Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Dear Adobe: Your Strokes Need Help

Permit me to bitch for a moment about Adobe’s Creative Suite. The stroke feature across the three programs (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) is handled completely differently in each environment, with no good reason beyond pervading inconsistencies from previous generations.

Permit me to bitch for a moment about Adobe’s Creative Suite. Adobe touts the new release as an “integrated design environment for print and Web publishing,” and true enough, the products are closely aligned with similar menu systems, feature sets and keyboard shortcuts.

Unfortunately, the stroke feature across the three programs (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) is handled completely differently in each environment, with no good reason beyond pervading inconsistencies from previous generations.

In Photoshop’s Layer Styles, we have access to stroke weight and color, plus several key options not present in Illustrator. For instance, I can control the opacity and blending mode of the stroke independent from those attributes in the actual image. More importantly, I have access to one key feature: the position of the stroke. I can set the line inside, outside or centered on the edge of the image.

This last feature is desperately needed in Illustrator. Unless I duplicate the object and place it beneath the original, I cannot control with width of the stroke without affecting the width of the object because the stroke line is irrevocably centered on the edge of the object. This sucks. So for shapes with complex strokes, I have to either render the outline or create a second instance. Both options leave me with one more object than I wanted, for a problem that could be solved with a small dropdown menu in the Stroke palette.

Another option Photoshop and InDesign boast is the ability to color a stroke with a gradient. While I can maybe give up my other beefs, this one just seems deadpan obvious. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to drop a gradient or pattern fill into a stroke? If this feature is available in InDesign, why not Illustrator?

From what I can tell, Illustrator’s stroking options haven’t changed at all in the past three versions or so. It’s time to give a closer look. This is an illustrating program after all, so it should at least possess the fundamental features present in its page-layout brethren. I can live without the independent opacity (although it would be nice …), but let’s have some modicum of consistency across the programs.

Am I crazy here or what?

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

Agreed! Advanced stroke capabilities have been missing from Illustrator for much too long. When I used Corel Draw (10+ years ago), I was able to easily vary stroke width within a line – something I still haven’t been able to accomplish in Illustrator.

Andrei Herasimchuk

wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

It’s been an issue for some time now, longer than the past three versions, if my memory serves me correctly. Hopefully, little details like this will address in the foreseable future. They are actually a bit tougher in code due to reasons I know users shouldn’t or wouldn’t care about, which is unfortunate. I have passed on this article to the powers that be. We’ll what happens.

Take care.

Silus Grok

wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

Strokes in Illustrator are completely behind-the-times.

Michael Ninness

wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

Like Andrei said, Strokes across the Adobe apps could use some work. Until then, as an FYI for those that don’t know, Strokes in Illustrator can have their Opacity and Blend Mode set independently of the object. You can accomplish this via the Appearance palette.

Example: Draw a rectangle with a 20pt black stroke and a red fill. Select the object, then open the Appearance palette if it is not open already. You will see Stroke and Fill items listed in the Appearance palette. Click on the Stroke item in the palette, then set the Opacity value and desired Blend Mode in the Transparency palette. The changes will only apply to the Stroke and not the Fill.

Also, strokes are always on top of the fill by default. You can reorder the stroke and fill items in the Appearance palette by dragging them up and down in the list. While this doesn’t give you the desired ability to specify that a stroke start from the inside, outside or center, you can use this as a workaround. If you move the stroke behind the fill, you can achieve the same result as having the stroke be on the outside of the graphic. You might have to double the stroke width to get the desired effect.

Lastly, objects can have more than one stroke. Each one can have their stacking order, opacity, color, etc. controlled independently.

Here is a link to an older tutorial on the Appearance palette:




wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

Michael, thanks for the great info—while you can definitely do some fiddling with the Appearence palette, I am just hoping Adobe just makes the whole process easier inside the Strokes palette in the next version. Great link BTW.


wrote the following on Monday December 13, 2004

I’m an expert in Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel DRAW and various others. I’ve almost completely given up using Illustrator now in favor of Corel DRAW mostly because of irritating “speed bumps” in Illustrator. If you know both programs similiarly well, Illustrator takes longer per project.

For Photoshop, my biggest want is to see edittable, scalable vector objects that don’t get rasterized but can still have filters/styles etc applied. Its imperitive that this function be easier to use than its current implementation. Illustrator and Photoshop should be one program, not two.

Buck Rackley

wrote the following on Wednesday November 1, 2006

I’ve become so irritated after years of illustrator in the proffesional world that I often use Corel (even tho I prefer not to), and even Maya (even tho getting it back to vector is awkward) as opposed to Illustrator for any complex curve manipulations.

I love the adobe programs, and it would make my life much easier to just stick with illustrator.

I have to agree. Especially with the previous post. I don’t care if they call it Illushop or Photolator. I would even be cool with Phillushator. Either way, it needs to happen.


wrote the following on Thursday September 30, 2010

I think the problem is that adobe has acquired the various programs (that are now bundled as a suite) from different companies over a number of years. There are a lot of compatibility issues between any of the two programs. For example, compare illustrator’s “reflect vertical” to photoshop’s “flip horizontal.” Very confusing, and since I learned photoshop first, the Illustrator way seems very backward to me. When you use the rotate function in photoshop, positive values turn the object clockwise, whereas positive values in illustrator turn the object counter-clockwise. And of course none of the keyboard shortcuts are the same. They need to standardize everything to make it easier to jump from one program to another.

As for line weights, it’s something I wish Illustrator would have. Maybe you could set the stroke weight at each anchor point instead of for the whole line and have it smooth between the anchor points. For now I just use custom brushes to make lines of varying weight.