-by Niami DenMother
You will hear quality mentioned a lot around artisans in EQ2, and it is probably a good idea to spell out why it is so all-fired important.
In simplest form, quality of your ingredients affects the quality of the end item (including the stats, yield, etc.) as well as how much experience you receive for making the item. If that was all there was to it, however, there'd not really be the need for a mini-guide on it!
All player-made items can have up to four potential quality levels. By this, I mean that there can be up to 4 progress bars available when you begin crafting an item - as will be mentioned below, there won't always be 4 uniquely-named stages. For consistency's sake, however, we tend to refer to them as: crude, shaped, (no name) and pristine. (When the game does use these labels, it does not append a quality listing to the "no name" version, leaving you with crude canvas thread, shaped canvas thread, canvas thread, pristine canvas thread.) In some cases (thrown/ranged weapons, totems, etc.), while the progress bar can progress through all 4 quality levels, they will all be labeled the same. You will get different amounts of xp based on which progress bars are completed, and there may be other things going on in the background (yield changes) On the surface, however, they'll all look the same. In other cases (pre-revamp food, drinks, potions), the quality labels will be totally different. You'll find yourself, and others, a lot less confused if you use the more generic quality terms. ("The pristine-grade tin hunting arrows yield 20")
The first thing to note is that any recipes that have gone through the tradeskill revamp process will NOT have a worry about the quality level of the primary. Since this system is in flux, this means that the spells, skills, combat arts from tier 1 and tier 2, a few other odds and ends from those tiers, and recipes from tier 7 will use just raw materials, so you'll always start with a chance for a pristine item. While this is a bit confusing at the moment, once the revamp is done, things will be a lot easier to understand.
Whenever you create an item, whether refine, interim or finished product, the first item on the ingredient list will be your "primary component". The quality of this item decides the potential quality of the item that you are making. (Harvested raw materials always qualify as "pristine" quality.) So, if your primary component for a rawhide plate is a shaped stretch of rawhide leather, the best you can hope for is a shaped rawhide plate, and more likely, it will end up crude if Bristlebane is feeling mischevious.
Is that really such a big issue, though? If you're trying to speed-make a bunch of tin buckles to use as a non-primary component in some packs, not really. If you're trying to squeeze every last possible erg of experience out of your crafting session, or if the item you're making is going to be the end-product that you're marketing, or the primary component for the next stage in the recipe, it matters quite a bit.
In many cases, your quality choice for secondary ingredients is going to come down to deciding between speed and experience. If you're trying to make a lot of stuff in a big hurry, you may want to simply make the secondary refines/interims to crude. If you're trying to make more experience, and the recipes aren't greyed out, you will want to take the extra time to create pristine items where possible.
Some items, including base tempers and washes, as well as arrows and other ranged weapons, vary in yield based on the quality level that they reach. In this case, more is most definitely better. (For example, crude-level of arrows may make 5 at a time, while if you hit the pristine-level of quality, you would receive 20.)
There may come a time when you want to hit that stop button before it hits pristine, even when working with a pristine primary ingredient. In the case of various items of gear, especially jewelry, the stats on the various quality of pieces vary quite a bit, and you might want to sacrifice an extra point of AC and some resists in order to get that point of INT, and so forth. Just make sure that the blue progress bar has completely and totally filled in the desired line of quality for that item before you hit cancel (the item name on that progress bar will also go from grey to white when it's done). If you cancel before the blue progress bar is fully filled in, you receive the next lowest quality item. If you cancel before even one progress bar is done, item creation is canceled and your fuel is eaten up (but you keep the ingredients) You will also want to stop early when working on tradeskill tasks and writs, as these require a specific quality level in order to receive a quest update.
Then will come other times when you want to cancel before even a single progress bar is filled in. When there are multiple items in your inventory that can be used for the same ingredient spot, you may realize after you hit Begin that you were using the wrong item, in which case cancelling will return all your ingredients to you other than the fuel so you can try again. In other cases, you may get several crit fails in a row immediately upon starting an item, and want to cancel out before the item is totally ruined. In both cases, make sure that all progress bars have the item name still greyed out, not white, when you cancel, and you should have everything returned to you.