Master more Illustrator essentials in this Q&A, like working with text, cropping images, and properly exporting your document.

Mastering the Adobe Illustrator software is no easy feat. You’re tasked with learning tons of tools, effects, techniques, and more. To help guide you through the vector program, we’ve compiled an in-depth post on the essential components of Illustrator.

For this article, we found some of the most frequently asked questions about Illustrator and answered them with straightforward explanations. In part two of this two-part series, we will cover typography, cropping and masking, illustration, and exporting.


Typography

Typography is a fundamental discipline for all designers and illustrators because it’s how we communicate information. Illustrator features multiple text tools to edit text in different orientations, paths, and appearances.

How do I edit text in Illustrator?

To add typography to your composition, head to the Text Tool in the left toolbar. You can also access the tool by hitting T on the keyboard.

With the tool activated, click and drag to make a text box; this acts as your boundary for text. Type any phrase or word within the text box. If you have too much text to fit within the boundary, a red box will pop up in the corner of the text box.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Text Tool

You can edit text by navigating to the Character and Paragraph panels on the righthand side of the program. Simply highlight the text by clicking and dragging, or by selecting the text path with the Selection Tool (V). The Character panels contain dropdown arrows that let you to edit typeface styles, font size, kerning, tracking, leading, and more. On the other hand, the Paragraph menu helps you edit text alignment and indentation.

How do I curve text in Illustrator?

As you create more detailed designs, you’ll need to fit text within irregular or curved shapes, such as a flag, ribbon, or circle. This is where Illustrator’s Type on a Path Tool comes in handy.

If you’re fitting the text into a flag or ribbon shape, draw a curved line path with the Paintbrush Tool (B). You can also use the Pen Tool (P), but I find the Paintbrush Tool is a bit easier to manipulate.

If you want to type on a circular path, draw a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) while holding down the Shift key. This constrains the proportions to create a perfect circle.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Type on a Path Tool

Head up to the Type Tool (T), but hold down on the T icon. A dropdown menu will pop up containing the Type on a Path Tool. Click on the curved path to initiate the type on a path. Simply type out a phrase or word as you would with the Type Tool. Use the Character and Paragraph menus to change the typeface, adjust the alignment, and more.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Type on a Path Options

Sometimes you will need to modify the text on a path even further in terms of effect, alignment, and spacing. Click on the curved text with the Selection Tool (V), then navigate to the top toolbar and go to Type > Type on a Path > Type on a Path Options.

  • Rainbow keeps the text oriented on the path
  • Skew keeps the text at a vertical orientation while aligning the text to the curve
  • Stair Step creates a staggered effect similar to that of a staircase
  • 3D Ribbon angles the text forward
  • Gravity heavily skews the typography to the center of the path

How do I warp text in Illustrator?

Warping typography is a great way to add character to a geometric design. Type out a phrase with the Type Tool (T), then head to Effect > Warp and choose from a number of warp options. Some great warp options include Arc, Bulge, Wave, and Fish.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Warp Text

Once you click on a warp effect, a Warp Options menu will pop up where you can edit the effects further. Adjust the style, bend, and distortion percentages within this pop up box. Check the Preview box to see how the effects apply to your text.

Learn more about Illustrator’s warp effects.

How do I underline text in Illustrator?

Once you’ve typed out your phrase in the text box, select the text path with the Selection Tool (V), then go to the Character panel and click on the underlined T icon.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Underline Text

How do I outline text in Illustrator?

Click on the text path with the Selection Tool (V), then hit Shift + X on the keyboard. This changes the active fill color to a stroke. You can edit the stroke options within the Stroke panel, or adjust the color in the Color or Swatches panels.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Outline Text
Used Blacker Font from dafont.

For some guided lessons on creating beautiful type, check out these 11 typography tutorials


Cropping & Masking

If you’re working with layouts or strict dimensions, you need to know how to crop and mask  These techniques help you customize an image to fit any design. While Illustrator is a vector-based program, many users still work with images in the software. Illustrator doesn’t have the image editing capabilities of Photoshop, but you can perform simple techniques such as cropping.

How do I crop an image in Illustrator?

Start by importing your image into the program with Shift + Command + P, which will open a finder window to choose a file. Drag the image onto your artboard and resize as necessary by dragging the square handles with the Selection Tool (V). Open the Control panel by navigating to Window > Control. This handy toolbar will appear at the top of your program when enabled.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Cropping Images
Image via pernsanitfoto.

Click on the image with the Selection Tool (V) and hit the Crop Image button in the Control panel. Adjust the crop marquee and hit Apply when you’re done.

How do I make a clipping mask in Illustrator?

Think of a clipping mask as a frame; the solid shape of the mask provides a boundary for the images behind it to show through. It’s a more customizable way to crop your images or add patterns to vector shapes.

To create a clipping mask, draw a shape with the Pen Tool or the Shapes Tool, then import your image using the method above. Place the shape layer on top of the image layer by holding down Shift + Command + ]. Create the mask with Command + 7 or by heading to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Clipping Mask
Image via Physicx.

Sometimes you’ll need to adjust the clipping mask a bit. Double-click the mask shape to move the image layer around as needed. You can also resize or move the image layer in isolation mode – double-click outside of the image mask to exit out of isolation mode. If you’re not set on using the clipping mask in your composition, you can easily release the mask with Option key + Command + 7.


Illustration

Illustrations are the combinations of color, typography, shapes, and effects in a single composition. They can range from realistic figure drawing to geometric patterns. Diving into illustration design will not only test your knowledge of tools and techniques, but it will also help you define your illustration style.

How do I make a pattern in Illustrator?

Patterns are graphics made from a group of shapes, illustrations, lines, or textures. They typically have a repeating effect, which is why many prefer to make seamless patterns. Seamless patterns can be laid next to each other to create an endless, repeating pattern.

To create your own custom pattern, create a 1000 x 1000 pixel artboard. I find starting with a square canvas makes the pattern-making process much simpler. Create a square shape that covers the artboard by using the Rectangle Tool (M) and holding down the Shift key. Hit OK to return to the artboard. Align the shape to your artboard by dragging the shape with the Selection Tool (V), or by using the Align palette.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Rectangle Tool

Now we’re going to split the background shape into sixteen individual squares. Click on the square with the Selection Tool (V), then navigate to Object > Path > Split into Grid. Set the number of rows and columns to 4 and select OK.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Split into Grid

Bring out the ruler guide with Command + R, then drag down the guide between each shape, as seen above. The guides will help you when building out your pattern. With the Shapes or Pen Tool (P), create a number of geometric shapes. These shapes can be as straightforward as drawing circles or as complex as creating a number of different polygons. I created circles, rectangles, triangles, and semi circles, then arranged them on the artboard inside of the sixteen squares.

Once you’ve drawn out a few shapes, duplicate them across the artboard by holding down the Option key and dragging across. This technique prevents you from having to create the same shape over and over again. When placing shapes around the artboard, you may notice some leave noticeable gaps in the composition. Use the Align menu as needed to ensure the shapes are perfectly aligned to the canvas.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Duplicate
Color palette inspired by Lustrous Lamps retro palette.

Not all shapes need to be the same dimension; a quick way to add variety to your pattern is with differing sizes.

When you’re done with the pattern, select all vector objects with the Selection Tool (V) and group them together with Command + G. Bring up the Pattern Options menu by going to Window > Pattern Options.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Make Pattern

To create the pattern, click on the dropdown menu and select Make Pattern. The pattern will then expand across the program, showing you how it will appear when tiled. Set a name for the pattern, then type in 1000 pixels for both the Width and Height.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Pattern Options

Hit Done at the top of the main screen to see your pattern saved in the Swatches panel. You can now apply your pattern to any vector object, from shapes to text paths.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Swatches

How do I vectorize an image in Illustrator?

Sometimes you have an image you like, but the quality isn’t great. Vectorizing an image is a way to convert it from a raster to a vector file and get rid of those pesky pixels at the same time. In the steps below we’ll use Image Trace, which doesn’t produce perfect results but is the best option when you’re in a pinch.

Begin by importing a raster image of your choice with Shift + Command + P. Not all images will produce successful results with Image Trace; stick to images with a single subject or a solid background color. Landscapes and other similar photographs will often be too complex to vectorize using the Image Trace function in Illustrator.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Vectorize an Image
Image via Kalamurzing.

Open the handy Control panel by navigating to Window > Control. Select the imported image with the Selection Tool (V), then click on the dropdown arrow next to Image Trace. You’ll have a library of presets to choose from, from High Fidelity to Technical Drawing.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Presets

Some presets render better than others; different applications call for different presets. Low Fidelity creates a realistic interpretation of the image, while Sketched Art resorts to a black and white interpretation of the image. Click on the image trace preset that fits your style, then let Illustrator process the result.

Illustrator FAQ: The Total Beginner's Guide to Vector Illustration, Pt.2 — Image Trace

Hit Expand in the Control panel to convert the vectorized image into editable vector paths. You can now individually select each vector shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Interested in learning more about illustration in Adobe Illustrator? Check out this tutorial on vectorizing your pets and this post on illustration techniques.


Exporting & Saving

Exporting and saving are important steps to protect your files and improve your workflow between applications.

How do I save a file in Illustrator?

It’s essential to save your file as often as you can to avoid losing any work. Go to File > Save As or hold down Shift + Command + S to save and set a name for your document, then hit Command + S or head to File > Save to save the document periodically.

How do I export to JPG, PNG, or PDF?

Once you’re done with your work, it’s now time to export the document. Head up to File > Export > Export As to export your illustration to a vast range of file types. While it may be overwhelming to determine which file type to use, you only need to know about JPG, PNG, and PDF. These are the file types that you will frequent most when exporting any design.

It’s also best to know where your design will live before exporting, whether it’s online or print. If it’s to be printed, it’s good to export as a PDF. If the design needs a transparent background, such as a logo or icon, try exporting as a PNG. For compositions that will live online and need a small file size, opt for a JPG.

To learn more about the differences between these three file types, check out this article here.


Cover image via Dima Polies.

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