I still like Flash and feel attached to my now archived Flash website. I spent a long time on it several years ago. So I am keeping it in my Portfolios section under the "Interactive Animation" so you can still visit it.
Several years ago I got into surface design for fabric, gift wrap, and other products. This was when I realized that Flash doesn’t have to be just for animation and interactive design. It is a great vector-based drawing tool and great for designing repeating patterns.
Looser, more fluid drawings
It is so much easier to draw in Flash than Illustrator. The pressure-sensitive brush tool in combination with the eraser tool works well for sketching. Fine tuning shapes is just as easy with Flash as using Illustrator’s anchor points –while it is not easy to sketch in Illustrator. I find that sketching freeform in Flash allows me to create more fluid and loose vector art than clicking and fiddling with Illustrator’s anchor points.
Pattern Design Workflow
I know there is powerful pattern design software out there. But I haven’t tried any of them yet. Maybe a lot of surface designers use this workflow with Flash too, but I discovered it by trial and error. First, I create a square with a thin outline and transparent fill and make a symbol of it. It is a good idea if you know that you need a certain size repeat to make the square a factor or multiple of the size that you need so when finalizing the art there is an easy way to scale the repeat to the right size. Use a color for the outline that you will not use in your art so it will be easy to get rid of it later.
Copy and repeat this symbol enough times to get a good view of what a repeated pattern will look like – maybe 4 times horizontally. Align all the edges precisely so you have a row of perfectly aligned and spaced squares. Then copy this row and paste it vertically until there is a big enough grid to give a good sense of what the pattern will look like. Make sure it is all aligned and spaced perfectly.
Now go into one of the symbols and start drawing and designing away. Note: You don’t need to stay within the bounds of the square when designing the repeat. The overall pattern is updated with each stroke so you can see the pattern evolve while you work. Before discovering this workflow, I had a hard time getting my repeats come together fluidly because I was designing the repeat, but didn’t get to see the finished pattern until after I repeated it.
This workflow saves me a lot of time and makes it easier to create more intricate patterns since you see how it comes together as you draw.
One thing Flash doesn’t do well is color. I feel like I have one hand tied behind my back when I try to create color palettes in Flash. I think the best software for designing color palettes is Photoshop. So what I do is draw in Flash using placeholder colors. That's why my colors are so crazy-looking up there. I don’t put a lot of thought into the color while drawing because it is too awkward and a waste of time to try to choose the right colors in Flash. I wait until I am done or mostly done with drawing the design, then import the drawing into Photoshop.
Photoshop has great tools for getting the perfect colors and values in your artwork. I was thinking about writing about some basic Photoshop tips later, but what I use a lot are Hue Saturation, Levels, and Color Balance. Be loose, fast and messy about it when trying to find the right palette. Sometimes it helps to be messy to come up with more interesting looks. It is so much easier to come up with good colors this way than being restricted to the color picker in Flash or Illustrator.
Always save the Flash version with square guides as your original in case there is ever a need to modify or resize. To create final art, export Flash art to Illustrator. (Flash CC no longer exports Illustrator files. I have read about workarounds to this. Exporting to SVG seems to work for my purposes.) The colors don’t seem to translate correctly for me when I export to Illustrator, so I wait until this step to put the final colors in. After opening the art in Illustrator, I import the color rough I made in Photoshop and use the color picker to pick colors from the color rough to recolor my design rather than trying to find the right colors with the Illustrator color picker. If the square outlines are still there, get rid of them. And that’s it. I usually only use Illustrator for this one last step.
I'm an illustrator and designer that creates art for products, books magazines, and the web. Check out my new portfolio website!