UPDATE: As of December 2011, iStockphoto is now accepting AI10 EPS files. So much of the information here is out of date. However, if you are interested in creating vectors that are cross-software friendly, then the AI8 EPS file format’s still the way to go.
Some time ago (come to think of it, it was a LONG time ago!), I wrote an article for iStockphoto.com explaining our required file format for microstock submissions: the Adobe Illustrator 8.0 EPS file. Most of the information in the article is still correct, but I figured it was about time to elaborate and help clarify a few points for today’s microstock contributors.
If you want to upload to microstock (for this article, I’ll focus on iStock because, well, it’s the only site I upload to!), you will need to submit AI8 EPS files. This can be very frustrating for illustrators who are used to working with all the bells and whistles found in current versions of Illustrator (drop shadows, transparent shapes, etc). But there are some very practical reasons to stick to AI8 files. Let’s find out what they are!
What is an AI8 EPS file anyways?
First off, let’s explain what an AI8 EPS file actually is. ‘EPS’ stands for ‘Encapsulated Post Script’, and while you can save them right out of Illustrator (and most other vector programs), they are different from a .FH or .AI. This is because there are certain restrictions placed on the EPS so that it makes the file easier to read in different software programs.
These PostScript files were created by Adobe and have been in use for quite some time now. AI8 EPS files are PostScript Level 3.0; Anything higher (like 3.1, which started with AI9 and higher) cannot be accepted to microstock sites such as iStockphoto. But why on earth do they require such an old file format?! We’re up to CS4 now!
Tip: Not sure what Postscript level your file is? Easy. Just open your EPS into a text editing program (like NotePad or Text Edit) and check out the first line. Somewhere, there will be some numbers. What you’re looking for is ‘3.0’:
If your file says ‘3.1’, that means that it is only compatible with AI9 or higher:
Simply put, it’s that magic PostScript # 3.0. This is the last PostScript level that worked with non-Adobe software programs such as Corel, Freehand, etc. It’s a shame, but that’s how it goes!
Since microstock caters to a WIDE range of customers, we need to ensure that they’ll be able to work with the file they’ve purchased. Adobe Illustrator is definitely the industry standard (and a mighty fine piece of software if I do say so myself), but, not everyone shopping microstock has a degree in Graphic Design or extensive pre-press experience. Which brings me to my next point: AI8 EPS restrictions.
Like we mentioned earlier, the EPS file format is handy because there are built in restrictions that make it possible for multiple programs to open the files. I’m not a software programmer so I can’t describe the difference between an EPS and an AI file, but I can talk about one of the biggest issues: It just doesn’t know what to do with transparencies.
Save a transparency down to an AI8 EPS file and all sorts of weird and wacky things can happen. Sometimes, they’ll flatten and actually rasterize (like a JPEG), leaving odd chunks of your file uneditable. Other times, they’ll break down and split into hundreds of teeny pieces (this happens particularly when you’re working with transparencies over gradients).
Probably the most irritating thing that happens when you downsave a transparency are dreaded open shapes. For some reason, any shape touching a transparent object will break open when downsaved to an AI8 EPS. I have no idea why this is but it can be pretty frustrating. The tricky part is, the open shape is very difficult to see because the break happens on a point, so the 2 end points will be placed directly on top of each other.
Finding Open Shapes
You *could* go in and move each point around individually with your Direct Select arrow until you find the break in your outline. Or, you could use the absolutely brilliant ‘Select Plugin‘ by rj-graffix. Seriously, this plugin is a life saver! Download it, unzip it, then drag it into your Plugins folder (which should be stored with Adobe Illustrator on your computer). Quit and restart AI and voila! Under your ‘Select’ menu, you’ve now got a whole ton of cool new options. The ones I use the most are Open Paths (naturally) and Raster Art (which is very useful if shapes in your file are rasterizing).
When you choose an option, any shape in your file containing open shapes, or rasterized objects (or any of the other options included in the plugin) will be selected in your file so that you can see them quickly and easily. Raster art, unfortunately, can’t be converted back to a vector unless you redraw the shapes, so there’s not much you can do. But open shapes can be easily fixed by selecting the shape and clicking on Pathfinder’s ‘Merge’ feature.
Select Plugin Tip: Remember, you need to run this plugin on your exported AI8 EPS file, not your original vector file! If you’re working in AI CS4, the plugin isn’t going to pick up any open shapes because the open shapes actually occur when you downsave to the AI8 EPS. It’s always a good idea to open your EPS after you’ve saved it just to make sure everything turned out the way it should.
Finding transparencies within your AI file
You can also spot transparencies right in your original .AI file as you work, without having to wait and see if your converted EPS file is intact. Go to ‘Window > Flattener Preview’. This will bring up a dialogue box with a drop down menu. Hit ‘Refresh’ and choose ‘Transparent Objects’ from the menu. This will highlight all the transparent shapes in your document in red in the little preview menu. Handy!
Cross software compatibility
Now it’s time to discuss some things that work in AI8 EPS files, but not in other programs. In particular, gradients are tricky. Features like Gradient Mesh are a blast to play around with and, surprisingly, work in AI8. Since iStock’s requirement states that submissions must be AI8 compatible, gradient meshes are totally OK to use. The problem is, meshes won’t work in other software like Freehand or Corel.
If you love meshes, please take a moment to indicate in your image description when uploading that your file contains a gradient mesh. This way customers who aren’t using Illustrator will know that they can’t edit your vector file, though they still may be able to use the high resolution JPEG that comes with their download.
Radial gradients can also cause headaches for non-AI users. Radial gradients have a tendency to split into teeny splinters when opened into Freehand. While the file could still be rebuilt by the customer, it could take forever, particularly if the file wasn’t well organized into layers and groups. So unless the radial gradient is integral to the style of your illustration, you might want to give it a pass!
One last cross-software compatibility issue I thought I’d mention is gradients out of Corel. For some reason, gradients created in Corel will often rasterize when the EPS is opened into Illustrator. If you use Corel and plan on submitting to microstock sites, it may be a good idea to steer clear of gradients!
AI8 EPS files do require a little planning so that you can workaround the limitations of the file format (no transparencies, gradients can be tricky). But with a little know-how it will become part of your workflow in no time. Here is a list of some good tutorials that you can use to ‘fake’ transparency effects, but still remain compatible with an AI8 EPS:
Happy AI8 EPSing!
© 2009 Jennifer Borton