A couple of weeks ago I was using a program called Flexisign. Flexisign, as the name would suggest, is a vector graphics program used mainly by the sign industry. Of course Flexisign isn’t the only vector art program available. There are much better known and more widely used, and arguably more capable programs around, but Adobe Illustrator is the top dog. If you want to do design work, page layout, or technical illustration, you probably need to learn Illustrator. Even though there are a couple of vector drawing programs that predate Illustrator and continue to be popular, mainly Autocad, the industry standard is Illustrator. Different programs will have their own tweaks and quirks, but if you know Illustrator, you can probably sit down and start working on a different vector program like Flexisign. Illustrator is the lingua franca of graphic design.
Why use Flexisign then, if Illustrator is the go to drawing tool for digital layout and design? Simply put, Flexisign speaks the same language as the equipment used in sign shops, or at least this particular sign shop. I have also used programs called Omega and Signlab, they all pretty much do the same thing. They tell the hardware what to do. When your hardware is tasked with cutting small shapes and delicate curves from yards and yards of, sometimes very expensive, vinyl, you want to make sure that there are no translation errors. When you have a machine that can take actual hours to print gargantuan sheets of brightly coloured graphics, you don’t want to have to restart because the software had a hiccup 80% of the way through the job. While Illustrator may be the industry standard, there is also something to be said for using the right tool for the right job.
While the machines are perfectly happy receiving their orders from Flexisign or Omega or whatever software you are using, the real stumbling block will always be with the person operating it. Illustrator is the standard, and so it can be expected that people will be very familiar, even comfortable, with the way that Illustrator works. As much as Flexisign is influenced by Illustrator, and as much as SAi, the developers of Flexisign, have tried to make it accessible for designers familiar with Illustrator, it isn’t Illustrator. There are a lot of small jarring disconnects waiting for someone familiar with Illustrator when they go to use Flexisign. Getting over those hurdles and just accepting that this program will be different is entirely the responsibility of the operator.
When I sat down to use Flexisign, I knew that it would be different, and I knew that I had a limited amount of time to ramp up and get used to the new tools. I was going to be taking over the work on many projects already well underway by another designer, and rather than try to do it my way, or even try to determine what my way is, it would smooth things out a lot if I just checked any ego at the door and did what the company, and the software, needed. There is a switch in my head that I can flip when I just need to knuckle down and learn something. When it’s a situation like this, where the machines just needed to be fed new artwork at a pretty consistent rate, I don’t seem to have too big a problem of just flipping that switch. By the end of two weeks of half days I had no trouble loading up the printer with new material and setting up all the correct parameters to spit out a steady stream of good quality prints. Setting up the artwork for the process in Flexisign seemed like working with a slight accent rather than in a whole other language.
Of course this is all leading somewhere. I have written here, and griped often about my love hate relationship with Blender. I like everything that Blender is trying to do, but I disagree with some of the ways that it attempts to do it. Maya was not the first 3D program that I ever used, but it is probably the one that I have used the most. There is a reason why Maya is an industry standard. Maya isn’t a toolbox, it’s a method of building tools. Many people will only ever use the bare minimum of what Maya can do. They will use it as a toolbox, only applying the prebuilt tools to their task. In all honesty, that is primarily what I did with it too. I only used the tools provided, and didn’t delve too deeply in the real power of Maya. Maya is a system, a language, and if you are clever enough you can create almost any tool you can think of using that system. If it is related to 3D graphics, you can probably build it within Maya. Maybe the same is true of Blender, after all the source code for the entire program is available to be perused. All I know is that when I tried to determine how one tool or another worked in Maya, the core mechanics of it where easily exposed. Blender, not so much. The thing is, It’s not Blenders responsibility to do that. It’s my responsibility to flip on the learning switch and just work the way the tool does. It’s possible to check the ego and just swim downstream.
I think I can credit Flexisign with loosening the rust on my learning switch. Or maybe it was setting up the Raspberry Pi 2 with all it’s Linux funkyness. Whatever the case, I returned to Blender with a much more open attitude and just started learning. Of course if any of you reading this have ever worked with 3D software, Blender in particular, can probably predict if you just remember the hotkeys and start working the way it expects you to work, learning software is not really that difficult. I used to run back to the safety of Silo whenever I needed to model something, but I haven’t fired up Silo, except to export files to Blender, in weeks. I suspect, after a while using Blender consistently, rather than sporadically like i had, I will begin to get comfortable again. I’m never, ever going to use the right mouse button to select though. I’m willing to learn, but there is a limit.
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