Fluid Win! Set AI to ACTUAL “Actual Size”

illustrator_2xI’ve gone down a lot of rabbit holes over the years in my quest for (read: obsession over) design efficiency, and many of them have proven fruitless — either they were technically impossible or I just couldn’t bang my head against the wall anymore. But on some days those efforts do bear fruit, and today was one of those days.

If you’re one of the lucky designers sporting a Retina MacBook Pro or one of them fancy new Retina iMacs, you understand that the potential of a print-​​resolution screen goes beyond the mere joy of super-​​sharp graphics. The ability to proof your print work in real time as you’re creating it is super f-​​ing cool. No more “whoa, that [design element] is huge/​tiny” surprises after proofs are printed! No need to wonder how small you can let fine print get before it loses legibility!

I took a longer (and somewhat early) leap into this territory by buying myself a UHD monitor recently. Despite the fact that my “old” 2012 rMBP can only push this thing at 30hz, I’m really, really happy with it, especially since I can now view full spreads at actual size AND resolution (cue heavenly choir music…). Pure amazing.

AI_menu_actual-sizeAnd then… there’s the “Actual Size” menu item that appears in every print-​​savvy Adobe design app. As you may already know, “Actual Size” does not display your document in actual size, or at least it’s very unlikely that it does. These apps don’t currently have any method for configuring what that means, for letting the user tell it when it reaches a zoom level that matches real life for a given measurement (i.e., the business card on the monitor is actually the size of the real business card).

Actual Size” does not display your document in actual size, or at least it’s very unlikely that it does.

This problem has vexed me in a vague way for the past two decades — I’ve occasionally been annoyed that I had to memorize and manually set the zoom level in order to see my document in real actual size. But it never bothered me enough to do anything about it. Until now.

But oh, what a pain it was to find a solution. Here’s what I tried first (note: my solution only works in AI right now, haven’t tried PS or ID)…

  • Tried using the “New View” command to set custom views. This works fine as long as you only care about it working in the document that you happen to have open. Yeah, it’s attached to the document. Thanks, Obama.
  • Tried creating an Action to set the zoom level. Nope. Doesn’t register.
  • Searched for a menu command to select the window zoom level box so that I could assign a key/​macro to it. Strike three — no such command, it’s just click on it or nothing.
  • Researched online, found lots of people discussing the problem, but no solutions, until…

Here’s where I finally got some traction…

  • I finally found a single, seemingly unnoticed thread comment from someone who wrote a script for AI that would ask you what zoom value you wanted, then it would set it accordingly. I tried it, it worked, so then I modified it to not ask, but just set a specific value.
  • I had to copy my script into the app’s main Scripts folder: [app folder]/Presets.localized/en_US/Scripts (be sure to save a copy elsewhere in case this ever gets overwritten!)
  • I then attached a key command via Keyboard Maestro, and Voila! I hit my special key and I my monitor switches to “110%,” which happens to be the real actual size for my monitor.

But then I thought, “Wait a second, what about when I’m working just on the laptop screen? I don’t want to have to create/​memorize two key commands for this purpose. Could I somehow make it conditional?” Another rabbit hole…

  • Yes, Keyboard Maestro offers some environmental conditions to bounce off of, but a plugged in monitor isn’t one of them.
  • Eureka! My USB keyboard! I only ever have it plugged in when the monitor is also plugged in, and KM can watch for when that keyboard is present.
  • Even better: I discovered that I can just commandeer the normal Command-​​1 key command for this purpose!

BOOM. Now it sets my screen — whichever one I’m working on — to actual 100% with Cmd-​​1 regardless of the monitor. I am now president of the geek universe. For a few seconds, anyway.

So yeah, I burned the better part of an hour figuring all of this crap out, but dude — “Actual Size” is now actual size, all the time, forever! From where I’m sitting (in front of two print-​​quality displays), that was an hour well spent.

by Whit

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