How To Create Geometric Collages in Adobe Illustrator (Part 4)

How To Create Geometric Collages in Adobe Illustrator (Part 4)

In this post I will explain you how to automate geometric collages created in Illustrator. We are going to automate process of placing images/graphics into our template. Depend on collage you may need to place/drag/paste lots of images what is lots of clicks and drags so why to not automate this task and make our lives easier?

Which part of the collage can be automated in Photoshop

In essence, we could automate entire process in Photoshop. Since we have created a template in Illustrator and imported vector shapes in Photoshop we can automate the template creation using Insert Path command plus we can also automate image/graphics placement. In this tutorial I will show you only the second part and we will record a simple action which is flexible and can be re-used with some other projects.

In the very next post I will provide you freebie to download free actions which automates the entire process.

Planning action

We have a template with vector shapes in Photoshop. Sometimes we will want to clip all shapes with the images/graphics and other times we will want some shapes/pieces to be filled with solid color, gradient or even to be transparent.

Placing images

The best and easiest way to accomplish the task when placing images is to clip them to shapes so we do not need to crop each individual image and we have additional flexibility.

We can simply hide pieces where we want to change their color or to have transparent areas.

Here comes part to place images or graphics. We can record an action with steps to select layers, followed by the Place command then followed with clipping masks. This is simple enough to figure out, just start populating template with images as you will do without action.

The interesting part

Now comes interesting part. What if we want to fill some or most of the shapes with solid color, for example. In that case we will need to place only few images. Actions can be smart and we will use this advantage in the next tutorial. So, each new template will require a different number of places images on different positions or different layers in the layer's stack.

Importance of keyboard shortcuts when recording actions

What we can do is to hide layers which should be filled with solid color and leave layers to clip images visible on our screen. That is something. The remaining part is to start selecting layers for what we have keyboard shortcuts.

We should use keyboard shortcuts mainly for flexibility and re-use purpose because clicking directly on the layer will record exact layer name and that means limitation. If you want to run action with some other document then you must have layers with exact name as recorded and what if you don't? Then action will display an error message. When selecting layers using keyboard shortcuts, Photoshop will record command: select top most, bottom most, layer above or below regardless of the layer name. That's flexibility that I am talking about.

Another cool thing that is an advantage for us is that select top/bottom most or layer above/below command works with visible layers so hidden layers will be ignored and not considered as target layers.

So the conclusion is that our solution is simply enough: hide layers that you do not want to use for clipping mask and start selecting layers from the bottom or top using keyboard shortcuts.

Placement + Scaling

Another thing to think about is a placement and clipping mask plus scaling. Most of the time we will need to scale placed files and it is better to have them clipped and to start scaling them, right? This can be accomplished through action steps.

Another thing which can be considered is that when placing images user needs to confirm placement with the ability to scale image. We want the scaling option which is Free Transform in other words. It is better to do scaling after creating clipping mask. To skip placement confirmation, we can use Replace Contents command and we need Smart Object layer, right? Easy enough to record step which converts layer to a Smart Object.

What we know about Smart Object layers is that this containers keeps track of changes like: transformations and filters applied. When you convert layer to Smart Object its content will be recorded as 100% scale without any transformation. Replacing content will keep 100% scaling percentage or in other words image will be placed at 100% or as it is. Most of the time we will probably need to scale and move content so we need Free Transform command to be recorded after content replacement.

Document's Background layer

There are always some requirements in order action to play properly. Thinking about document we can say that most of the documents have Background layer, but that's not requirement to have a document open in Photoshop so we must take in account that document may or may not have Background layer.

Let's summarize

So, the number of images will vary from template to template and project to project. The good news is that we can use conditional actions, but also user can stop playing action after placing all required images, we just need to add reminder with instruction in both cases at the beginning of action. In this tutorial we will practice with the easier option and in the next tutorial we will use more advanced perhaps and easier way of automating task using conditional actions.

What we need to record is a few steps with one requirement: document must have Background layer visible (we can go and other way but let's stick with this requirement). So we want to select the Background layer which is bottom most then to select layer above then to duplicate that layer. Furthermore, we will convert the duplicated layer to Smart Object which content will be replaced using Replace Contents option. The next what should happen is to invoke the Free Transform command to scale and move image as needed. That's all what we need, the rest is to duplicate recorded steps, starting with Select forward layer (select layer above). Let's do that.

Record steps to place images

We will go with a simple solution with the requirement that the document has Background layer. What if it doesn't? We can instruct the user to select bottom/top most visible layer and then to play action or to create Background layer and ensure it is visible (not hidden). Since we do not know in advance how many visible layers, document will have (we are recording flexible action for re-use) we should add a reminder for us or any user to click Cancel in the Replace File dialog when a template is populated with the images.

Step 1 Add reminder
I will skip how to start recording action what is described several times in mini course about actions. The very first step in our action is to add a reminder for ourselves or any user about requirement which is the background layer visible and to stop playing action by clicking on Cancel button in the Replace File dialog because we are going to use Replace Contents command.

Create a new document with Background layer and few layers above. Add as a first step reminder from the Actions panel menu > Insert Stop. Type reminder, or info and check Allow Continue. Here is what I have typed:

Please ensure that you have Background layer in your document and that it is visible. Click Continue or Click Cancel, create a background layer, then resume playing action by clicking on Play selection button.
You can place a maximum of 30 images using this action which will duplicate existing layers in the document, then convert them to Smart Objects and help you to place images using Replace Contents command.
Watch in the document and when you have all images placed, please click Cancel in the Replace File dialog to stop playing action.
insert stop

Step 2 Target bottom most layer
In this step we will target bottom most, Background layer which is present in most of the Photoshop documents. Let's do that using keyboard shortcut: Alt/Opt + ,. You will see: Select back layer step recorded.

Step 3 Target layer above
Now we need to target the layer above which is the first layer to be used for clipping mask. Press Alt/Opt + ] on your keyboard and you will see: Select forward layer step recorded.

Step 4 Duplicate selected layer
We are going to duplicate the selected layer what can be done using famous Ctrl/Cmd + J keyboard shortcut. Layer that we need can be created in a few different ways, but let's keep it simple.

Step 5 Convert the layer to a Smart Object
In this step we will use Filter > Convert for Smart Filters command. Again, the same thing can be done using several menu options or by using Insert Menu Item command from the Actions panel menu.

Step 6 Create clipping mask
We want to create clipping mask before replacing content and scaling/moving the image. Use Insert Menu Item > Layer > Create Clipping Mask menu item.

Step 7 Use Replace Contents command
For this step we will use Insert Menu Item from Actions panel menu and Layer > Smart Objects > Replace Contents...
replace contents command

Step 8 Free Transform
Most of the time we will want to use Free Transform after placing our image/graphic so let's record this command using Insert Menu Item one more time. Go to Actions panel menu > Insert Menu Item then go to Edit > Free Transform and confirm with OK in the floating Insert Menu Item dialog.
free transform

We are done, you can stop recording action, the rest is: select and drag onto the page icon to duplicate steps.

Step 9 Duplicate steps
What remains to do is to duplicate steps in range: Select forward layer > Select Free Transform menu item. After selecting steps drag them onto the page icon at the bottom to duplicate them and do that as many times as you want. I will make 30 duplicates in total.
duplicate steps


Here is the link to download my solution recorded while writing this tutorial with the template which you can use to test solution. Hide some layers then play action.

Related tutorials:

How To Create Geometric Collages in Adobe Illustrator (Part 1)
How To Create Geometric Collages in Adobe Illustrator (Part 2)
How To Create Geometric Collages in Adobe Illustrator (Part 3)

Product used in this tutorial:
Adobe Photoshop CC 2014
Adobe Illustrator CC 2014


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