Finally! It has arrived: Adobe Illustrator has added the “repeat” feature, which is something that I think was needed for years and years. Why did the Illustrator team took so long to add this, I can’t imagine. Really. It first appeared in the Ipad version of Illustrator. Something not all of us can use. And I was wondering is ta was ever going to be translated into the desktop version. Thankfully, it has.
Ok, now we have it. But is it any good? Let’s see.
The first thing I notice, it’s not exactly real time. While you’re mark-making, you don’t see the reflection or the repetition. Only after you lift your stylus from the canvas, it updates to show you the repeated results. Weirdly, the polygon tool does work in real time with the repeating… Moving on…
Next thing I notice is that you can’t just turn on the feature and then start drawing. You have to make an object first, select it and go to object->repeat->… This seems a bit counter-intuitive to me at least in some instances… i.e. when you want to draw a face or something like that. You want to be able to see the mirroring effect from the first stoke. Instead, you have to make something, select it, make it mirror (the right angle, the right way) and then you can get back to the tool you were using and keep drawing, once everything’s set. I don’t like this at all. I like the fact that you can do this after having drawn something, but not having to do it this way every time, for the reasons I stated above.
In order to select the whole object (your marks and their mirror), you have to get out of the mirror isolation mode, which you’re entered to automatically when you first select an object and go to object->repeat->mirror. Ok, you get used to this, it’s ok… Only when you do the same with a radial repeat, it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t automatically enter you in the repeat isolation mode. So any stroke you make after having made the object->repeat->radial call, won’t be repeated. In this case, you have double click the object that’s already selected in order to enter the radial isolation mode and then you can keep making marks that will be repeated. This is confusing. At least keep it consistent, right?
But there are good things to tell, fortunately.
The radial repetition feature has nice, intuitive controls that let you change the angle and radius, number of instances, and even if you want less repetitions that don’t complete a circumference. This I find very nice. Of course, you can still enter precise numbers in the properties panel, so you have both options.
Finally, the grid repetition works the same as the radial one in terms of editing inside isolation mode. You have to double click it to enter isolation mode in order to edit it while maintaining the repetition. It’s a bit weird because you can’t just draw anywhere, you have to do it inside the original object’s boundaries. If you do it way outside, it will expand the repeating area to that of the new stroke and you’ll lose strokes you made before… Although I guess for this type of repeat you will mostly do it after you made an object you want to repeat, you might want to add something in between, and this is when it’ll start to be a bit tricky. Having said that, when you exit isolation mode, you can control how close instances are both vertically and horizontally. You can even overlap them.
For a feature that was long overdue, I find it a bit lacking, although I’m very glad it’s finally part of Illustrator, natively. I can only hope it will be improved over time and these quirks will be ironed. In the meantime, I’m positive -even in this early stage- it will facilitate making so many things we needed to do before and had to make the hard way.
Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina.