I apologize that I don't have any images or video demos for this, or that there is no real index yet. I am working on it, but thought that at least some sort of text for CS4 was better than reading about something 3 years out of date!


Adobe Illustrator is a drawing program that creates images using mathematical formulas - rather than painting with pixels or bits. The resulting images are smooth and perfect, as if you had drawn them using traditional technical tools (like t-squares, compasses, french curves and so forth). This type of drawing (and it is referred to as a drawing program) is based on Adobe's PostScript language. The paths, or lines that you create in Illustrator are made up of a series of anchor points. Connected, these points represent a path, or line, and create shapes, much like cut paper.

Illustrator is widely used in the visual communication profession. It can work with type in terms of placing text around or within a shape, or along wavy lines, and manipulating their shapes (not just weight and horizontal scale). It is used by newspapers and magazines to create charts and graphs, as well as being an ideal program for technically oriented images (exploded views of machinery, final art for packaging, and so on).

Remember, to use images created in Illustrator in Quark XPress, you must save your documents in EPS format when you save them. InDesign, on the other hand, will happily import native AI files, among others

This portion of the site is by no means a complete reference for Adobe Illustrator. It will, however, introduce you to basic concepts and the general idea of how this program works. A lot of your success will depend on creative exploration, experimentation, and intuition.

Download the keystroke shortcuts you should memorize!


When you open the program, you must create a new file.

You can start by selecting a preset type from the New Document Profile menu, or by specifying a custom size for the artboard; the dimensions of the document you are creating. You can select Basic CMYK to start and make adjustments later, if that’s easier, but remember that a standard letter size piece of paper may not necessarily be the actual size of the layout you are creating.

Then, indicate the number of artboards you want in the file. Multiple artboards is a new feature in CS4. The logic behind this flexibility is not to create multiple page documents (catalogs or brochures) but to be able to group together multiple pieces within a project, like a letterhead, envelope, and business card. You can also determine in which order Illustrator will position them, how far apart they should be placed, and how many rows or columns to create. All the artboards (if you are creating more than one) start out at the size you choose, or indicate, in the size fields. You can change them once you’re inside the file using the new Artboard tool.

Artboard size and the paper you will print on are two separate issues. If you are designing a business card, set the artboard dimensions to those of the finished business card. If you are designing a bus card, or advertising banner for the Internet, set the dimensions to match those. If you are creating multiple pieces within a single file, set the largest size, and adjust the others with the Artboard tool later.

Finally, you can set up the Bleed option. This, too, is new in CS4. Bleed is necessary if any ink will be printed to the edge of the finished, trimmed, piece. Bleed is an area that extends outside the actual document dimensions, so that the ink prints past the edge of the piece, so when it’s trimmed to size, no paper color shows at the edge by mistake. This is hugely important for school work as well as professional practice. If something is not going to bleed off all four sides, deselect the chain icon to enter different measurements.

You can name your document in the New Document dialog box, but that doesn't mean you're saving it.

Under the Advanced option, selecting CMYK for color mode is appropriate for most projects. Choose RGB if you're creating images for the web or other devices.

Raster Effects refers to the resolution of any artwork you may choose to rasterize (turn into pixels), or to the Effects you may add to an element. Select at least 150 here, if not 300, to ensure that when printed, these areas of the document are smooth, rather than jagged and raggedy.

Preview Mode allows you to see how your final piece will look. Leave it set to Default for now, as you can toggle to Pixel mode or Overprint mode using the View menu. You must set up the Overprint options before they will display correctly anyway.


The CS4 Illustrator workspace is fairly similar to Adobe’s other drawing and page layout programs in this iteration. They took great pains to try to visually and structurally integrate the entire creative suite.

It has an Application bar, just below the menus, where you can set the workspace (what panels are opened, and the arrangement of things), open Bridge, and see multiple open files at once. There is an Options bar, a toolbar, artboard area(s) and space around the artboard(s) for placing elements temporarily. Anything not directly on an artboard won’t print.

In the case of Adobe Illustrator, the image area and the document or artboard size are two distinct spaces.

You can choose different workspace layouts from the Application bar. Essentials is a good place to start. Once you really get into it and start opening other panels, closing ones you don’t need, and rearranging things, you can use the workspace selector to save your workspace (scroll down to Save Workspace and you will be prompted to save it).

One use feature that has become more important in this version is something called Isolation mode. If you double-click an object with the selection tool (solid arrow), you will isolate it from the rest of the document, so you can work on it without fear of messing anything else up. If the object is a group, keep double clicking to get to the piece you want to work on. Exit Isolation mode by clicking on the arrow at the top right of the title bar.

Finally, all open Illustrator files are tabbed together at the top, rather than separate, free-floating windows. This can be a real time-saver, as you can switch between files much more quickly. The drawback is that it’s an extra step to separate the tabs so you can see two different files side-by-side (select a view option from the Application bar). If you just simply hate the tab environment, turn it off using Window > Application Frame.


All floating windows and panels in previous versions are now referred to as panels, and they start out docked to the right side of the interface. The toolbar is docked at the left. You can dock other panels to the left as well, but it shoves the toolbar to the right and eliminates needed real estate, unfortunately.

You can un-dock any panel set by dragging it from the edge using the gray bar. Move individual panels by dragging them from their tab instead. Reorganize sets by dragging a panel to the lighter gray area at the top of another; when you see a blue outline, you know they’ll be docked together when you let go. To re-dock something that you’ve dragged away from the edge, drag it back to the right until you see a blue line at the edge, then let go.

You can view panels by icon only (this takes some time to get used to—which icon means what?) or by expanding the panels to show their contents. Use the double triangles in the darkest gray bar at the top of all the docked panels to choose between these two options.

If you’ve made a mess of the workspace and want to go back to the beginning, simply choose it again from the Workspace options in the Application bar and it will reset.

By the way, if you are not new to Illustrator and prefer the double column version of the toolbar, simply click in the dark gray bar at the top to toggle to 2-column view. Click again to go back to a single column.


This area is a place where you can set specific, well, options that affect the results of the specific tool you are using. If you are using the type tool, for instance, the options here will include color, font, style, point size, paragraph alignment and so on. There are not as many options as you might find in the Character or Paragraph panels, but it’s a good start.

Always check this to see what options are available for the current tool; it may save time to use this feature over opening and closing multiple panels to get what you want.

You can also make changes to a selected object in the Options bar. Highlight the element on the artboard with a selection tool, and change fill and stroke colors, stroke weight, opacity, position, size, and other aspects.


The Adobe Illustrator toolbar has several tools that are hidden behind the ones you can see. To select one of these, hold the mouse button down on a tool until the others pop up to the side, then drag your mouse over to the tool you want, and release the mouse button. You can also "tear off" parts of the tool bar so they become stand alone panels with all the tools in that set visible.

If you prefer the original 2-column format for the toolbar, click in the dark gray bar at the top. Click again to revert back to the single column format.


Selection tool (solid arrow): selects entire objects. If the object is part of a larger group, this tool selects the whole group. Double-click with this tool to enter Isolation mode, where you can work on a single element without interfering with others in the illustration.

Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow): selects an anchor point or portion of a path so you can manipulate a specific area of an object without changing other portions, or other parts of a group.

Group Selection tool (with plus sign, hidden behind the Direct Selection tool): Selects an entire object or path, exclusive of any other objects that may be part of the same group as the selected object.

NOTE: To shortcut or toggle between any other tool you may be using and a Selection tool (the one you used last), hold down the Command/Ctrl key. This will turn your tool into an arrow tool cursor as long as you hold it down. When you let go, the cursor will turn back into the icon for the tool you were using. To toggle from any tool to the Group Selection tool, hold command and shift.

Magic Wand tool: Selects objects with the same characteristics as the one you click on—the same fill and stroke colors, for instance. If you have the same stroke applied to various objects but different fills, the Magic Wand will only select the ones that are identical. To add to a selection, hold the Shift key and click on something else. To subtract from a selection, hold the Option key and click on the object you want to deselect. Use the Options bar to determine specifically what you want to select.

Lasso tool: Select a portion of an object by encircling it with this freeform tool. This selects anchor points that can then be moved or manipulated as a group, unlike the Lasso tools in Photoshop, which selects the area within the dancing ants using the lasso tool creates.


Pen tool: This works in a click, or click and drag behavior. Click to place corner points (points which define sharp corners) or click and drag to place curve points (those which define a curved portion of a line). See the selection on the Pen Tool for lots more details!

Add Anchor Point tool (with plus sign): Click on the path where you want an additional anchor point.

Delete Anchor Point tool (with minus sign): Select the path from which you want to delete a point and click directly on the point you want eliminated.

Convert Anchor Point tool: With the path selected, click on the point that you want to change. If you are changing a corner point to a curve point, drag your mouse in the direction of the curve you want. To change a smooth (curve) point to a corner point, just click on it. You can also use this tool to break a handle so that each half works independently of the other—click on the end of the handle itself and move it.


Type tool: click and drag to create a text box, or click to create an insertion point, and just start typing. Triple-clicking on top of existing type will select the entire paragraph for editing or changing the typeface, size, and so forth. When you’re finished typing, click on another tool, or command-click away from the text to deselect it. If you want to type something separate from the first text object, click the Type tool again (if you command-click, the type tool will still be active). To access this tool without selecting it from the Toolbar, double-click on any existing text.

Area Type tool (in shape): draw a shape with any tool, then use this tool to type within that shape: click on the edge of the shape to start.

Type on a Path tool (with wavy line): this allows you to position type along a previously drawn path.

NOTE: The last three Type tools will generate your type the same as the first three, except with the letters stacked vertically rather than horizontally.


Line Segment tool: click and drag to create a straight line in any direction, or click once to specify length and direction in a dialog box. Hold the Shift key to constrain the direction of the line to horizontal, vertical, or at a 45° angle.

Arc tool: this draws quarter circles (arcs). Click and drag, or click once to specify your parameters. Double-clicking the tool in the toolbar will also let you set the parameters.

Spiral tool: create spirals by clicking and dragging. Or, click once to specify how may whorls you want and how big.

Rectangular Grid tool: either click and drag, or click once to specify the dimensions of the grid, and the number of rows and columns. The resulting grid will display the current the stroke and fill colors (which, of course, can be changed at any time).

Polar Grid tool: create concentric circles with pie shapes intersecting it. Either click and drag, or click once to access the options for this tool.


To create shapes with specific dimensions, click once with the tool (rather than clicking and dragging) and a dialog box will appear; you can type in dimensions and attributes in the dialog box, click OK, and the object will be drawn to your specifications.

Rectangle tool: this draws rectangles from the corner when you click and drag. Constrain the shape to a square by holding the Shift key. Toggle from drawing from a corner to drawing from the middle by double-clicking on the tool icon itself, or holding down the Option key while you click and drag.

Rounded Rectangle tool: this draws a TV shape from the corner. You can change the radius of the corner by clicking once with the tool to access the options dialog box. Hold both Shift and Option to draw a perfect square from the center.

Ellipse tool: as with the Rectangle tool, constrain to circles using the Shift key, and draw from the center by holding the Option key. Hold both Shift and Option to draw a perfect circle from the center.

Polygon tool: click and drag to create a polygon. Click once to specify the number of sides and the size you want (a great way to make triangles!).

Star tool: click and drag to create a five-pointed star (the default). Click once to specify the number of points and the size of the star. Radius 1 equals the outer dimensions of the star. Radius 2 establishes the distance between the center of the star and the inner angles.

Flare tool: click once to specify the number of rays and other parameters. This creates the illusion of a lens flare, so it works best when you use it on top of an existing, filled object.


Paintbrush tool: this allows you to paint freeform lines, which are actually paths that can imitate calligraphy or other brush styles. Never make the mistake of using it to color the interior of a shape! If you want to paint within a shape, use the new Blob brush.

Pencil tool: click and drag to draw any shape/contour. You can set the fidelity and smoothness options by double-clicking the tool in the toolbar.

Smooth tool: after you’ve drawn a shape with the Pencil, click and drag over portions of the edge to smooth them out a bit.

Path Eraser tool: drag across any portion of a line to delete it. You can turn one line into several by erasing parts in the middle.

Blob Brush tool: this is a new tool in CS4 and instead of painting a path that has a style applied to is, the way the paintbrush does, this creates a solid shape. It’s a great way to create a freeform stroke that becomes a shape (rather than a path) once you let go. You can add to blob shapes by drawing over them again with the Blob Brush.

Eraser tool: click and drag across a selected object to erase any part of it you want. This is a very nice way to get an interesting shape from a plain circle or rectangle. Play with it!

Scissors tool: This snips a path into parts. Just click on the path of the object you want to cut. Clicking once on a closed path opens it; the two endpoints will be overlapping, so use the Direct Selection tool to select one and move it away (deselect the object first).

Knife tool: click and drag across an element, or several, to slice them into bits. Each new bit will be a closed shape.


These tools work on any selected object—you must have something totally selected (all anchor points solid) to modify it. If only some of the anchor points are selected, you will only modify those points. Type command Z to undo, should that happen by mistake.

To get a dialog box with any of the following transformation tools, choose the tool you want, and hold down the Option key while clicking on a selected object. A dialog box will allow you to specify what you want the tool to do.

Rotate tool: make sure to select an object first, then choose the Rotate tool. Click first to create a registration point, then click and drag the tool to rotate your object. You can rotate an object 45° or 90° by holding the Shift key as you drag the object. To rotate an object to a specific degree, hold the Option key down as you click to place your origin; a dialog box will allow you to specify the degree of rotation around that point.

Reflect tool: this tool creates a mirror image of the selected element—it will also rotate the element as the mirror image is being created. Be careful! Clicking on or near a selected element using the Option key pulls up a dialog box that allows you to specify the direction of the reflection, and lets you move the original, or create a copy that’s been reflected, leaving the original in place.

Scale tool: click once to place the registration point, or just click and drag to scale the selected object from the center. An outline of your resized element will appear. Let go of the mouse button when the object is the desired size. Or press the Option key and click once to get a dialog box where you can specify the exact percentage you want to scale the selected object. You can also choose to create a copy of the scaled object or scale the original using this method.

Shear tool: Again, click to place an origin for the skew, then click and drag to slant your object. Hold the Shift key to constrain the skew to one direction.

Reshape tool: this adds an anchor point to the edge of an object where you click, or moves existing anchor points when you click and drag them. If you select the object with the Direct Selection tool, at the very edge, so the anchor points are hollow, you can add anchor points and drag the shape at the same time. If all the anchor points are solid, clicking with this tool will add anchor points, but you will have to deselect and then re-select the object with the Direct Selection tool to manipulate the new points.

Warp tools: These distort options are also available under the Effect menu, where you can type in specific numbers to control the distortion. When using one of the tools, either click and hold on the edge of a shape, or click and drag to apply the effect; the object does not need to be selected first. These tools all appear as a fairly large round cursor. To change the shape and size of the cursor, hold down the Option key and click and drag in or out.

Free Transform tool: select an object first. This tool allows you to distort it in several ways (rotate, scale, etc.), including making something appear in perspective. To distort your shape using the control points individually, place the cursor at the corner of the bounding box and after you start to drag, hold down the Command key.


In the Symbols palette (Window > Symbols, or grouped with the Swatches and Brushes panels), you will find a variety of predefined symbols. The symbol tools are used to place these images in your document, and then alter them. You can even make your own symbols by creating something, selecting it, and dragging it to the Symbols palette. If you will be bringing an Illustrator file into Flash, symbols you save in that can be imported as symbols.

First, you have to use the Symbol Sprayer tool—select a symbol from the Symbols palette, which may be hidden beneath the Swatches or Brushes palette. If you can't find it, click on the Window menu, and select Symbols. Next, click and drag with the Symbol Sprayer—it looks like an aerosol can. A bounding box surrounds the area where your symbols appear.

Use any of the other tools to modify the symbol instance. The bounding box must be selected in order for these to work.

The tools behind the Symbol Sprayer shift, scrunch, resize, spin (randomly change the rotation of the symbols), stain (select a different fill color first), screen (make the symbols lighter), and style (choose a predefined style from the Graphic Styles palette first) the selected symbols.

Graph tools: these tools create different kinds of graphs and charts. You must have data to enter into the dialog box that will appear when you click or click and drag with this tool. The numbers you enter are automatically plotted along the X or Y axis, and translated into the selected chart format. Click and drag to predetermine the size and shape, then add the data in the window that will popup. Once you have a graph, you can modify and customize i’s look

Mesh tool: this creates a grid-like substructure within an existing object and fills the object with a gradient. It’s a great way to add unusual (i.e., not linear or radial) color gradients to your work. More control over this tool is available using the Object menu.

Gradient tool: this has been dramatically retooled in CS4. After you’ve applied a gradient fill to an object, alter the direction of the gradient with this tool by clicking and dragging through or across the selected object. It should leave a gradient annotator—slider bar—behind. This shows you the gradient stops, as well as angle and length icons. Use this bar to drag the start point to a new location, or adjust the length of the gradient. Double clicking on any of the gradient stops should pop up a swatches panel that you can use to select a different color for that point. You can also control a gradient using the Gradient panel.

Eyedropper tool: This will change your stroke and/or fill color to the color of the object you click on. It’s particularly useful if you want to use a color again, but forgot the CMYK values. If something is selected when you click on another object, the fill and stroke of the selected object will change to match. Hold the Option key to change this into a filled Eyedropper cursor you can use to fill an unselected object—just click on it to apply the new fill and stroke.

Measure tool: Click two different places to see how far apart the clicks were, and at what angle they were to each other. Holding the Shift key as you click will give you the measurement of just one direction (horizontal, or vertical) as well as any fill and stroke attributes, as long as they are the same within the measured area. These measurements then appear in the Info palette, which opens automatically when you first click with the ruler icon.

Blend tool: This creates a series of steps between objects or paths. Click on a point in the first object, then click on a point in the second object to create the blend. Use Object > Blend > Blend Options to specify the number of intermediary steps or smooth color blends, or simply double-click the tool in the Toolbar.

Live Paint Bucket tool: First you need a Live Paint group; select the objects you want to include in the group, then click on it with this tool. A heavy red outline appears to indicate that it’s a Live Paint group. Select the fill color you want to use and click on an object within the group to fill it. Hold the Shift key to change the stroke color. Illustrator refers to the shapes within a Live Paint group as faces (fills) and Edges (strokes). Use the Option key to toggle to an Eyedropper for sampling other colors within the image.

Live Paint Selection tool: Use this to select areas of a Live Paint group; they will fill using the current fill and stroke attributes.

Artboard tool: this is a new tool in CS4, and it’s used to adjust the size of an artboard. If you should end up with an 8.5” X 11” artboard that only needs to be 4” X 7”, click on the artboard you want to adjust with this tool. Eight control points appear; click and drag any one of them to adjust the size to fit your artwork. Select another tool to exit artboard edit mode. This is an important step in developing finished art for printing; it’s important that the artboard size match the dimensions of the final printed piece. Remember that the size of the artboard has nothing to do with the size of the paper you may be printing on.

Slice tool: this is used to create slices used that divide an image into individual rectangular shapes for the Web, or to add interactivity to an image for a web site. Slices are put back together using code that is exported automatically with the image, once the image is placed in an HTML document.

Slice Selection tool: Once you have slices in your file, use this to select them. You can also use this tool to adjust the size and position of slices—place it on the edge and when you see the double arrow icon, just start dragging.

Hand tool: This allows you to grab and move your viewing area around in the Window (known as scrolling). Use the Shift key shortcut—much faster. Double-click on the hand icon in the Toolbar to get the “fit in window” view. Or type Command/Ctrl 0 (zero).

Print Tiling tool: This adjusts the page grid—which is the printable area as defined by the page size you specify for your document and your current printer—indicated by the dotted lines around the page margins. If you have a large project and your printer only uses 8.5” X 11” paper, use this to break it into tiles. See also the section on printing to see the print dialog options for tiling an image.

Zoom tool: Click on the portion of the image you want enlarged (this gives you a closer view, but does not change the actual size of the object). Click and drag to specify the specific area you want to see up close. Hold the Option key with this tool selected to zoom out again. Shortcut this tool by using Spacebar Command to zoom in, and Spacebar Command Option to zoom out. Well worth practicing these shortcuts as they will save you a ton of time. If that’s too much to remember, use the Navigator panel.

Many tools have options that you can set by double-clicking the tool in the Toolbar.  These include:

Selection and Direct Selection tools: determine move options using numbers for X and Y position, and the angle of the move (this is not about rotating an element, just moving it).

Magic Wand tool: set the tolerance, fill, and stroke characteristics to select when using the tool.

Line Segment tool: establish the line length and angle.

Paintbrush and Pencil tools: set the tolerances for placing anchor points and editing options.

Rotate and Reflect tools: specify the direction, angle, and whether you want to copy the selected object with the rotate or reflect specifications, or the original.

Scale tool: specify uniform or non-proportional percentages, and the object’s characteristics to scale (stroke weight and effects, object, and pattern fills).

Shear tool: determine the shear angle and axis, along with whether a patterned fill should also be affected—that is, you can shear the object, but leave a pattern untouched, and vice versa.

Warp tools: set the dimensions and warp options, plus whether to use a precise or brush size cursor, and the option to use a stylus and pressure sensitive tablet.

Symbolism tools: select the specific tool, along with the diameter and intensity (how many symbols occur along a given length) of the symbols sprayed, as well as whether it should alter things normally, randomly, or based on specifics you enter.

Graph tools: select the type of graph you want, and specify where Illustrator should place the legend (the captions along the left and bottom edges). You can also specify column width and add a drop shadow to your graph.

Eyedropper tool: establish which characteristics of the element clicked on get selected and which ones will be applied when you Option-click.

Blend tool: Decide whether to blend in steps or smooth color and whether to orient the blend to the page or to a path.

Live Paint Bucket tool: The Live Paint feature allows you to choose to fill paths and/or strokes and set the highlight color and weight of selected objects.

Live Paint Selection tool: choose to select fills and/or strokes.

Hand: Double-clicking this sets your view to fit the window.

Zoom: Sets your view to 100%.

You can also access the options for several tools by holding Option and clicking once with the tool in the artboard or pasteboard area. This can be more efficient since you’re setting the options and creating or transforming your object at the same time.


The pen tool is, perhaps, the most valuable tool Illustrator has to offer. It places anchor points that define a path, which eventually becomes an object. Think “connect the dots.”

You probably remember (and perhaps not too fondly) dealing with geometry somewhere along your academic career. There was this exercise about doing calculations with the answers resulting in plotting points along X and Y axes. When you had enough points plotted, you could connect the dots, so to speak. That’s essentially how the Pen tool works.

Fortunately for us, Pierre Bézier (bez’ e ay) pioneered the equation that allowed for curved connections between those plotted points. It’s his discovery that is the basis for the Pen tool, along with Adobe’s PostScript language.

While it takes time to master this tool, it is worth every minute of effort. The shapes you end up with are economical, clean and precise.

(HINT: when you are drawing a symmetrical shape, only draw half of it, and use the reflect/copy option to create the other half.)


Depending on your preferences (under the Illustrator menu), your pen tool will either look like an old-fashioned fountain pen icon, or a precise cursor.

These symbols flash quickly as you're working, so it's important to pay attention to make sure you're doing what you want.


There are several kinds of anchor points - some are just dots, others may have seesaw-like direction handles that protrude from them. The most important thing to remember when editing points, or an object, is that it has to be selected before you can affect it.

Also note that there are both normal and precise icons for the Pen tool. Which one you use is an individual preference, and can be set in the General Preferences pane. Or, you can toggle back and forth between the two by using the Caps Lock key.

X: indicates you are about to place the first anchor point of a new object

Arrowhead: what you see as you click to place additional anchor points along a path

Plus: the cursor changes to a plus sign between clicks

Plus with a small slash: indicates you are about to click on the end point of a path to start working on it again; the path does not have to be selected first.

Plus with a small circle: you are about to close the path by clicking on the first anchor point again

Plus with a small caret: you are about to alter the nature of the anchor point—from curve to corner, corner to curve, or when placed on a direction point (at the end of a direction handle), break it so it’s independent of the other half of the curve point.


Select the pen tool and click within your image area. Move the pen tool icon and click again.

Remember you can use guides dragged from the ruler to position anchor points with precision.

Clicking places corner points, and as you click around, Illustrator connects those points with lines, called strokes when they are assigned a color and weight, or paths when they define an object or shape. As in, you can stroke a path.

Adjust the position of anchor points with the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow).


When you click and drag in one motion, the point you place will be a curve point—one which changes the nature of the path from straight (as with corner points) to curved.

The lines you see extending from a curve point as you drag are called direction handles. At the end of direction handles are points called direction points, not to be confused with anchor points that define the shape of a path.

Anchor points define the position of the curve's apex and the direction handles determine the shape of the curve.

Use the Direct Selection tool to push and pull the direction handles, or to move the point along the path.

As you continue to draw, a path takes shape. One good hint: you do not need a jillion points to create a path. Use one to define a corner, one to define a curve. If you try to define a curve with two or three (or more!) points, your line will be lumpy and bumpy and not great. Simply clicking multiple times to define a curved area (without dragging to create direction handles) is just wrong.

NOTE: Most people have a tendency, when just starting out, to click on the end of a handle to create another point. Don’t go there! Move your pen some distance away before placing another point.

Once you have completed a shape you can select anchor points with the Direct Selection tool to adjust the position of the point, along with the length of any direction handles.


Sometimes you may need to shift from a curved path into a straight path, and vice versa.

To convert a corner point to a curve point, you need to create a curve’s direction handle. Click once, then click again to create a second anchor point. After placing the (second) corner point, click on it again, and drag. This drags a handle from the point, which will define the next section of the path as a curve. As you place the pen tool over the second point to click on it again, the cursor should have a small caret at the bottom right.

To change a curve point into a corner point, click on the curve point you created to disappear the direction handle from that side of the curve point. Then, just move the cursor some distance away, and click (no drag) to place a corner point. This creates a straight line segment.

Hint: watch your pen tool when you place it over a point; you should see the little caret symbol next to it, indicating you are about to convert the point from a curve to a corner or vice versa.

Another trick: changing a curve point to a reverse curve point—what I call scallops.

After you place the first curve points (click & drag), hold the Option key down to get a caret symbol. Click and drag on the second point's direction point (at the end of the direction handle), which will create an independent handle—breaking the seesaw action of the direction handle so each half can be manipulated separately.

Remember to click on the direction point this time, and not the anchor point.

Using the Option key to change the direction point is a very handy trick—it's the shortcut to choosing the Convert Anchor Point tool, found under the pen tool.

Remember, if you don't like what you get, toggle to the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) with the Command key to adjust it. If you get a Direct Selection (solid arrow) tool, then you’ll have to select the Direct Selection tool from the Toolbar instead.


If you've already drawn a shape that needs adjusting, there are three handy variations of the pen tool, hiding under it in the tool bar.


The Add Anchor Point tool is a pen with a + next to it.

To use it, just click on the path (the edge) of the object where you want to create an additional anchor point.

Use the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) to adjust its position.


There are times when you've created a shape that isn't quite right, and adjusting things isn't working. You may want to consider deleting a point or two - it can smooth out curves. (It's also a great way to turn a square into a triangle.) Use the "pen minus" tool.

It's easier to have the object you're working on selected, since you have to be fairly precise when clicking on the point you want to delete.

NOTE: Selecting a point and deleting it using the Delete key will break the path into parts, not eliminate an extra point, unless it’s the first or last point on a path.

That's all there is to it - select the object you need to edit, and click on the point(s) you want to eliminate.


Convert a corner point to a curve point using the Convert Anchor Point tool - it looks like an inverted V, called a caret.

After selecting this tool, click and drag on a corner point (in one motion) to pull direction handles from it. You can adjust the direction handles using the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) and clicking and dragging the a direction point.


There are two ways to deal with converting a curve point to a corner, depending on whether you want to change it to a normal corner point, or whether you want to create a reverse curve, or scallop.

To change a curve point to a corner point, just click on it with the Convert Anchor Point tool.

To change a curve to a reverse curve, select the point you want to edit using the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow). Make sure the direction handles for the point are showing.

Click and drag the direction point at the end of the direction handle. This will "break" the handle at the anchor point, or apex of the curve, and allow you to redirect the shape of the arc.


basic shapes

oak leaf

random junk

Drag the pdf icon to your Illustrator icon in the dock, then turn Layer 1 into a template (click the flyout menu at the top right of the Layers panel and select Template). Add a second layer to draw on by clicking the small pad icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.


One of the more fun features is, of course, adding color to what you've drawn.

The Color panel allows you to create fill and stroke colors using several systems: CMYK, RGB, grayscale, and HSB (hue, saturation, brightness). At the top left of the panel are two boxes representing the current fill color (the solid box) and the current stroke color (the outlined one). Click on the one you want to change before using the sliders to select your color. You can also just click in the spectrum below to select a color (then use the sliders to modify it). The current option, fill or stroke, will pop to the front, so you know which one you will be affecting. These two icons are also available at the bottom of the Toolbar.

To set both the fill and stroke to the same color, click on the one that has the color you’re after, and drag it slightly over the other in the Color panel.

Any color you mix using the Color panel can be saved as a swatch in the Swatches panel by either dragging the fill or stroke icon from the Color panel to the Swatches panel, or selecting Create New Swatch from the Color panel’s flyout menu.

Transparent fills are achieved selecting the box with the red stripe through it (at the bottom left of the panel). Use this icon to delete a stroke from a path, too. Solid black and opaque white are selected using the smaller boxes to the right of the spectrum.

The Swatches panel starts with a set number of colors, and you can open a variety of libraries that contain others, based on themes, using the panel’s flyout menu. If you want to work with spot colors, select Color Books from the flyout menu and then choose the system most appropriate for the job you are working on (generally, one of the Pantone books is a good start).

The Pantone Library panel for the selected color theme will open; this is not a true swatches panel, but any color you select from this library panel will be placed in the Swatches panel. Spot colors are indicated by a white triangle with a black dot in it, at the lower right of the swatch.

Once you have selected a spot color, the content of the Color panel changes; instead of the CMYK mixing bars, you will see a continuum of the spot color from white (0%) to full color (100%). The colors between 0% and 100% are referred to as tints; a spot color can print as a lighter tint by using screens to break the color into dots; the larger the dots, the darker the tint, the smaller the dots, the lighter the color.

Spot colors can also be converted to CMYK values in the Color panel; first highlight the color in the Swatches panel, then click on the CMYK icon in the Color panel. The color in the Swatches panel will remain a spot color, but the color in the Color panel will be applied as a CMYK blend.

Opening one of the color theme libraries also opens a library panel. These are generally CMYK-based colors, rather than spot colors. Clicking on any one of them will not add the color to the Swatches panel. To make sure they are saved, drag the fill/stroke box from the Color panel to the Swatches panel, or select Create New Swatch from the Color panel’s flyout menu.

You can view the colors in the Swatches panel by click on the various icons at the bottom of the panel. From left to right:

open a color library from the list

show swatch kinds menu—then click on the one you want

swatch options: will show you the name and CMYK mix for the selected color

new color group: adds a new line of colors in the Swatches panel, based on what is selected in the image; this is a good way to establish a consistent color theme for any particular project.

edit or apply print color group: this is fascinating and worth playing with; editing a selected group allows you to transform the colors simultaneously by click and dragging points around in a circular spectrum. You can make them all lighter, all darker, or adjust the amount of any specific color present.

new swatch: give the swatch a name, and create the color using the sliders.

trash: drag a swatch to the trash icon to delete it from the panel.

Swatches are also affected using Window > Extensions > Kuler. This opens another panel that connects to http://kuler.adobe.com and will show you many color combinations that have been created and uploaded by any member of kuler. (It’s free to register online at the above URL, and gives you more options to play with color—definitely worth it!) To use a color scheme from the Kuler panel, select it, then press the Add selected theme to swatches icon at the bottom of the Kuler panel.

The Stroke panel is used to determine the weight, or thickness, of a path. Type a point size in the Stroke panel to make the edge of an object thick or thin, or use the up and down arrows—select the object you want to change, first, or use this panel to pre-determine the attributes of the next object you are going to draw.

Other portions of the Stroke panel control the nature of the stroke: if the line ends abruptly, will it have squared ends or rounded ones? If you draw a sharp corner, how far out from the corner point will the line extend (miter limit—the higher the number, the pointier your corners will be).

You can also specify whether the stroke will be set to the inside of an object, centered on the path (which is the default), or set to the outside edge.

And, finally, do you want a dashed line or a solid one? If you check the Dashed option, you can then specify the length of the dash, and the amount of space between each. Since there are several dash and gap fields here, you can create fairly complex dotted lines.

The Transparency panel offers the opportunity to make a color semi-transparent, or paler, so that other colors can be seen behind it using the Opacity slider.

There are transparency options that affect how the colors blend, called Blend modes, also located in the Transparency panel. Blend modes change how overlapping colors affect each other.

You can create sophisticated clipping masks using Opacity masks from the Transparency panel flyout menu.

A Gradient is a fill that moves from one color to another. The Gradient panel is tabbed with the panels for Stroke and Transparency. Use the flyout menu to ensure you are seeing all the options.

You can have as many colors in a gradient as you want; each gradient slider, under the bar at the bottom of the window, represents a place to change color.

Click under the bar to add more gradient sliders. Each slider represents another color. You can move them along the bar, which determines the starting point of each color transition.

The diamond shapes above the bar indicate the midpoint of the transition. You can move these anywhere along the bar as well.

Note that you can make gradients move along in a linear fashion, or work concentrically from a center point (radial) by using the popup menu next to Type. To the left of the Type options is a limited list of preset gradients. Below that is a place where you can reverse the gradient from left to right, or inner color to outer color if you’ve selected a radial gradient.

Save the gradient by clicking on the swatch in the gradient panel, and dragging it to your swatches panel.

If you forget to save a gradient, you can always use your eyedropper tool to grab it, as long as you applied it to something in your illustration.

See the Gradient tool info for additional options for working with gradients.

A Blend is a series of objects that transform from one shape to another, or from one color to another, which is not the same as a gradient at all. While you can create blends that look similar to gradients, a blend offers you a lot more flexibility in terms of the way the colors move—you have more options with blends than "linear" and "radial."

This blend was created by simply drawing two lines and assigning them different stroke colors. Use the Blend tool to click on the endpoint of one stroke, then the endpoint of the second stroke.

You can also blend shapes. Start with two shapes—they can have the same fill color or two different ones. Choose Object > Blend > Blend Options. Note in the dialog box, the spacing has been changed from "smooth color" (above) to specified steps.

In either case, the orientation of the blend can either be parallel to the original shapes (the slanty one), or parallel to the page (the straight one).

Close the dialog box and, with the blend tool, click on one point on each object to create the blend.

Illustrator also has an interesting feature called Gradient Mesh, which combines colors in gradient form, but within a more complex set of boundaries.

To create a gradient mesh, draw an object and then use Object > Create Gradient Mesh to specify the parameters.

Use the Mesh tool to add colors to various portions of a gradient mesh object: click on an anchor point within the mesh shape and use the Color panel to change the color that will radiate from that point. Adjust the position of anchor points by clicking and dragging them with the Mesh tool. Add more anchor points (and mesh columns or rows) by clicking on one of the grid lines. Delete mesh points by Option-clicking on them and push and pull direction handles, too—all using the Mesh tool.

You can clean up anchor points and move direction handles within the mesh using the Direct Selection tool as well. Use the Convert Anchor Point tool to break and reposition direction handles, when necessary.


The power of using the Layers palette to select, and to rearrange, elements should never be underestimated. Creating layers to separate and label different objects within a complex image is the mark of a true professional.

To select everything on one layer, click the circle next to the layer name.

To see all the objects on a layer, click the gray triangle to the left of the layer name.

Any grouped objects are displayed with a <Group> name and a gray triangle. You can select the entire group by clicking the circle next to <Group>, or open it by clicking the gray triangle to see each element in the group.

To select random elements, click or Command-click the circles to the right of the layers or sublayers you want.

Remember, too, that you can reorder objects by dragging the sublayers, and layers themselves, up or down in the palette. Watch for a grey bar between two layers to indicate that’s where you’re dragging something before letting go of the mouse button.

One practice that should become part of your normal routine when working in Illustrator is to scan a sketch or tight drawing to use as a template to help re-create your visual plan. The Layers palette is one place where you can designate a layer as a template. After placing or opening a scan directly into Illustrator, use the Layer panel’s flyout menu to turn it into a template. This dims the scan to 50% (double-click the template layer’s name to change that percentage, if you want), and locks it so you can’t inadvertently move your scan or otherwise mess with it.

If you’ve already got an Illustrator document open and you want to place an image to use as a template, make sure you click the template option at the bottom of the Place dialog box. This makes the placed image a template layer automatically, and adds a layer for you to draw on all in one step.

Note that you can unlock and draw on a template layer, but that can be dangerous. If you need to unlock your template layer to modify your scan (enlarge it, or rotate it, for instance), make sure you lock it again right away. Many designers like to keep their templates at the top of the Layers panel; to do that and still be able to see what you’re doing on layers underneath, unlock the template layer and highlight it. Use the Transparency panel to set the Opacity to 40% or so, then lock the template layer again.

One huge advantage to creating template layers is that when you switch to Outline view, you can still see the placed image. If you merely lock the layer, outline view will only show you the rectangle where the image exists.


Open this panel from the Window menu. In previous versions, each icon had a nice simple name. Then someone decided that the names had to be more descriptive. Finally, they realized the simple names were more descriptive. Thank goodness! Previously, you had to Option-click to merge the shapes into  a single object. Now, it’s Option-click to keep them as separate objects grouped together.


Unite: you need to choose two objects that are touching or overlapping to get the full benefit of this. It takes separate objects and turns them into one. If the objects are not touching, they will be grouped. Very handy.

Minus Front: this deletes any portion of the back object that was covered by the front object. It also deletes away the front object, leaving the back object with the cut out portion as the final shape. Remember to copy the front object so you can paste it back later, if you need it.

Intersect: this evaluates the two objects and leaves you with the area that was common to both.

Exclude: this leaves you with those parts of the selected objects that had nothing in common, with empty space in the where they overlapped. The resulting shape is actually a compound path.


Divide: this creates a lot of parts that retain their original fill color(s). Any parts that overlapped are now separate entities that you can move and edit with the Selection or Direct Selection tool.

Trim: this is similar to Minus Front (above), except shapes that haven't been interrupted by another object remain whole. That is, the front object is not deleted, as is the case when using Minus Front, and the back is reshaped based on the overlapping area. Any stroke attributes are eliminated

Merge: this is like trim, except that overlapping objects with the same fill attributes will be merged together as one. Stroke attributes are deleted.

Crop: this uses the front object as a mask of sorts and deletes any portion of the back object(s) that extend beyond any area that’s overlapping the front shape.

Outline: as with Divide, this separates two elements into many, but they adopt the fill color as their stroke, and the fill color reverts to transparent.

Minus Back: this uses the back shape as a “cookie cutter” and deletes any duplicate information from the front shape.

Under the Effects menu is another set of Pathfinder options. Two of the handiest are Mix Hard and Mix Soft. To make these work, select several objects and group them (command G) first.

Hard Mix: this makes the intersecting area a combination of the two colors which overlap. So, if one element is magenta, and the other was cyan, the intersecting shape would be purple. The elements you want to mix need to be grouped first (command G).

Soft Mix: decide how transparent the front object should be. Depending on the mixing rate you type in, the color of the object in back shows through. Quite lovely. Again, remember to group your objects before using this.


Adobe Illustrator has several type creation tools and options. You can type straight text, text along a curved line or shape, confine text to a pre-drawn shape, link text from text box to another, and change text into objects which can be distorted, filled, etc.

To type normally, just click the text tool where you want to begin the text and start typing. You must hit Return to begin new lines within the text. You can use the text icon to highlight specific words in order to the change typeface, size, alignment, and so on, from the Type menu—much like a word processing program, or page layout program like InDesign.

To type within specific dimensions, use the text tool to click and drag a text box, then begin typing. The words will wrap to another line when the right edge of the text box is reached.

Command T will open the Character panel where you can select a font and style, line spacing, letter spacing, and super- and sub-script options, among others. Remember that you can use the Options bar to make some of these decisions as well.

In Character panel, you can select the Paragraph tab to set up paragraph justification, word and letter spacing, margin and paragraph indents.

The OpenType tab allows you to tell Illustrator which alternate characters you’d like to use instead of the regular ones. You must have an OpenType font specified in order to take advantage of this, and not all OpenType fonts have the same options available. Some that you can specify from this panel include standard ligatures (two or more characters that are connected and treated as one), contextual alternates (variations of the same character), discretionary ligatures, swash characters (usually capitals that have swash effects), stylistic alternates, titling alternates (options for capital letters), ordinals (superscript characters), and fractions as real fractions, rather than 2 numbers separated by a slash.

To type within a predetermined text box, use the text tool to click and drag left, right, top and bottom margins. You can alter the size of this box using the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow). The box you draw will not print unless you assign a stroke to it.

Adjust leading (line spacing) using the leading option in the Character panel, or by holding the Option key and using the up or down arrow keys to increase or decrease (respectively) your line spacing. Make sure the baselines are selected first—just click on a baseline with either selection tool.

To type within a shape, create the shape with the pencil or pen tool, or any shape tool, first. With this shape selected, use the Area Text tool to click at the edge of your shape, then begin typing. The stroke of the shape disappears, leaving just the text.

To type around a shape (circle, square, etc.) or to create type along a wavy path, create the shape or path first with the appropriate tool, then use the Type on a Path tool. Click exactly on the path and begin to type.

Aligning type along a path is accomplished using the Selection tool. If you are working with a closed shape, you may want to center it using the Paragraph panel (or typing Command Shift C). Use the Selection tool to click on the shape, or baseline, to select everything. You will note two parallel lines with boxes in them. These are called brackets and represent the beginning and end points of the text.

You can adjust the position of the beginning by placing the selection tool below the baseline and close to the end of the bracket closest to the first word. When the cursor changes to an arrowhead with a funky right-facing arrow next to it, click and drag to the right. Adjust the ending bracket the same way; dragging to the left will cut off the line of type . If there is a red box with a + in it, all of your type is not showing as the path is too short, or the type is too large (depending on what you want). You can reduce the point size of the type to get it to fit the path, or add to the path with the pen tool, or use the Direct Selection tool to extend the first or last points to change the length of the path.

There is also a bracket in the center of the text. You can move the type along the path using this bracket instead. This bracket is also the one to use if you need to flip your type upside down, or to the other side of the path. Simply click on the bracket and drag it to the other side of the path.

To move the type away from the path, use the Baseline Shift option in the Character panel.

Large amounts of type can be linked from one text box to another by creating the boxes you need, selecting them and then choosing Threaded Text > Create from the Type menu.

As one box fills, the text will jump to the next box in the thread.

If you begin typing in a pre-determined text box and run out of room, a small red square with a + in it will appear at the lower right of the box. Use the Selection tool (solid arrow) to click on this overset icon, then click and drag to create another text box that threads the two boxes together automatically.

If a box needs to be enlarged or reduced, use the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow). Deselect the box first, then move the Direct Selection close to the edge of the box; when a small black square pops up next to it, start to drag. Hold the Shift key to constrain the drag in one direction. If you can’t seem to grab the edge, switch to Outline view (command Y).

The Scale tool, will enlarge the text, along with the shape or path.

You can make fine adjustments to letter and word spacing by using the kerning and tracking fields in the Character panel. To adjust space between letters, place the text cursor between the two letters you want to influence. By the same token, if you want to adjust letter spacing in a general way—that is, the same amount between all letters—select all the text with the text tool, or by the baseline with a selection tool.

A SHORTCUT to this method is to hold the Option key and use the right (increase) or left (decrease) arrow keys.

You can add or subtract line spacing (leading) using the Character panel, or by holding the Option key and using the up (tighten leading) or down (open up leading) arrows.

Another interesting feature is the ability to turn text into objects by using the Create Outlines command under the Type menu. This turns into objects, with anchor points that you can manipulate, just as you would any other object. Type that has been turned into outlines can't be edited with the text tool. Beware, it can get mighty ugly.

To have text wrap around the edge of a shape, create the text block and the shape and then choose Text Wrap > Make from the Object menu (do not ask me why this isn’t under the Text menu).

To select all the text within a group, make the text tool active and click inside the text area, then choose "select all" from the Edit menu (command A).


I find that going through all the menu items in a program really educates me as to what the software can do. I use the Help option to find out about new features, or to learn about options I don’t usually use. And, I play with each option to get a sense of what it does. I’ve also discovered that I’m probably the only person (at least that I can find) who has taken the time to write a brief description of each menu item. I hope you find this approach as valuable as I do.


New / command N: choose New from the File menu to get a new document window. Or, use the Welcome Screen options to create a new document when nothing else is open.

New from Template / command shift N: you can save any document as a template, and CS4 ships with a whole slew of prefab templates as well. Use this command to open a template (AIT file extension) and create a new document using the saved components. If Illustrator doesn’t take you directly to the Templates folder, use Applications > Adobe Illustrator CS4 > Cool Extras > en_US > Templates to navigate there.

Open / command O: use this option to open an existing Adobe Illustrator document. A dialog box appears letting you point to where the file is saved, and which one you want to open. You can also use this option to open Photoshop files, if you want to add type or vector-based graphics to it. Opening a PSD fie is not the same as Placing an image (see below).

Open Recent Files: shows you a list of the last ten documents that were open in Illustrator; this list also appears on the Welcome Screen.

Browse in Bridge / command option O: Bridge is a place to browse through the files on your computer to find what you want; it can be very useful if you can’t remember the exact name of a document you’ve saved, as it shows you thumbnail of any image file you may have in a folder. This launches Bridge so you can browse around your hard drive to find what you need. It may be the only way to see a preview of an Illustrator file, since typically, all you see is the generic Ai icon. You can launch Bridge from the Application bar as well.

Share My Screen...: this launches Adobe ConnectNow, an Internet application that lets you connect with others to collaborate, or trouble shoot. It’s an awesome feature! Remind me to demo it in class for you.

Device Central: if you are designing for mobile devices (a web page that will be seen on an iPhone, for instance) you can use this to either create the document from scratch, or test an existing document to see how it will display on that device.

Close / command W: this closes the window, but does not quit the application.

Save / command S: this saves the current file. When you choose it the first time, you will be asked to name the document and to put it somewhere. In addition, make sure you choose the appropriate format (i.e. Illustrator EPS) under Format in order for your images to be accessible to other applications. InDesign can read native Illustrator files (AI).

Save As/ command shift S; rename, or relocate an already saved document. It creates a copy of the original, and puts it in where ever you specify, or you can save it in the same location as the original if you give it a new name.

Save A Copy...: saves the current version of your document, and you continue to work on the original. This is handy if you want to save several versions of the same project.

Save as Template...: the Save As dialog box appears, but the format selected is "ait." You can simply choose File > Save and select template from the format options as well.

Check In...: use this to save your file, when Version Cue is activated; most appropriate for team work situations.

Save for Web & Devices...: this is similar to the Save for Web option in Photoshop. Specify the image type and other parameters in the (huge) new dialog box that opens when you choose this. Remember that JPG files are best for continuous tone illustrations and photographs, and GIF images are best for straight graphics with no gradients. GIF files can have a transparent background, while JPG images cannot. PNG files, also suitable for the web can also have a transparent background, and are also a good format for continuous tone images—the best of both worlds.

Revert / F12: this will close and then reopen your document, as it was when you last saved it. This is a great option when what you’ve done is too much to use Undo.

Place... : this command brings up a dialog box that asks you what image you want to bring into your document, and where to find it. If you're bringing in a Photoshop file, make sure it's using the same color profile as your Illustrator document. You can also import text documents using the Place command.

Save for Microsoft Office...: use this if your image is going to be used in Word, Excel, or Powerpoint. It saves your image in the PNG format

Export...: this allows you to specify a file format other than Illustrator, EPS or PDF. If you want to move an Illustrator file with its layers intact to Photoshop, for instance, use the Export option. If you want to import an Illustrator file into Flash, save it as an AI file as Flash can now detect layers and symbols, which makes the transition between the two much more seamless.

Scripts: there are several Actions listed here that you can choose. You can download more at http://vectips.com/tricks/10-free-and-extremely-useful-illustrator-scripts/ or http://www.wundes.com/JS4AI/. Unzip the folder and place the scripts in the scripts folder: Adobe Illustrator > Presets > en_US > Scripts. The next time you launch Illustrator, they should be listed in the Scripts flyout menu.

ExportDocsAsFlash: this saves your current file as a SWF. You can import it into Flash and make it into a symbol for animation (or not).

Flex Skins: Flex is an application developer software package from Adobe. It’s used to merge data to content, and this option is probably the way you would design the actual interface. As this is something I do not do, I’m sorry I cannot to be of more help. You can certainly check out  http://flex.org/showcase/ to see what people are doing with it – it is pretty cool!

Live Trace: the LiveTrace function in Illustrator takes a bitmapped image, and based on the settings (preset, or custom) turns it into vector art. As you might imagine, this can produce elegant graphic effects as well as junk, depending on the source. This particular script allows you to batch trace (trace multiple images at once) using Adobe Bridge. I advise you to trace one in Illustrator first, and then set the options to match in Bridge, the best you can.

SaveDocsAsPDF: selecting this script will save all open files as PDF files; again, a good way to batch process images for a particular use.

SaveDocsAsSVG: SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. From Adobe: “SVG enables Web developers and designers to create dynamically generated, high-quality graphics from real-time data with precise structural and visual control.”

Document Set Up / command option P: often, you may want to create an image within a shape that is not typical (i.e. not 8.5" X 11"). Use this command to alter the artboard size and change some of the preferences.

Document Color Mode: choose RGB for web-based images or CMYK for print images. You can work in either, and then switch to another color mode when ready.

File Info / command option shift I: This dialog box allows you to put in information about the file - who created it and when, key words relevant to the file, and so forth. Don’t confuse this with the Info pane that you can open from the Window menu.

Print / command P: coose "print" to create hard copy. There are several panels in the print dialog box that you should move through in order to select the appropriate printer and get your image positioned on the paper correctly. When you've checked everything, click "done" to return to your document without printing, or "print" to send it to the printer.


Undo / command Z: this is a wonderful command. It allows you to un-do the last several things you did, in case you made one or several moves that didn't work out as planned. You can undo and redo multiple times, depending on the amount of memory in your computer.

Redo / command shift Z: if you decide you liked what you had done and then went and undid, you can redo it.

Cut / command X: this literally deletes the selected item and places it in the clipboard, so you can paste it, or forget it.

Copy / command C: this places a copy of the selected item into the clipboard for pasting.

Paste / command V: this places whatever item is currently in your clipboard onto the document.

Paste in front / command F: this is very different from other programs that allow you to layer something. It does not refer to the currently selected item, but to the content of your clipboard. It will place a copy of your object in front of everything else in the active layer, or in front of the currently selected object. It’s very handy in re-ordering elements within a layer, rather than creating new layers.

Paste in back / command B: this will paste a copy of whatever is in your clipboard behind everything else in the active layer or the currently selected object.

Clear: eliminates the selected item without placing it into the clipboard. Only use this if you are quite certain you won’t need the object again.

Find and Replace... : use this option to search through any text in your document and replace a specified word with another.

Find Next... : if you close the Find and Replace dialog box, you can use this to see the next instance of the word; this only highlights the word previously entered in the Find field, with no opportunity to replace it, except to type a new word in by hand.

Check Spelling... : use this to double-check the spelling in any text in your document.

Edit Custom Dictionary... : if there are unusual words you use a lot in your work, select this to add them. I have added my name, for instance, so when I check spelling, it doesn’t keep coming up as a typo.

Define Pattern... : Select elements that are within a rectangular shape to make a pattern tile using this option. You can also click and drag the elements to the Swatches panel to save them as patterns too. Using the Define Pattern option gives you the opportunity to name the swatch right away. Double-click a swatch to name it after it’s been dragged to the Swatches panel.

Edit Original: if you have linked an image to an open Illustrator file, this will open the image in the program that created it (Photoshop, typically) so you can change it. Illustrator will then ask if you’d like to update the revised image.

Transparency Flattener Presets... : if you've used any colors at less than opaque (100%), this dialog box lets you choose how the transparent areas will print. Medium quality is most appropriate for comps. High quality is for professional output, and low is best for black and white proofing.

Print Presets... : when you print something, you make decisions about paper size, whether there are crop marks attached, and so on. You can create these settings using the New option here, and then select them in the Print dialog box, depending on the nature of the project..

Adobe PDF Presets... : again, if you save PDFs for different purposes—some to email, and others for press quality—select the specific preset here, or click New to generate a custom preset.

SWF Presets... : SWFs are the files generated by publishing a Flash document. You can create art in Illustrator to use in a Flash project and then use File > Export to save it as a SWF to use in Flash. Click the New option to create another preset to use.

Color Settings / command shift K: choose what kind of monitor you're using and which color system you prefer. The coolest little thingy here is the "simulate print colors on display" option. Make sure you've chosen the appropriate printer, and then check this. Honest to goodness, the colors you see on your monitor are the ones that will print.

Assign Profile: for advanced users—or more likely, printers—it’s where you determine which color profile should be affecting the file.

Keyboard Shortcuts / command option shift K: you can select a tool by pressing a certain letter (like “P” for the pen tool) rather than going to the toolbar and clicking on it. This dialog box allows you to assign keys to other tools - ones you use a lot, for instance - to save time. You can also add or change shortcuts for menu items. Make sure to make any changes on a copy of the original.


Transform: you can specify any number of transformations here - from scaling to skewing. One interesting option is Transform Each, which affects individual elements in a discrete fashion, rather than treating the entire selection as a group. Use these options to scale, rotate or distort pattern fills without disturbing the object itself as well. In each case, you’ll be presented with a dialog box that lets you decide exactly what you want to do.

Arrange: this allows you to move the selected object(s) forward or backward in the stacking order—remember that the stacking order is created as you draw objects: the first object is at the bottom of the stack, and the most recently drawn object is on top.

Group / command G: this allows you to select several objects and combine them so that they are subsequently treated as a single unit. However, when you use the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) you can still select a single element within a group and manipulate it separately. Be careful!

Ungroup / shift + command G: this will ungroup any elements previously created as a grouped object. It’s handy to check this option when you’ve turned type into outlines, or have several grouped objects that are not behaving the way you want them to.

Lock / command 2: this will set the selected item in place, never to be moved, deleted or otherwise disturbed until it is unlocked again. Or lock all other layers, or all items above the selected one.

Unlock All / option + command 2: his will unlock ALL locked objects.

Hide  / command 3: You can "hide" elements temporarily by selecting them and choosing this option. If you forget to "show" hidden objects before you print, they will not print.

Show All / option + command 3: this makes visible all previously hidden elements. You cannot "show" one element at a time.

Expand...: depending on what is selected this turns gradient fills into blended strokes with a mask, or pattern fills into tiles, also with a mask. It’s a way to ungroup other elements, like a photograph that’s been LiveTraced, so you can manipulate individual vector objects.

Expand Appearance: hooray for this one! You can turn a brush stroke into an object using Expand Appearance. Nice.

Flatten Transparency: select objects in which you've used a transparent fill, and this will remove the transparency and make the object 100% solid, but in the new color (i.e. if it was 50% transparent red, the new color would be a solid pink).

Rasterize... : this command is the way Illustrator turns vector images into bit mapped images. Once you’ve done that, the effects (essentially, Photoshop filters) will be available to use on the rasterized image.

Create Gradient Mesh... : this allows you to determine the grid used to define the mesh for a selected object. Once applied, you can use the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) or the Mesh tool to move the anchor points and direction handles around. You can also select an anchor point, and change the color of the gradient.

Slice: slices refer to areas of an image that have been divided up into smaller bits for use as web graphics. An image that has been sliced will load quicker on a web page.


Join / command J: select two end points (from the same path, or two different paths) and Illustrator will join them with a straight line.

Average / command option J: this asks you along which axis to align the two open end points, and then does it. It doesn’t join the two points, however, but merely places one on top of the other

NOT ON THE LIST: Average and Join using a single keystroke (rather than Averaging, and then Joining) command option shift J (super secret shortcut).

Outline Stroke: select a path with a stroke width assigned to it and this will turn it from a path into a shape. It’s a great way to create contours that are of an even width.

Offset Path: select a path and use this to create another path a set distance from it that uses the curves of the first path in a diminished, or expanded way.

Simplify: use the options in this dialog box to adjust the points on a path to simplify (smooth or straighten) it.

Add Anchor Points: this will add a new anchor point between every existing anchor point on a selected path.

Remove Anchor Points: use the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow) to select the point(s) on a path that you want to delete; hold the Shift key to select more than one.

Divide Objects Below: draw a path with the Pen, Pencil, Line tool (or even the Spiral tool!), or another shape on top of an existing shape. While the top path or shape is selected, use this option to slice the shape based on the path. For instance, draw a filled rectangle, then use the Pen or Pencil to draw a squiggly line through it. While that path is still highlighted, choose this. The rectangle will be sliced in two parts, with one edge reflecting the shape of the path you drew on top of it.

Split into Grid... : this takes any shape you’ve drawn and divides it into rectangles, base on the number of columns and rows you specify here.

Clean Up... : if you’ve been working on a specific file for a while, it’s likely that there are a lot of stray elements that are not being used for anything. Use this option to select them and delete them to keep your file as clean and efficient as possible.


Make / command option B: You have to have at least the endpoints of two paths, or two different shapes selected for this to work. It will create steps between the two, depending on the settings you specify in Blend Options, below, or the last settings used.

Release / command option shift B: this eliminates an applied blend.

Blend Options: select whether you want to create multiple objects between one shape and another, or many paths between one and another, or multiple copies of the same shape (you need two of them) that are equidistant from each other (specified steps, smooth color, or specified distance).

Expand: this separates a blend into discrete parts. If it’s several shapes, they become independent of each other; if it’s paths, they become individually editable (a great way to create wood grain, by the way!).

Replace Spine: create a new path and select it along with an existing blend and then choose this. The normally straight line from the beginning to the end of the blend is replaced with the path you drew.

Reverse Spine: this makes the beginning shape or path the end, and the ending path or shape the beginning of the blend.

Reverse Front to Back: if blended shapes are overlapping, this brings the first one forward, and sends the last one back in the stack.


This is a neat way to distort objects using one of several methods.

Make with Warp... / command option shift W: a dialog box presents you with several options in terms of the shape you want to use, as well as the bend and distortion of the warp.

Make with Mesh... / command option M: similar to creating a gradient mesh, this divides the selected object into rows and columns that you can manipulate using the Direct Selection tool (hollow arrow). This is good for creating more freeform shapes.

Make with Top Object / command option C: create a shape with any tool after creating the thing you want to warp. Select both, then choose this and the bottom object (the one you drew first) will distort to fit the top object’s shape.

Release: this puts a warped object back to its original shape.

Envelope Options... : decide the degree of distortion in a general way, and whether to distort gradients and pattern fills or not.

Expand: this is like ungrouping something; it separates the envelope, or shape controlling the distortion, from the distorted object so that it’s a stand-along shape or shapes that can be edited.

Edit Contents / command shift V: this allows you to alter the shapes within a distortion, without eliminating it, or expanding it.

Live Paint: I will be candid and say that this is not my favorite piece of Illustrator. It works much like using the Paint Bucket tool in Photoshop, spilling paint to fill an enclosed space. Use this menu option to make a Live Paint object, to merge separate live paint groups as one, and to release a live paint group (returning it to its original paths). You can use the Gap Options to close open paths so they can be filled. The Expand option will divide the live paint group into discrete/separate objects that you can manipulate as you would any vector object. Take a look at http://www.adobepress.com/articles/article.asp?p=1317223 for more detail.


This relatively new feature of Illustrator turns a bitmap image into a vector image by tracing pixels of like colors and transforming them so they are defined by paths, rather than bits. When you select a placed bitmap image, the Options bar provides a Live Trace menu where you can choose the type of tracing you want, or select Custom to set your own parameters. Objects > Live Trace offers some time saving options, as long as you’ve got the tracing settings the way you want them; select Tracing Options here to access the same dialog box that opens when you choose Custom from the trace options in the Options bar. It saves time to turn off the preview option until you’re comfortable with the settings you have as re-tracing it each time you make a change can take a lot of time. http://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator/pdfs/creating_vector_content.pdf

Make: selecting this should trace your image using the most recent tracing settings. If none have been selected, it will trace the image in black and white (a 1-bit image).

Make and Expand: if you want to modify the vectors that Live Trace produces, you’ll need to expand it. This option traces and expands in one step. If you decide later you need to expand it, select the image and use Object > Expand, or Object, Live Trace > Expand. Either way, you will be able to select the vector shapes to manipulate or delete them.

Text Wrap: your text must be behind (under) the objects(s) around which you want to wrap it. This is also called a "runaround." Select the text and object(s), then choose Text Wrap Options. A dialog box asks you how far away from the object you want the text to bounce—the default is 6 points, which is the minimum you'd want. Don’t ask me why this is not under the Type menu.

Clipping Mask > Make / command 7: a mask is really more like a mat that you cut when framing a picture. Adobe Illustrator used to call this a clipping path. It literally hides anything that lies outside its perimeter. A mask can be any shape or size, and must be on top (above) of anything you want to mask. Select the items you want to mask, and the masking shape before choosing Make Mask. If the objects selected are on different layers, they will all be moved to the same layer.

Clipping Mask > Release / command + shift 7: this undoes the make mask command. Select the mask and all its masked objects first...

Compound Path > Make / command 8: creating a compound is how you make "see through" objects. Make sure the object you want to be the hole or window is on top of the element you want to be the border surrounding the see-through piece. Select both, then choose this.

Compound Path > Release / command + shift 8: use this to undo the Make Compound Path command.

Convert to Artboards: if you’ve been working along on a single artboard project and have a few different ideas that you’d like to treat separately, draw a rectangle around one area and while it’s selected, choose this option. It will surround the content with an artboard icon; use the Artboard tool to move it away from the original artboard so that it stands on its own. Repeat for any other parts you’d like to separate from the original.
Graph: use this menu item to select a graph type, and once you have established that, use the other options here to populate it, and alter the design. http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Illustrator/14.0/WS714a382cdf7d304e7e07d0100196cbc5f-61b1a.html


(see also the section on using the type tool)

Font: this is a list of available fonts. If a font you want isn't showing here, you must open it with whatever type management tool you use (most likely FontBook). Chances are you will have to quit Illustrator and re-launch it to get the font list to update. You can access this option from the Character panel and Options bar, too.

Recent Fonts: a list of the fonts most recently used in Illustrator; handy if you forget font names or get confused.

Size: choose a point size from the list, or type in what you want by using the Other option. Again, the Character panel and Options bar are other ways to select type size.

Glyphs: this handy chart (Adobe has included it in InDesign as well) is used for finding "hidden" characters in a font—the ones you get holding the Option, or Option and Shift keys—as well as regular letters, numbers and punctuation. So if you need a • or a © you know how to get it. Select a letter or space in your text area, and then open this ad double click the character or symbol you need.

Area Type Options... : this takes a text block and turns it into multiple columns (you decide how many) and allows you to determine gutter width, and even to expand the width of the text block. This will only work on a block of type that was created by clicking and dragging the text tool to create a bounding box first.

Type on a Path: there are some pretty funky options here. Create the path and text first, then select the baseline with the Selection tool (solid arrow) tool. You can choose from a list of options, or open a dialog box to experiment with them until you see what you want.

Threaded Text: shades of InDesign! This is how you connect one text box to another. Select several text boxes (only the first one has to have text in it), and this command will link them so the text flows from one to another, in the order they were created. You can also do this manually, the same way you'd do it in InDesign. HINT: if you've created several boxes and then can't see them to select them, change to outline view (command Y).

Fit Headline: please don't ever, ever use this. Good typography should never be left to the whims of a software engineer (sorry to offend!). Drag a text box and type your “headline.” Select the type with the Text tool and then choose this option. Illustrator will adjust it to fit the size of the text box you drew by adjusting letter and word spacing.

Create Outlines / shift + command O: this turns the selected type (use the Selection tool to select the baseline, not the type tool) into compound objects. They are outlines with anchor points, but the counters (the middle of the "O" or "A," etc.) are compound paths and grouped with the outer portion of the letter. You can manipulate each anchor point, release the compound if desired, or fill and stoke the letterforms individually in this mode.

Find Font... : well this is a bit wacky; it allows you to change a font currently used in your document to another font. First select the font that you want to change, then in the lower window, select System from the popup menu, and then find the font you want to change it to. Select Change or Change All, then click Done.

Change Case... : highlight the text first, then decide if you want all upper case, lower case, title case, or sentence case text.

Smart Punctuation... : there are several options here, from using ligatures (if they are available) to curly quotes and more. Check the options you want and quit worrying.

Optical Margin Alignment: this aligns the left and/or right margins so that it appears more even, i.e. angled letters like A and W are set a bit outside the margin to make them look aligned, as vs. using a mechanical alignment.

Show Hidden Characters / command option I: every time you use the Tab key, Return, or even Space bar, you are inserting a character. Most software hides these characters. And so does Illustrator, unless you select this option.

Type Orientation: this changes normal, nice horizontal text into stacked letters. I used to call it Scrabble™ or crossword type. Now I call it Matrix type.

Legacy Text: starting with CS, Illustrator uses a new type "engine" that affects kerning and leading. If you open a file that was created in a previous version of Illustrator, you will get a dialog box asking if you want to update the existing text. If you don't click OK here, you'll still be able to move the text around, and modify its looks, but you won't be able to edit it until you update it. Choose this command to do that, if you didn't update it when you first opened the file.


All / command A: selects everything on all unlocked layers.

Deselect / command shift A: deselects any selected objects

Reselect / command 6: selects again what was just deselected (perhaps by mistake?).

Inverse: deselects what’s currently selected, and selects everything else instead.

Next Object Above / command option ] (right bracket): selects the object just on top of the currently selected object—this applies to the stacking order, not layers.

Next Object Below / option + command [ (left bracket)

Selects the object just underneath the currently selected object—this applies to stacking order, not layers.


Appearance: this applies to any object that has the same attributes as another. For instance, it will select every element that has a black stroke

Appearance Attribute: if you have applied an Effeect to several objects—a drop shadow, for instance—use this to find and select all objects with a drop shadow. Click the Drop Shadow attribute of a selected object in the Appearance pane first, then select this option.

Blending Mode: select a blended object, and this will select any other object with the same blending properties.

Fill + Stroke: select an object, and this will select any other objects with the same fill and stroke attributes.

Fill Color: select an object, and this will select all other objects with the same fill color (regardless of stroke weight or color).

Opacity: select an object, and this will select all others with the same opacity settings.

Stroke Color: elects all objects with the same stroke color as the current selection.

Stroke Weight: selects all objects with the same stroke weight as the current selection.

Graphic Style: there is a Graphic Style panel with several interesting predefined styles. If you’ve applied one of these to several objects and change your mind, this is the way to select all of them at once.

Symbol Instance: as with Graphic Style, if you’ve used a symbol in several areas of your image, this will select them all (so you can delete them, perhaps?).


All on same layer: this will select everything on the layer that contains the currently selected object (as vs. everything on all unlocked layers—very handy). You can do this using the Layer panel as well; click on the dot to the right of the layer name.

Direction Handles: this changes an object that is totally selected (i.e. all the control points are solid) to one that is partially selected (i.e. all the control points are hollow). It’s the same as selecting something's edge with the Direct Selection (hollow arrow) tool—and takes much longer!!

Brush Strokes: this selects all brush strokes—regardless of their style.

Clipping Masks: selects all existing masks in your document.

Stray Points: hurray for this one! It should have a keystroke shortcut, it’s so handy. When you’re totally finished with your image, use this to select any anchor points that aren’t connected to anything—of course, you have to remember to delete them—this just selects them.

Text Objects: use this if you want to change the font or point size of all the type in your document at once.

Flash Dynamic Text: dynamic text in Flash is text that is created on-the-fly, from an external source, or based on something a user input. http://www.layersmagazine.com/dynamic-text-illustrator-flash.html

Flash Input Text: input text is a text field that expects someone visiting a web site to type into—name, address, and so on. This information can be used any manner of ways, including populating (filling) a dynamic text field that might say “Hi (what was input). Welcome to my site!”

Save Selection: you can save a selected object—name it and it will appear at the bottom of the Select menu. Select it again by choosing it there. (Make sure you give it a name that makes sense!)

Edit Selection: all you can do here is rename a selection or delete it from the list. To actually edit it, just select it and use whatever tool you need to do what you want.


Effects are a bit different from filters in that they effects don’t physically change the original object. Once applied they can be edited or deleted using the Appearance panel; click the effect name to edit or amend the effect, or drag the fx icon to the trash icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel to delete it.

Apply... : use this option to add an effect previously used to another object.

(filter name): if you want to reapply the same filter, but make some adjustments to it first, use this option.

Document Raster Effects Settings: use this dialog box to determine how Illustrator will rasterize objects—resolution, margins, color mode and so on. The decisions you make here affect all objects that you rasterize (Object > Rasterize).


3D: there are several fun features here. See http://sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/40-useful-adobe-illustrator-3d-tutorials-and-techniques/ for more detail.

Convert to Shape: select something you’ve created then choose to convert to rectangle, rounded rectangle or ellipse. Give me some time and I’ll figure out why this is a good thing... Wouldn’t it just be easier to draw what you wanted?

Distort & Transform: these effects include free distort, pucker + bloat, roughen, scribble + tweak, transform, twist, and zigzag. They are similar to the distortion tools, but the look is determined by settings, rather than drawing.

Path: this outlines or offset a path, stroke or object. You can also do this using Object > Path. The difference between doing it here is that the original object is not affected or changed in a physical way, whereas choosing Offset Path from the Object > Path options creates a real, physical change.

Pathfinder: these filters work the same as those in the Pathfinder panel, except the elements you want to effect should be grouped first (command G). Once you get something you like, you can use Object > Expand Appearance to make it real, as opposed to an applied effect.

Rasterize: this changes the selected object(s) from vector-based drawing to a bit-mapped image, although, as it’s an effect, you can remove it at any time. Do pay attention to the Document Raster Effects settings (above) before choosing this option, however, to ensure that the quality of the image is at least 150 or 300 for a print document.

Stylize: this is similar to distort, but a bit more refined. You can: add arrowheads, bloat, create a calligraphic effect, create a drop shadow, punk, or create round corners on an object.

SVG filters: there are several filters here to choose from, although some can’t be previewed in Illustrator. If you want to have some fun, once you’ve applied one of these, edit it (click on the effect name in the Appearance panel) and then click on the Edit SVG filter icon (fx) at the bottom of the panel that pops up. You don’t necessarily need to know how the code works; if there are any references to numbers or measurements, change them, and then click Update Preview to see how things change. Lots of fun! It will affect every instance where you’ve used that filter within the current document, but doesn’t make a permanent change to the code.

Warp: these are fun, and handy, since they can be applied to vector-based objects (that is, you don’t have to rasterize something to have them work). Choose from flag, wave, fish, rise, fisheye, inflate, squeeze, and twist among others. Unlike using the Envelope Distort options these warps can be modified or deleted using the Appearance panel.


N.B. Adobe Illustrator works differently than most other programs in that what you see isn't always what you get. In Illustrator, while you are drawing, you may only be looking at the outlines of the elements you are making. When you fill them with paint attributes, you will not see what they look like unless you are in "preview" mode (command Y).

Preview / command Y: choosing this will show you your illustration in all its colorful glory. You can work on your illustration in this mode, but you can't always see or get to items you need to modify. When this occurs, choose "artwork" mode.

Outline / command Y: the image you see on your screen while in this mode is a wire frame of what you are really doing; no color, fill, or stroke attributes are visible. It is a faster way to draw, but often confusing to a new user of Adobe Illustrator. Better to stay in Preview mode... If things are not happening the way you think they should, check here to make sure you are in Preview mode.

Overprint Preview / option + shift + command Y: when using the pure CMYK colors, you can use the Attributes panel to show what these colors will look like when the print on top of each other. Since printing inks are transparent to some degree, a magenta object printed on top of a cyan object will turn blue. If you want a true magenta next to (or appearing to be on top of) a cyan object, you'd have the printer "knock out" or eliminate the cyan underneath it.

Proof Setup: if you change your document color mode to RGB (File > Document Color Mode), you can preview what your image will look like on a Mac or PC, or general monitor settings.

Proof Colors: this is also called "soft-proofing." If you've set up your color management system to anything other than "emulate Adobe 6..." (from the Edit menu) you can choose this to preview what your image will look like when it prints.

Zoom In / command + (equal sign): allows you to get a closer look at what you're doing, but doesn't actually change the size of anything.

Zoom Out / command - (minus, or hyphen):  moves you "further away" from the image so you can see more of it.

Fit in Window / command 0 (zero): this reduces the view to show you the entire page size. It's also very handy when you are so close to what you're working on, you loose track of the bigger picture.

Actual Size / command 1: this puts the view at 100%—that is, what you see is what you'll get.

Hide—Show Edges / command H: this is rather funky. When Hide Edges is in action, you can select things all you want, but you'll never know it because the control points aren't visible. Very disconcerting...

Show/Hide Artboards: handy. If you want to get rid of all the rule lines/guides that define the size of your page, select this.

Show/Hide Page Tiling: selecting this will hide the dotted lines around your document—the ones that represent the printing area, as defined by the printer you are going to use.

Show/Hide Slices: if you're creating an image for a web page, you can slice it up into bits, which will make a large image load faster. These slices can be disconcerting. Hide them using this command.

Lock Slices: choose this to lock any slices you've created so you don't move them inadvertently.

Show/Hide Template / command shift W: a template is a placed file, typically a scanned image, on its own layer. You can use a template in Illustrator to guide your drawing. Show it, or hide it, to see what you need to see. You can also hide a template layer, and/or any others using the layers panel.

Show/Hide Rulers / command R: the rulers in Adobe Illustrator are positioned at the top and left of the document window. The ruler zero point is at the top left corner. Change your unit of measure from the default using Illustrator > Preferences, or Control-click within the ruler and select the measurement system you prefer. You can drag guidelines from these rulers to help you position objects as well.

Show Artboard Rulers / command option R: these rulers appear around the current artboard; they use the same unit of measure as the document rulers. They are for measuring only; if you need guidelines, drag them from the document rulers.

Show/Hide Bounding Box: a bounding box is a rectangle drawn around anything you’ve selected. I find it extremely annoying. Here’s where you can turn it off. Whew! If you don’t mind it, the bounding box can be used to scale and rotate a selected object without having to select the Scale or Rotate tools first, which is handy.

Show/Hide Transparency Grid: this places little gray boxes (checkerboard) all over everything—just as in Photoshop when you are working on a transparent layer. Luckily, you can turn it off.


Show/Hide Guides command ; (semicolon): you can hide (or show) all those guidelines you created to assist you in your drawing, without having to go get rid of them all. (I am happy to note that Adobe finally created a keystroke shortcut for this one!)

Lock Guides / option + command ; (semicolon): immovable guides are the default in Illustrator (I think!). If you want to move or delete them, you must unlock them first. Don't forget to lock them again or you will drive yourself crazy. SHORTCUT: Command Option Shift double-click on a guide will turn it back into it's original self. This is easier to do than it is to read about and well worth remembering

Make Guides / command 5: this will change any selected object(s) into a guide’, which will not print, but is visually available for you to align other objects or text to. You can also drag guides from the ruler.

Release Guides / command option 5: this changes all guides into objects—including any you dragged from the ruler. Be careful! To delete a guide that was turned back into an object, simply select and delete it. To move a guide back into the ruler, use the Command Option Shift double-click trick on the guide, then immediately delete it! This takes some practice!

Clear Guides: voila, they're gone!

Smart Guides: to be very precise, turn this on and drag any object you want to position from an anchor point (make sure all the anchor points are solid, indicating the entire object is selected, first). You should see a tiny blue x at the tip of the selection tool. When you move it close to another anchor point or guide, it will snap into place.

Show Grid / command ” (quote): set up the units and color for your grid using Illustrator > Preferences.

Snap to Grid / command shift ” (quote): when an object gets within a certain number of pixels to a grid line, it will snap to that line. Handy for aligning objects but also annoying when you want to move something just a bit and it keeps snapping to someplace else.

Snap to Point / options + command ” (quote): when this is on, you'll sometimes see a little blue X hovering around your selection tool. When a point of one object is over the point of another, it changes to an inverted V, indicating the points are overlapping, and the object will snap to that point.

New View: now this is handy. If you are working with several ideas in a single document and have a lot of layers, you can turn off the visibility of any layers you don’t want to see, then select New View and give it a name. It will be listed at the bottom of the View menu, so you can use it to toggle between everything, and just that new view. Create a New View for each artboard, for instance, or to switch between different color options. These saved views are only saved with the current document.

Edit Views: if you find you've saved views that you really don't use, you can delete them with this command.


New Window: this is cool. It opens a duplicate window of the one you're working in. Select the side by side or top and bottom document view from the Application bar. Choose View > preview for the duplicate window, and voila! You have a view of colors, textures, etc. in one window, and can make changes and otherwise continue working on the document in outline mode (faster) in the other window. This saves time because you can work in black and white (faster) and don't have to switch between views to see what you're really doing. It’s also a great way to work in detail in one window (zoomed in) and see the overall effect in the other image set to Fit in Window size.

Arrange: use this option to separate several documents from being tabbed together, arrange them so you can see them, and so on.

Workspace: there are a variety of options here that will open different sets of panels, depending on the job at hand. If you are just starting out in Illustrator, you may prefer the Essentials workspace to start, and customize it as you go along.

Extensions: open the kuler.adobe.com color panel from this flyout menu, or open the Connections panel, where you can log on to your Adobe account, among other things. There are other extensions available for download at http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/exchange/index.cfm?event=productHome&exc=17 along with several other free plug-ins and toolsets. Well worth the trip!

Application Frame: this is what Adobe is calling the new interface, including the gray box that blocks out your desktop when there are no open documents. If you don’t like that, turn it off here.

Application Bar: this goes with the Application Frame interface. Once you turn that off, you can decide whether you need this or not.

Control: this shows or hides the Control bar at the top of the document window.

Tools: if you accidently close the Tool bar, show it again using this option. You can hide and show all the panels at once by pressing the Tab key. To hide all the panels except the Tool bar, use Shift Tab.

The following list shows or hides (by being unchecked) the variety of panels available to optimize up your work process. Several panels are tabbed together within a single panel group—you can separate them by clicking on the tab and dragging that particular panel away from the group.

Actions: with the advent of Illustrator 7, we saw a lot of features that resembled Photoshop in their capabilities. This is one of the better ones—IF you happen to have to do the same thing over and over again. As usual, there are some preset options here that are pretty awful. You can record your own set using the New Action and Start Recording options in the flyout menu. Just don't forget to stop recording when you've finished! This is very handy for creating shortcuts for menu items that don’t have any, like some of the Object > Path options.

Align / Shift F7: this handy panel is used to line objects up to each other in a variety of ways. You can choose to align them to each other, to the artboard, or to a key object. To set a key object, select everything you want to align, then click once again on the object you want to be key—you don’t have to hold the Shift key—which will be surrounded by a heavy blue line. Then click the align options you need.

Appearance / Shift F6: his new panel lists the attributes of each object on every layer. If you’ve applied any effects to an object, you can edit or delete the effects here. You can also create interesting Graphic Styles using the Appearance panel.

Attributes / command F11: this is an esoteric little panel. It allows you to disappear the "x" in the center of an object, and it's where you specify whether something should overprint or not. Overprint means that objects will print over (and thus be affected by) any color underneath it. Select both objects and check Overprint Fills in this panel. Where the objects overlap, the colors will mix with each other. If they don’t, then set the blending mode to Multiply in the Transparency panel.

Brushes / F5: the brush tool in Illustrator has long been a royal pain to me since many students think they can use it to fill a shape with color. Not so. The Brushes panel offers multiple brush styles from calligraphic and painting styles to interesting border treatments. The artwork in these brush styles is applied to a stroke, so that you can create a little drama and texture to the edge of a shape, or to a simple path. If you want to use a brush to fill al shape (or just to paint randomly, as you might it Photoshop), use the new Blob Brush tool. Many people offer custom brush styles that you can download and use. Check out http://createsk8.com/ for some truly elegant, swashy sorts.

Color / F6: this panel determines the fill and line attributes you want a selected element to have. You can choose to mix colors using any one of several color systems available from the panel’s flyout menu.

Color Guide / shift F3: this is a lot of fun. Select an object that has a fill assigned to it, and then from the popup menu in this panel, choose the type of color harmony you are interested in. It will show you which colors you “should” (or could) use that will work well with the selection. Click the Edit Colors icon at the bottom to adjust the colors in terms of hue, shade and tint.

Document Info: this little panel shows you size and position information about a selected object, or what font is being used, and a number of other tidbits—select which information you want to know from the panel’s flyout menu.

Flattener Preview: this panel is intended to show you how any transparent or overprint areas will look when they are printed, and offers the opportunity to determine the quality of the output for text, line art, gradient, and meshes.

Gradient / command F9: this panel is tabbed with the Transparency and Stroke panels. The Gradient tool can be used to alter the direction of the gradient and the length it extends. Change the colors of the gradient by clicking on a gradient stop under the gradient bar (if this is not showing, use the flyout menu to Show Options) and the either double-clicking to access the Swatches panel, or using the Color panel to mix or select the color you want. Add additional colors by clicking below the gradient bar. Use the diamond shapes above the gradient bar to adjust the length of the blend between two colors. If you want to save a gradient, drag the gradient box (at the top left of the panel) to the Swatches panel.

Graphic Styles / Shift F5: this panel has some presets that alter the selected object(s) using distortion, color, and effects... You can create new styles by creating an object and then using the Effects menu to create the look you want. Drag that object to the Graphic Styles panel to apply it, and save it if you want to. Alter an existing style by applying one to an object and using the Appearance panel to add or delete effects; click the effect in the Appearance panel to edit it, or drag it to the panel’s trash icon to delete it. Use the panel’s flyout menu to save swatches as a library to use in other project (navigate to Illustrator > Presets > en_US > Graphic Styles to save it), and to open other Graphic Style libraries that ship with Illustrator. Check out the new Additive for Blob Brush options, just for fun.

Info / command F8: select an element and this panel will tell you it’s dimensions, position, and composition in terms of stroke and fill color.

Layers / F7: this command either shows, or hides, the layer panel. You really can’t live without this one.

Links: linked files are images that have been placed in the current document, whether or not they have been embedded. This panel will let you manage those files by making sure they are still viable. If you have embedded an image, you don’t have to worry about having the original available whenever you work on the file. If you link an image, however, Illustrato needs to know where it is located so it can be displayed properly. Determine whether to link or embed an image in the Place dialog box.

Magic Wand: here is where you establish the specifications that guide the Magic Wand in making selections.

Navigator: for those of you who can't remember the scroll shortcut (Space bar) this panel lets you move a red box around the image in miniature to determine the area in which you want to work, and enlarge or reduce your view.

Pathfinder / command shift F9: I love this panel. It allows you to blend and/or subtract, divide—all kinds of things—selected objects. See the section on the Pathfinder panel for more detail.

Separations Preview: if you are interested in seeing what the printing plates for each of the process colors will look like in order to recreate your image, check this out. Show and hide the different colors using the eye icons. It’s interesting, and will help you understand the printing process a bit more.

Stroke: / command F10: this panel is used to determine the width of your stroke, the nature of the corners and ends, and whether you want a dotted/dashed line.

SVG Interactivity: SVG is a language that describes images as vectors, rather than pixels, so when scaled up, no quality is lost. This is a great option for graphics that will be used for web and mobile devices. Use this panel to add interactivity to any SVG graphics you may create; you need to know some JavaScript. See http://livedocs.adobe.com/en_US/Illustrator/13.0/help.html?content=WS714a382cdf7d304e7e07d0100196cbc5f-635b.html if you are interested in learning more.

Swatches: you can add colors by mixing them in the Color panel, then clicking on the New Color icon at the bottom of the Swatches panel or dragging an object with that color to the panel. Use the flyout menu to access preset color libraries; choose Color Books if you want to work with spot color (Pantone).

Symbols / command shift F11: this panel has gotten more important and valuable witth each new version of Illustrator. Originally, it contained sets of graphic symbols that are used by mapmakers, systems managers, or anyone who had to use specific icons to mark the locations of things (the picnic table icon to indicate a picnic area, for instance). With the integration Illustrator and Flash, symbols are now also used to create animation and interactivity in Flash (import the AI file into Flash) and there are many more libraries that ship with Illustrator than previously. Symbols are also used to map artwork to 3D objects. To use a symbol once, simply drag it from the panel to the artboard. If you want several, use the Symbol Sprayer tool to apply them. They are treated as a group, or groups, and you can expand and ungroup them to make changes to most parts of the symbol. Once you expand a symbol, it is no longer a symbol, but a series of vector shapes. Create your own symbols by drawing them on the artboard, then dragging the objects to the Symbol panel. Save any symbols you create using the flyout menu. Navigate to Illustrator > Presets > en_US > Symbols to have access to them from the Symbols panel.

Transform: a handy little panel that lets you specify the size, location, skew and rotation of an object. You can do these things using Object > Transform, or using the various transformation tools in the tool panel as well.

Transparency: select a filled object and make the fill transparent using the Opacity slider, and set a blending mode. Very, very cool.


Character / command T: this panel is used to set the font, font style, point size, leading (line spacing), kerning, tracking, horizontal and vertical scale, baseline shift, and rotation.

Character Styles: this echoes the Character Styles panel in InDesign. If you are going to be formatting a lot of text, it makes sense to create a style that you can apply in an instant by selecting the text, and clicking the style you want in this panel.

Flash Text: if you are generating web-based content, you may have a need to create dynamic or input text; use this panel to determine which, the font, and embed fonts if necessary. You can give it an instance name here as well. The Illustrator file color mode should be set to RGB. Save the file in Illustrator’s native AI format and then import it into Flash.

Glyphs: this handy chart (Adobe has included it in InDesign as well) is used for finding "hidden" characters in a font—the ones you get holding the Option, or Option and Shift keys—as well as regular letters, numbers and punctuation. So if you need a • or a © you know how to get it. Select a letter or space in your text area, and then open this ad double click the character or symbol you need.

OpenType / command option shift T: OpenType is a relatively new type format and includes multiple additional characters that can be used to enhance typical typography, including true fractions, old style figures, swash caps, and ligatures, among other options. Select those you would like to apply automatically from this panel. The best fonts to choose (aside from the fact that they have to be OpenType, indicated O in the font list) are those with “Pro” in their names.

Paragraph / command option T: this is usually tabbed with the Character panel, and it’s here that you set any space between paragraphs, paragraph and margin indents, and text alignment.

Paragraph Styles: as with Character Styles, use this to set up specifications for a style that you will use frequently within a project. Character and Paragraph Styles are saved with the document in which they were created.

Tabs / command shift T: use this panel to set tabs. Remember that tabs are never used to create indents—use the Paragraph panel for that.

Variables: this goes along with SVG Interactivity. A variable is a container for information, or data. That data can be a number, a string (a sentence or a word), a Boolean (true or false), or any number of other things. In Flash, you can create variables that will respond to user input based on the code you add to the project. For instance, you can create a variable that will contain a sound, and then link a sound in that project’s library to the timeline using that variable name. Once that’s done, you can create buttons that will control the variable (the music) by turning it on or off, or adjusting the volume, and so on.


Brush Libraries: select from a number of preset styles, or styles you may have added from the internet, or created and saved.

Graphic Style Libraries: select from presets like Scribble, Neon and others.

Swatch Libraries: select color palettes based on a theme, or open the Pantone library by selecting Color Books.

Symbol Libraries: these are well worth playing with, although as designers, you should be creating your own symbols (unless a specific job calls for a standard symbol).

Below this section will be a list of all open Illustrator files. Bring one to the front by clicking on it here, or simply click its tab in the document window.


While there are a lot of pattern libraries available in Illustrator (Swatches flyout > Patterns > the theme you want) you can also create your own. You'll note, as you paint and move or enlarge and reduce elements, that a pattern fill is always treated as a separate element unless you checked Transform Pattern Tiles under Preferences. When you Option-click on an object, you can turn this on or off in the dialog box as well.

Patterns are based on rectangles referred to as tiles. Tiles are placed next to each other, and above and below, to create an overall pattern; each tile contains the graphics that will become the pattern when tiled together.

1. Begin by drawing a smallish rectangle, which can be filled with a color or none. Don't assign a stroke color to this rectangle unless you want a checkerboard effect in your pattern. (Or assign a stroke of black so you can see it, then set it to none before making it into a pattern.)

You can make sure the rectangle is at the back by first cutting it, then using the Paste in Back command under the Edit menu (command B)

2. Draw or create the shapes you wish to use in your pattern, assigning fills and strokes as desired. An object that will be defined within a pattern cannot use another pattern as a fill.

3. To make a symmetrical pattern, drag/copy the image to all four corners of the bounding rectangle, making sure to bisect them in the middle from left to right and top to bottom.

4. Cut the bounding box (command X) and paste it in front of your pattern (command F).

5. Make sure only the box is selected, then choose Object > Path > Divide Objects Below, or select all the objects and use the Crop option in the Pathfinder panel.

Drag the pattern to the swatch panel, or choose Define Pattern from the Edit menu.

Patterns fill an object in relationship to the rulers, not the object itself. If you want a pattern to move with the object, make sure you have Transform Pattern Tiles checked in Preferences, or in the Transform dialog box accessed from Object > Transform.

You can also press Option with any of the transformation tools to alter the pattern with or without transforming the object as well (Option-click to get a dialog box).

You can also change the nature of a pattern within an object using Object > Transform. Choose to scale it, move it within the object, shear, or rotate it.

The rectangle does not have to be a square, and it does not have to be small, depending on what you need. See Heidi Schmidt’s patterns in Best Practice: The Pros on Adobe Illustrator, or visit http://www.heidischmidt.com/ and poke around!

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