A little tool for making pictorial unit charts in Illustrator

Pictorial unit charts, like the ones Isotype made famous, is a nice alternative to conventional bar or area diagrams. However, actually making them if you’re working in Illustrator can require a good deal of handiwork and you might easily end up with the wrong amount of little guys when copying and pasting.

To make desinging pictorial unit charts a bit simpler I ended up writing a little snippet of JavaScript code that works with the neat Illustrator plugin Scriptographer. We decided to share it here, as some of our readers might find it useful.

Download unitsymbol-copy_selected.js here. When you first start Scriptographer, you will be presented with a dialogue window asking you to choose a folder for your own scripts. Put unitsymbol-copy_selected.js in that folder, so that Scriptographer can find it. Note that this is a very quickly made tool without much finesse, so feel free to improve! Anyhow, here’s how it works:

1. First you select a shape or symbol that you want to multiply (it also works with groups). I find working with Illustrator’s symbols to be very useful, since then it’s easy to change all individual instances of the same symbol at once when you update your unit figure after making a hundred copies.

2.Choose the script in the Scriptographer panel and press the play button to activate it. If you want to have a look at the code, just double-click the name of the script.

3. A dialog called Parameters appears. Here you set the number of columns and copies of the symbol (the value you will visualize). X- and Y-spacing are measured in points from the bounding box of the symbol, so if you want  squares of 10 pt with 2.5 pt spacing between them you input 2.5 in the X- and Y-spacing fields.

Press create and you’ll see the specified amount of copies appear next to your original ‘source’ symbol.

Todos concerning the usability would be to have it accept different units for the spacing, and maybe it should also to give a choice of where to place the symbols. If one would want to make it really clever one would make it possible to update the parameters of created charts, but I suspect that might require writing a whole new plugin, so that’ll be something for another day.


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