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This chapter is from the book

Importing Vector Graphics

There might be times when you have an existing vector graphic that you need to include in a Flash movie. In general, unless it's complicated, you are able to import it into Flash.

Although Flash can import several vector file formats, the two most reliable formats are Adobe Illustrator files (.ai) and Adobe Flash SWF files (.swf). The main choice is whether you try to import a native .ai file, or first generate a .swf from your graphics program and import that .swf. You can use Flash to export a .swf, but we are referring to using a graphics tool to export a .swf file. Illustrator and Freehand, as well as many other tools, have special export features that take care to generate a .swf that's free from any special features only supported in those tools.

Importing from file is as simple as selecting File, Import, and then pointing to the file you want, as shown in Figure 3.1. You see several file types listed, but that doesn't mean they all work equally well. Not only are several image file formats listed, both raster and vector, but video and audio file formats also appear. Let's first look at the best choices for vector image imports: Illustrator and SWF.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 Importing images can be as simple as selecting the file you want to import.

Importing Illustrator Files

Flash CS4 has an extremely seamless Illustrator importer feature. All you do is select File, Import, Import to Stage, and select an .ai file. The import dialog appears as shown in Figure 3.2, and you see all the layers and even the nested hierarchy of groups and path layers as it was laid out in Illustrator. This means it is as simple or as complex as the graphic artist made it. Having so many layers listed can seem complicated, but there's surprisingly little to learn in this dialog. It's also possible to import directly from Illustrator by using copy and paste. This achieves the same effect if you have both programs open. It also works well if you only want to selectively copy part of your Illustrator file, and not the entire thing.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 When you import an Illustrator file, you see all the layers in the original file.

The basic approach to importing is to first decide which layers you want to import, and then decide (either individually or globally) the manner in which you want to import those elements. You might want to leave everything in a vector form or treat some elements as bitmapped graphics. Additionally, options let you create movie clips as you import. We talk about them in Hour 4, "Staying Organized with the Library and Layers," but briefly, movie clips are self-contained objects that can be easily recycled throughout your Flash movie. To exclude specific layers from import, click to remove the check mark next to that layer. Unchecking a layer that contains nested layers excludes all the nested layers, as shown in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 The settings at the bottom left of the Illustrator Import dialog affect every layer you're importing. Individual layer options appear on the right side.

After you've decided which layers you're going to import, you can decide how those elements should be imported. The global settings that appear at the bottom left of the import dialog (as shown in Figure 3.4) affect everything you import. The simplest way to import every selected layer is to select the option Import as a single bitmap image. Although this retains the image and all the fidelity created by the artist, the imported image can't be scaled without losing quality. That is, if you convert the image to a bitmap, the image has all the characteristics of bitmaps. Such an imported bitmap supports transparency and behaves as a PNG file, which you learn more about in the section "Using Bitmaps" later this hour.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 The settings at the bottom left of the Illustrator Import dialog affect every layer you're importing. Individual layer options appear on the right side.

A few more global options worth noting appear in the bottom-left area of the dialog box. The option to Place Objects At Original Position is a no-brainer. Even if you don't force your Stage size to match the Illustrator file (the second check box), having items placed in their relative position is vastly more convenient. You can always move the items to a new location if you want, but it would be tedious to move them into place later. Finally, the Convert Layers To drop-down menu defaults to turn Illustrator layers into Flash layers. This makes sense because Flash, just like Illustrator, has layers that affect the visual stacking. You can also choose to place all imported layers into a single Flash layer, and you still get the visual stacking you'd expect. Flash layers do more than just affect the visual stacking; they also let you maintain independent animations. The point is that you don't have to create a new Flash layer for each layer in the Illustrator file.

Finally, the option to turn Illustrator layers into Flash keyframes is useful if the artist created an animation frame by frame but put each step of the animation into a new layer. Naturally, this takes some coordination with the artist, and most artists don't use Illustrator as an animation tool.

Assuming you aren't opting to import everything as a single bitmap image, you can individually set options for each layer you're importing. Click the layer, not the check mark, and to the right you see the options shown in Figure 3.4.

The options available for individual layers present you with two decisions: First, do you import as an editable vector graphic (editable path) or as a bitmap? Second, do you want to create a movie clip while you're importing? If you're never going to scale the object and you're either planning to animate the object or the image is very complex, then you may consider converting it to a bitmap. In most cases, you want to leave it as a vector. Next hour you learn all about movie clips, and you can consider revisiting this dialog then.

Importing Flash Player Files

The simplest and most consistently reliable option for importing vector graphics into Flash is to import Flash SWF files. Most graphics people don't think of .swf as an image file format—it's even listed as Flash Movie in the import dialog. A one-frame movie is really a graphic. Of course, a .swf file is not like a FreeHand file or an Illustrator file because it's not fully editable. When using newer versions of Illustrator, you can export your working files directly into the .swf format. They export amazingly well; the final files are quite small; and the images retain all the details and quality of the originals.

The best process is to create a graphic in whatever program you prefer, and then if that program doesn't export .swf files, open the file in a program that does, such as Illustrator, Fireworks, and several others. Simply export it as a .swf file, and then import the .swf directly into a Flash file. Even if the graphics program you use doesn't export .swf files, you can open the file in a tool that supports .swf and export it from there. The graphics tool you select must export files in a format that is supported by the tool you use to export .swf files.

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