When we think of Adobe design programs, the term “user-friendly” is probably one of the last that would come to mind. It seems every designer has their own unique way of utilizing Illustrator’s endless features and solving its hidden mysteries.
Although there is no single way to use the program correctly, I’ve put together a list of some of the most crucial tips and advice for making the most of your copy of Illustrator.
Here are the most useful tips for using Adobe Illustrator for beginners:
- Learn the shortcuts and use them wisely
- Use the handy Bezier Tool
- Set up your workspace in a way that makes sense for you
- Take advantage of Adobe’s resources
- Export your work as a .PNG or .PDF file
- Become familiar with Adobe’s Align Tool
#1: Learn Your Shortcuts Backwards and Forwards
There are hundreds of shortcuts in Illustrator, many of which will make your time spent using the program much more pleasant. Shortcuts are usually advertised as a way to speed up your process, but even more importantly, they unlock hidden capabilities of the program’s tools. Think of shortcuts as your life jacket to keep you afloat in the vast ocean of this expansive program.
Feeling ready to memorize even more shortcuts? Print off this handy resource sheet and have fun:
Tip: The best way to get all the keyboard shortcuts memorized? Simply practice, practice, practice. Get used to these popular shortcuts in the table below provided by Adobe.
#2: Make the Bezier Tool Your BFF
This advice is undoubtably something that you will find on any Illustrator tips guide, but the importance of it just can’t be understated. One of the most used tools in your arsenal will be the Bezier Tool. This tool is akin to a pencil and is used to make shapes, draw lines, and create the foundations of your next Illustrator masterpiece.
This tool (also known as the Pen Tool) is often the bane of designers, especially those new to using Illustrator, but learning how to control the Bezier Tool will prove to be especially helpful on your journey to mastering this program!
Want some Bezier Tool practice? I recommend playing around on Bezier.method.ac to really hone your skills. This website will help you get your practice in without having to worry about which shapes to draw. It offers problem-solving challenges and advice to improve your skills, even for seasoned Bezier pros.
Tip: Try getting used to using alt (option on mac) while drawing your curves to disconnect your control handles. This allows you to change shape and direction of your curves with ease and without having to click away or go back in to edit the shapes after.
#3: Set Up Your Workspace to Be Your Mind Palace
Next time you open up Illustrator, think about your ideal interface setup. Is your viewfinder open? Where is your OpenType window? Your Pathfinder window? Take some time to arrange your space by moving around panels and docks.
Using the “Window” dropdown menu, you can choose from some of Illustrator’s preset layouts in the Workspace category (Painting, Typography, Web). From these pre-made workspaces you might find exactly what will work for you. But, if not, it’s time to go down the list and find the panels you need to get your work done with ease.
Tip: You can now save and manage your workspaces with ease! Don’t miss out on using these tools that can be found under the workspace and toolbars categories in the Window dropdown.
#4: Make Use of Adobe’s Vast Virtual Garden of Resources
Although Adobe no longer prints hulking instruction books that harness all of their secrets, they do have guides available on their website along with a host of resources. The site also offers step-by-step tutorials, troubleshooting guides, forums, and a comprehensive guidebook on Illustrator’s features.
Another great Adobe tool available is their Color Tool (previously known as Kuler). This browser-based tool helps you pick color palettes according to color harmony rules, or to build your own however you like (https://color.adobe.com/create).
If you have Adobe CC 2017 or newer, you can also access the “Adobe Color Guide” from your Illustrator’s “Window” dropdown menu. This panel allows you to access a very similar color wheel to build your palettes, an option to save them to your library, and a tab to explore palettes created by other users.
Tip: With your eyedropper tool selected in Illustrator, click down on your artboard and, while still holding down, drag your mouse off screen! This will allow you to sample colors from anywhere including your desktop and web browser.
#5: Export Wisely… You Have the Power!
You just finished your latest masterpiece and you’re about to save it out… as a .jpg?! Although that might fly in Illustrator’s sister program Photoshop, there are better ways to export your hard work in Illustrator to retain its quality.
One of your best options includes “Export for Web” (the handy yet somewhat cumbersome hotkey combo of Shift + Option + Command + S will take you there). Here you can freely edit the dimensions of your final image and effortlessly make the background transparent. If you need a sharp looking .png then this will do the job (you can also export as .gif or .jpg as needed from this menu). If your work needs to retain its vector qualities, then try saving as a .PDF!
Tip: Don’t forget the essentials when exporting your work! Here is a checklist to follow:
#1: Are all your strokes changed to paths?
Select your strokes and perform “Object> Path > Outline Stroke” from the Task Bar. This will make sure that the outline will scale with the rest of your image.
#2: Is all your text changed to shapes?
Right click on your text and select “Create Outlines” from the dropdown menu.
#3: Is your document in the correct color format for its purpose? If your work is going to be printed, CMYK is going to be preferred. RBG works best when your work will be viewed on monitors! Perform “File > Document Color Mode” from the Task Bar and select appropriately.
#6: Align Your Design Feng Shui
Illustrator’s Align tool is a special set of useful commands that help you adjust your artwork. This can be especially helpful when working within a pre-existing layout or when proper and even spacing is important to your finished project.
When accessing the Align tool, you can find it in the Window drop down menu as “Align.” This will open up a toolbar with a series of pictorial commands that you can use to align objects and distribute object.
Before jumping into what each individual button does, familiarize yourself with the icon in the bottom right of this toolbar, the “Align To:” button. This is a button that will affect how all the others receive their commands. You can select any of these three options based on your needs:
Align to Artboard – allows you to align or distribute selected objects based on their correlation to your live artboard
Align to Selection – allows you to align or distribute selected objects based on the bounding box all selected objects sit within
Align to Key Object – allows you to align or distribute selected objects in regard to the positioning of a chosen object
Once you decide on your frame of reference for object alignment, then it is your time to get into the many buttons the Align tool has to offer!
The most common buttons you will use in proofing are the Horizontal Center Align and Vertical Center Align buttons.
With the Horizontal and Vertical Center Align buttons, objects will be centered in relationship to each other as seen here:
This can also be done in relationship to your Artboard. This is super useful if you need to find the vertical or horizontal centers of your Artboard or are lining up your selected objects.
Likewise, the Vertical Distribute Center button will allow you to space objects equal distances from each other. This often works to the best effect if you have already aligned your objects in one of the ways shown above. Select all of the items you want included and distribute accordingly, as shown below:
That’s all there is to it! Now you can officially feel like a design Rockstar. After all, learning Adobe Illustrator doesn’t have to leave you pulling your hair out. The six tips above will help you to make the most of the program’s features while streamlining your process. Happy designing from your friends at Quality Logo Products, Inc. ®!
If you still have questions, or want to know something else about Adobe Illustrator, feel free to reach out. The team here at Quality Logo Products® knows all the tools of the trade and are here to make your life easier.