By Cory Thoman, Shutterstock Contributor
Adobe Illustrator is a powerful program with a ton of features, and learning them all can be a daunting task. Luckily, you don‘t need to know every little feature to make great designs and illustrations. Here are a few tips to help make your designing a little easier.
Tip 1: Learn the Keyboard Shortcuts
This is a fairly obvious tip, but that doesn‘t make it any less important. Keyboard shortcuts can save you a lot of time. You don‘t have to learn all of them; however, think about which commands you use often and learn those. Learning the one-letter shortcuts for changing tools on the Tool Bar will also save you time. Some examples to start you off with are V for the Selection tool, A for the Direct Selection tool, R for the Rotate tool and Shift + E for the Eraser tool.
Tip 2: Copy in Place
Copy and Paste is probably one of the most used features in Illustrator. The only problem is sometimes you want to copy things in place. You can use the Paste in Front and Paste in Back for that (located in the Edit menu). These will paste the object in the same place. The keyboard shortcuts for these are: Command (Mac OS)/Control (Windows) F for Paste in Front and Command/Control B for Paste in Back. Another option is to use the Rotate tool. Select your object and double click on the rotate tool in the tool bar. A dialogue box will appear. Select 0 degrees and click Copy. This will make a duplicate in the same location.
Tip 3: Option/Alt and Shift Drag
Some of the more commonly used keys on the keyboard are the option/alt and the shift keys. Select a shape and start moving it to a new location. Now, hold down the Option/Alt key. Your tool tip will change. This indicates you‘re making a copy. Do the same thing again. This time, hold down the Shift key and you‘ll notice that the shape is constrained to moving only on a horizontal or vertical plane. If you hold down both, it will make a copy that is lined up horizontally or vertically.
Tip 4: Learn the Smart Guides
The Align tools are useful, but they only do so much. The Smart Guides do the rest. To turn on your Smart Guides, go to View > Smart Guides or Command/Control U. With your Smart Guides on, you‘ll notice that when you roll over objects, the lines highlight and the words: path, anchor and center appear. Try moving one object on top of another. The Smart Guides will tell you where the two objects intersect. Try aligning two circles by their “center” points by dragging the first object by its “center” point onto the “center” point of the second object.
Tip 5: Flatten Transparency
The Flattened Transparency command enables you to see what your artwork will look like when flattened. The outline stroke command flattens stroked lines, but not dashed lines. To outline a dashed line, you‘ll have to use the Flatten Transparency. Go to Object > Flatten Transparency to use it. A dialogue box will pop up. Make sure Raster/Vector Balance is set to 100. You can also use the Flatten Transparency on Brush Effects, Blend Effects and Warp Effects.
Tip 6: Group Items to Move Them
The Group command is mainly used to group objects together. It also is a powerful tool for moving objects around. If you have several overlapping objects on your artboard and you want to add a new shape in between them, try using the Group command. First, send the new object to the back (Object > Arrange > Send to Back). With the object still highlighted, shift click on the object that you want it to be directly underneath. Finally, group the two objects. Go to Object > Group or Command/Control G. This will move the new object directly beneath the old one. You can also group objects between layers to move an object onto a different layer.
Tip 7: Transform Again
The Transform Again command (Object > Transform > Transform Again) is used to repeat your last action. It is great for creating uniform spacing. Make a copy of a shape. You can use the Option/Alt Drag from the tip above. Next, perform a Transform Again (Command/Control D) on your copied shape. This gives you multiple shapes that are spaced evenly. You can also use the Transform Again for repeating Scaling and Rotating effects.
Tip 8: Blend Shapes
Most people use the Blend command (Object > Blend > Make) for gradient blends. You can also use the Blend on shapes to get “in between” or “tween” shapes. First, draw a circle and a square several inches apart. Next, you‘ll need to set the number of steps in your Blend. Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options. A dialogue box appears. Choose Specified Steps and the number of steps. Four is a good number. Select the two shapes and go to Object > Blend > Make. The Blend makes several shapes in between the circle and the square. You can use the Flatten Transparency to make them into editable shapes.
Tip 9: Work with Text Boxes
When I first started working with Illustrator, I simply selected the text tool and started typing. I would end up with one long, jumbled line that was frustrating to work with. While that method is still the default, there is another way. You can make text boxes by drawing a box with the text tool. Then, you can type inside the box. These boxes are much easier to work with and will save you a lot of sanity.
Tip 10: Changing a Star to a Triangle
The Star tool makes more shapes than just a traditional star. Draw a star, but don‘t release the mouse button. Instead, use the up and down arrow keys to add and remove points. For instance, if you keep pressing the down arrow, you‘ll end up with a triangle. Before you release the mouse, try pressing the Shift key. This will make your triangle parallel with the page.
Now that you have read up on some of the tricks of the trade, try them out and don’t forget to experiment!