How do you work with complex vector files?
June 17, 2014 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to make a 24x36" poster from some Excel tables. They're somewhat complex -- half-finished example here (Flickr link). I exported PDFs from Excel and used Inkscape to arrange them. But Inkscape can't handle this much stuff at one time without becoming unusably slow. How can I arrange the layout while keeping everything vector?

I'm using a MacBook Pro (2.6 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM). Surely this is adequate for this sort of work, right? I read that Xara Designer Pro was the fastest vector editor, so I tried that. But it bogs down as much as Inkscape (though I was running it in VMware/Windows 7). Then I tried Pages. Pages lets me manipulate everything in vector without slowing down, but it seems to lack the precision I want (I can't figure out how to perfectly crop the imported PDFs; maximum zoom is 400% and Edit Mask doesn't snap to edges or let you type in specific coordinates).

What software should I be using for this? I still want to add a large block of text and a bunch of small tables. I really really don't want to convert everything to massive bitmaps. Any advice would be appreciated, I'm at my wit's end with this stuff!
posted by hjo3 to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is a demo version of Adobe Illustrator available. I use Illustrator to compose figures and posters for science-focused work and find it more refined and stable than Inkscape.

Some colleagues use PowerPoint, but even though it is easy to select items and align them, I don't think it provides much in the way of layering or point-level precision.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:12 AM on June 17, 2014

Indesign is what you want to arrange layout. Illustrator for editing vector files. There are trial versions.

You may want to consider importing the data from the Excel files into Indesign and arranging your tables there instead of exporting as a PDF. That will give you a lot more design flexibility. Trying to arrange a series of PDFs sounds like a bit of a nightmare.

Alternately, you could try importing the data into Pages.
posted by ssg at 9:31 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

InDesign works really well for this kind of thing. Power Point is less good, but I find it still better than Pages. I like InDesign because it gives you complete control over the layout, but still "helps" you line things up correctly. And I find it renders the final poster for printing really well; for some reason when I print to pdf from Power Point, it never looks as good, though this could be user error.

I've also made posters using Latex (usually tikzposter), but there is a bit of a learning curve - though, it does give you really good control over positioning and graphics.
posted by bluefly at 10:32 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

InDesign is what I needed, thanks! There seem to be problems importing the formatted Excel tables (and it may be due to my newbishness with InDesign), but that's okay because it handles placed PDFs they way I hoped it would (after embedding the linked file). Thank you again.
posted by hjo3 at 2:54 PM on June 17, 2014

Inscape installs natively under OS X, which should be a bunch quicker than running under a few cores under VMWare.
posted by scruss at 3:01 PM on June 17, 2014

« Older Anyone have experience with kinesthetic desks for...   |   To be there, or not to be there? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.