted the text there that I copied from a Word document. Then I duplicated the text box by Alt+dragging (Option+dragging) it to the right and pasted in the German translation of the text. I colored the German text light blue to match the German tagline from the front of the box. The final box bottom artwork is shown below.

The box bottom with all elements in place.

Preparing for Production
I saved both files as PDF files. Saving as PDF files allows you to deliver a single file, even if you have a lot of place-linked files and use all sorts of unusual fonts. Even so, I always click the Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities check box in the PDF Options dialog box when saving, so if there are changes after submission, I can make them to the PDF version of the file instead of opening the original Illustrator file and then resaving it as a PDF.

I usually use the High Quality Print preset, but I often tweak a few other settings too, such as clicking the All Printer’s Marks check box in the Marks and Bleeds section (shown below) and typing a manual bleed of at least 18 points (I used 15 mm, or about 42 points) in the same section.

The Marks and Bleeds section of the Save Adobe PDF dialog box with the settings I used for these project files.


While each project is different, you can use Illustrator effectively by following these guidelines:

  • Figure out the components in the project first and then set up layers for each of them as appropriate.
  • Place-link elements when possible so that your document uses the most recent version of those elements.
  • Work with your printer prior to creating your files so you don’t have to make changes later — when it’s much harder to do.
  • Save your final file as a PDF, using the High Quality Print preset as your base setting.

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Adapted with permission from Illustrator CS5 Bible by Ted Alspach. Copyright © 2010 (Wiley Publishing)