Use this guide to get familiar with the Alignment Menu in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Use it for perfectly squared-up and distributed objects in layouts and designs.

Alignment tools are part of the foundation of any design program. Without it, we’d have to resort to approximations and guesswork to align, distribute, and stack design elements. Luckily, most every graphic design program or app includes this tool.

This tool guide will quickly get you up to speed on the Alignment menu across “The Big Three” – Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It’s an indispensable tool when you want to align and precisely space a group of design elements. The best thing is, it’s all automatic!

Locating the Alignment Menus

Across Adobe’s design applications, Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, the alignment icons look and act the same. In Illustrator and InDesign, they are available at all times in a standalone window.

Here’s how to locate the Alignment Menu in each application:

  • Illustrator  click on Window in the program menu at the top, then Align, and the window will appear.
  • InDesign – click on Window in the program menu at the top, then Object & Layout, then Align.
  • Photoshop – located in the Options menu at the top of the screen or Application Frame, but only when the Move tool is selected.
Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – Align Menu in Photoshop

In other design or layout programs, look in the menus for “Align,” or for the common symbols, which look like tiny bar graphs.

Aligning Objects

Let’s take a look at the Align menu in Adobe Illustrator (remember, it will look the same across Adobe applications). The image below shows how the menu is labeled. On the upper row, Align Objects is organized by two orientations: horizontal and vertical.

In a horizontal alignment, selected objects are stacked along the left, middle, or right edges of the objects. In a vertical alignment, objects are placed side-by-side along the top, middle, or bottom edges of the objects.

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – Align Menu in Illustrator
Horizontal Alignment in action:

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – How to Horizontally Align Objects
In horizontal alignment, objects move across the horizontal (X) axis.

Vertical Alignment in action:

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – How to Vertically Align Objects
In vertical alignment, objects move across the vertical (Y) axis.

It’s easy to align objects to each other by specifying the direction of the alignment. Now let’s look at how to further use this menu to distribute objects evenly.

Distributing Objects

We can use the same menu to spread out objects in a uniform way, or distribute them. Similar to Align, the Distribute function automatically places objects along an invisible line to create an accurate distribution across the orientation you choose.

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – Align Menu in Illustrator

On the left you’ll see options for vertical, i.e. stacked, distribution. You can distribute selected objects based on their top edge, mid-point, and bottom edges. On the right you’ll see horizontal distribution by left edge, mid-point, and right edge of the selected objects.

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – How to Distribute Objects in Illustrator
Objects are distributed along the vertical (Y) axis according to their top, center, or bottom edges.

When you click each option, the program distributes each object evenly according to the top edge, the mid-point, or the bottom edge. In other words, all of the objects’ top edges are evenly spaced, even if they overlap.

What if you want to control the space between your objects so they don’t overlap?

Distributing by Space

Use the handy Distribute Spacing feature to distribute objects by space between instead of by the edges of objects. It’s in the lower section of the Align window. If you don’t see this section, click on the hamburger menu in the Align window and click Show Options.

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – How to Evenly Space Objects in Illustrator
Objects are evenly distributed along the vertical (Y) axis.

First, vertically align the objects, then hit the Vertical Distribute Space. You can see that the space is perfectly even between each object. This is really handy when distributing objects of different sizes.

Options for Distribution

Notice the icon on the right called Align To. This assigns the space to which objects will be distributed. Think of it as selecting the anchor.

  • Align to Selection – distribute objects as a group within the selection box.
  • Align to Key Object – distribute objects against a specified anchor object; with the group of objects selected, click again on the object you want to assign as the anchor. You can specify the spacing value in pixels in the Distribute Spacing field.
  • Align to Artboard – distribute selected objects across the artboard, or working area, evenly.

Tool Guide: How to Use the Alignment Menu in Adobe Design Apps – How to Evenly Space Objects in Illustrator
Objects can be evenly spaced across the selection box or the artboard, or against a key object.

This beginners guide to the Alignment menu in Adobe design applications is just a starting point for design. There are lots of ways to use the different Align tools to order shapes, text, and more within your designs. Play around with the tool to see what you can accomplish. The more you use it, the more you’ll recognize its importance to your workflow.


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