Today I’m beginning a new series on using the tools in the Transform panel. There’s actually WAY more here than you’d first expect. You can align designs, set their size, rotate them, move them to a specific area of the page and tilt them with the Shear tool (Designer Edition and up on that last one). The key is that you can make it very precise. Here in Lesson 1 we’ll talk about how to use the tools in the Align tab.
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Opening the Transform panel
You’ll find the icon for the Transform panel in the icon bar that runs down the right side. That makes sense, because the icons in this set are for changing a design or the page in some way. I always think the Transform icon looks like a bar graph.
Once you click on the icon to open the panel, you’ll see it has 4 or 5 tabs. As I said above, the 5th one — Shear — is only in Designer Edition and up. By default, you’ll be in the first tab for aligning.
Using the Align section
The first section here on the first tab is called Align. That helps you align objects either in relation to one another or on the page. When you select more than one piece, this will align the pieces to one another. If you select only one piece, it will align to the page itself.
Let’s look at each area individually. I’m going to do the Horizontal alignment first, and it will make sense why in a bit.
Notice that the icons in Horizontal and Vertical alignment look a lot like the Transform icon. That’s because this is probably one of the most used things in the Transform panel so it represents it. Horizontal alignment helps you get things lined up side to side. There are 2 ways to use it — for multiple objects or a single one.
You can align them along their left edges, along their centers, or at their left edges.
Here’s a KEY thing to know. There’s a logical process for what pieces move and which ones stay still. This used to drive me batty until I figured it out.
- If you are aligning to the left, the piece that is farthest left stays still and the other pieces move.
- It works vice versa on the right — the piece farthest right remains where it is and all the others slide to meet it.
- If you’re aligning along the centers, all the pieces might move. The software looks at the set as a whole, finds where the center of the set is, and moves all the pieces so that their centers are there.
Say what? That last one is confusing. Let me show you how it works.
These 3 shapes and phrase are no longer aligned — I moved them a bit and selected them all. The red line indicates where the center of the set is. I’ve highlighted the bounding boxes at the top and bottom of the set. These aren’t grouped — just all selected.
If I now choose to align their centers horizontally, the center of each shape and the text box will be along that red center line.
Now let’s select only 1 piece and use the horizontal alignment. That puts in on the left, center or right of your defined page size.
Note that if you’re cutting without a mat, the cut border is different. The software will line up the object to the edge of the usable area, not the edge of the material. In other words, it keeps it within the cut border.
This one works very much the same as horizontal alignment, except that you are looking at how objects line up top to bottom instead of side to side. Once again, you have 3 options — align top, middle or bottom.
I didn’t put the text box on that pic because there’s something more to explain that’s especially tricky with words. The software is going to align the edges of the text box, not the words. You don’t notice that much on horizontal spacing normally, because the text is often already at the edges of the bounding box. But look at vertical spacing.
See what I mean? It doesn’t make sense until I select the text box and you can see the bounding box around it.
That’s just the way it is. You can learn more about it and why it happens in this post. I also explain there ways to work around it.
About text justification
There is some good news here. The justification of the text box does NOT affect alignment. For example, let’s say I have a text box with the text justified left like this (that’s the default):
If I select a shape with the text box and choose to align their centers, it WILL look at the center of the words even though they aren’t centered within the text box.
Now that you understand horizontal and vertical alignment, let’s go back to centering. You’ve got 2 areas here:
- Center to page — This is the first icon. It takes whatever you have selected and puts it in the very middle of the page both horizontally and vertically. If you have several pieces selected, it centers the set on the page, just as if you had grouped them.
- Center (also called Centralize or Align Center-Middle) — This is the second one. It looks like the Center to Page, except that it doesn’t have the rectangle (i.e., the page) around it. This will align both vertically and horizontally at the same time. That makes it 1 click instead of 2. If you have multiple pieces selected, it aligns them like this:
If you select just 1 piece, it does the same as Center to Page.
Using the Spacing Section
The bottom section is where you can equal out the distance between shapes. Here are my shapes again. I’ve already aligned their middles, but you can see that the distance between them side to side isn’t the same:
So, I select them all and choose the Horizontal Spacing. Now here’s what I have:
Likewise, you can even out the vertical (top to bottom) spacing:
You just have to always remember that it’s the bounding box the software is looking at. So if you’re using text, you’re probably not going to get what you expect:
Where else to find align and spacing tools
There are several other ways you can align your pieces in your design.
- The Quick Access Toolbar along the top has the same options as in the panel. You just have to have the pieces selected first, then you’ll see the same icon as for the Transform panel in the QAT.
Hover over the options and click the one you want.
- With Smart Snapping in version 4.4, you can align pieces without even having to open the Transform panel or click anything in the QAT. The HUGE advantage is that you can align something like the left side of one shape to the middle of another one. You can learn all about Smart Snapping in this post. Silhouette has moved this version back to Beta due to some issues, but you can download it if you like from the Silhouette America website. Or, you can just be prepared for when it becomes the regular version.
- The Object drop down menu has all the Align options.
The advantage of using the Transform panel is that you can manipulate your shape in a variety of ways in just one panel. For example, I could align my objects and then rotate them. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
In our next lesson in the series, we’ll go over the 2nd tab — Scale. That’s where you can resize a shape precisely.