I often create a collection of images in Illustrator or Photoshop which require a specific sequence of manual steps in order to maintain a similar appearance across a series.

Actions or scripts generally don't work well because each step requires some manual interaction to ensure the final appearance is correct.

For example, in Illustrator I start with a different base path each time then:

  • Apply Graphic Style A
  • Expand
  • Ungroup
  • Apply Graphic Style B (a 3D effect)
  • Duplicate
  • Apply Graphic Style C (a 3D effect)
  • Duplicate
  • Apply Graphic Style D (a 3D effect)
  • (total of 3 - 3D objects now)
  • Expand Appearance for all 3 objects
  • Ungroup
  • Apply Graphic Style B1 to original shape in B (direct select)
  • Apply Graphic Style C1 to original shape in C (direct select)
  • Apply Graphic Style D1 to original shape in D (direct select)
  • Apply Graphic Style E to all 3 objects independently
  • Duplicate one object twice
  • Pathfinder Unite on each duplicate
  • Pathfinder Intersect (to get the common area)
  • Apply Graphic Style F
  • Move into proper position
  • Select all - Group

These are all simple steps on their own and really only take a few moment. With the exception of the last few steps, it could be possibly automated. However, due to the nature of Illustrator's 3D effect, it often takes a minor adjustment to get all faces of an object to appear properly, and the manual positioning needed of any duplicates (it varies) actions and scripts tend to fail. Or would just require a stop after every step, which seems ludicrous to me.

The real important aspect is that the same timeline or order of steps is followed correctly as any variation in them can, and often will, result in a slightly different final image. So, it's not enough to remember the steps, I need to remember the order in which the steps are taken.

So.... Thus far I've simply added a typed note of the basic steps within the file itself. Basically what I've listed above would be included within the file. Often set as a non-printing object. This has allowed me to keep a record of the steps needed if I return to the file months or years later and need to remember the correct procedure.

All the styles and colors remain as part of the file so there's no need to document those specifically.

Is there a better method to keeping track of specific procedural steps needed to gain a formatted appearance?

  • I'm no extensive graphics creator in this capacity, but intuitively what you are doing seems most correct if scripting doesn't work Jul 20, 2015 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


You could record an action regardless and save it next to your file. This would have the benefit of easy repeatability. You could then check the dialog buttons that you wanted to manually tweak.

Now even if you dont want to use the action you can still read it this saves you from needing to type the procedure down. It also saves you time on the easily repeatable steps. It is also possible to convert the recording into a note.

Now i dont think there is a perfect solution. Recording and scripting takes time. It may be annoying to do this step. Typing may be faster. So in the end theres no perfect solution due to the way the software works. Or rather the problem is how the effect stack does not encompass the entire app (like say in maya, or houdini). Most of these problems could be circumvented by a couple of well placed custom effects that replicate core functions (and effects on groups that you so hate in illustrator).

PS: the controls adobe gives to your 3d effects are awful which is why you need to tweak them. See the relative center changes how the csys is computed so it makes using them cumbersome. Again its a core design flaw, they have just circumvented it neatly.

  • Absolutely won't argue about the 3D lacking. But that's really only one aspect. The duplication and moving isn't anything which is standard and can't be automated. So I hesitate to create an action that just contains 15 stops in it. But still.. an action just for documentation might be a good path to pursue.
    – Scott
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:39

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