Now also tables?

Typically, tables do not have a good reputation among many designers. Only tie-wearing number crunchers use tables. They are tedious to format and boring to typeset. In web design, they are the epitome of an outdated way of working. So you could almost be glad that there is a program where you can't get anything to do with them: Illustrator.

Addressing it logically, tables aren't the enemy, and a lot of packaging is set in Illustrator. What do you find on packaging on a regular basis? Exactly, tables. Alhough dealing with the table functions on the usual layout software is not always pleasant, there is something that is even more unpleasant: imitating tables with other functions.

Shows the many local formattings on single lines that are currently needed. Additionally you need something for the background, in this case an interactive painting group. As soon as you have to change something, everything falls apart.

Of course, it's fairly simple to imitate a table by drawing some lines in Illustrator and put text between them. If you want to do it better, you take an interactive paint group and tab the text- but it still won't behave accordingly. This is especially noticeable when you need to update or reformat this construct, import data, or build an entire series of the same design.

Additionally, the flaws to this method appears worst when the table cells do not have a uniform perimeter, but are, for example, alternating between one and two lines. Since text content, background and margins are not a unit to which rules can be applied, everything must be selected, positioned and changed separately.

Example of centrally stored formatting rules that adapt "smoothly" when you make a change and can also be easily changed themselves if necessary.

In actuality, most of the time it no longer matters the software something is designed in, because the print shop only sees the PDF of it anyway. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with packaging. For a lot of packaging, the specific software that is best suited for the job is actually used, but workflow components also play into the choice of software to execute it.

For example, packaging that is printed in the Far East must be created in Illustrator because printers require AI documents. In other cases, the entire editorial and coordination workflow is based on special software, for example from ESKO, so that in the end not only the packaging but also the package inserts have to be set in Illustrator (a typical job for InDesign as a layout).

Illustrator is not well-equipped for these tasks, and tables are the outstanding example of this. This is where priint's new module comes in, allowing tables to be created, formatted and edited directly in Illustrator.

When testing priint:Illustrator Tables, it was interesting to see not only how well it integrates into the workflow, but also how the module manages to get tables into the program under the given adverse circumstances.

Creating a table proceeds as you would expect from any program: submit how many rows and columns are needed and the table is created. Priint:Illustrator Tables does not create its own proprietary object, but instead uses what Illustrator offers: area texts and rectangles. However, the plug-in combines them into an editable table, much like Illustrator's charts are text and paths. The entire thing can then be selected and formatted using the three panels and the three tools. However, existing table data cannot be imported.

The user interface is very reminiscent of InDesign. If you are accustomed to that, you will get along very well with the options. With the tools, you can even activate non-adjacent cells at the same time. In addition, there are table and cell formats. Without formats, working with tables in general would be unbearable, considering the amount of tables that have to be edited every day. The formats can even be based on other formats, a concept that does not exist for Illustrator's native text formats.  

Many tables - hazardous material labels, for example - contain graphics or even graphics and text elements. You can't flow graphics natively into text in Illustrator. The priint:illustrator Tables at least offers the possibility to insert a graphic (or an image) into a table cell. This can also be a PDF.

Before sharing the file, the table must be converted, otherwise Illustrator shows significant performance losses in handling. The conversion works the same way as with diagrams: you must ungroup them to get individual text objects. Conversion to paths is also possible: use object > Convert.

Working with tables directly in Illustrator opens the door to many future possibilities. Although it is not a native function, the module makes the best of what is available and builds from it a great streamlined way to format.