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Revealing the Secrets of the Shapes Tool In Illustrator

Revealing the Secrets of the Shapes Tool in Illustrator

Dig into the Shapes tool in Illustrator to fine-tune your shapes and make new ones. Do more with your designs by customizing the settings for cool and creative results.

Cover image via Lera Efremova

The shapes tool in Illustrator is one of the most basic ways to illustrate designs and create elements like circles, ovals, squares, and rectangles. They go quite a bit deeper though, and learning some basic control parameters can really expand your options.

Basic Key Commands

We’ll start by introducing a couple keyboard-assisted controls. Choose the Rectangle tool, or hit M on the keyboard, and draw a rectangle. Simple. But if you want to create a perfect square, you don’t have to eyeball it. Simply hold down the Shift key while drawing and it keeps the square . . . square.

For circles, hit L for the Ellipse tool. As with the Rectangle, you’ll get an oval if you freehand, but holding Shift while doing so maintains a perfect circle.

Both of these tools drag from a corner point when you create shapes with them. But if you hold down Option with either tool, your origin point will be the center of the shape, expanding out instead. Hold Shift with Option and you will create a perfect square or circle from the center out.

Create a Perfect Star

Along with circles and squares, the shapes tool contains a Star Tool. If you use the tool at its default settings you will get a chubby star that isn’t perfectly aligned with its own paths if they were to continue through the center of the shape.

To get a perfect star, select the Star Tool and, instead of just click-dragging a star, click once on the canvas to bring up the options palette. Enter “.265” in the Radius 1 box and leave the rest alone. This will result in a star that has perfectly aligned arms. It’s upside-down, so hold Shift and hover the cursor outside the corner of the bounding box to get the curved arrow, then click and drag right-side-up.

Revealing the Secrets of the Shapes Tool In Illustrator - Star Shapes Tool

Create a Perfect Triangle

There is no Triangle tool in Illustrator, but there is a way. As with the Star Tool, don’t just free-hand it. Choose the Polygon tool and click once on the canvas. In the Sides field, type 3.

This will produce a perfectly equilateral triangle, that’s surprisingly right-side-up! If you want a triangle that isn’t equilateral, simply adjust the bounding box handles to contort it to your liking.


Revealing the Secrets of the Shapes Tool In Illustrator - Triangle Shapes Tool

Create Custom Badge and Starburst Shapes

Now we get into some crazy stuff. Creating badges with starburst shapes can be tricky. If you just choose the Star Tool and enter a number of sides, you don’t get to choose the length of the arms or how it looks, unless you happen to know the precise decimal measurement of the look you want.

Using the keyboard, we can create a highly customized version and get what we’re after really quickly.

Select the Star Tool. Create a shape by click-dragging, and don’t let go of the mouse – keep the button held down. With your non-mouse hand, hit the Up arrow on the keyboard to add points to the star. Hit the Down arrow to reduce the number of points.

Keep holding the mouse button down to change the length of the bursts/arms. Hold down the Command key, and move the mouse towards and away from the center of the shape. You can also hold down Shift during all of these actions to maintain an upright rotation of the shape.

Use Rounded Corners for . . . Rounded Corners

Now that you can make cool new shapes with more ease and control, let’s try out some corner-rounding techniques to further customize your shapes.

Select the shape by using the Direct Selection Tool, A.K.A “the white arrow,” or hit A on the keyboard. You’ll see a dot inside and outside of every corner on the shape. Grab one of those dots and move it towards the center of the shape to bring all the corners into roundness in unison.

To change the roundness of a single corner, click on a dot to select it, then drag it. You can also use the Corners measurement field to type in a certain value. Find this at the top in the Control bar.


Revealing the Secrets of the Shapes Tool In Illustrator - Rounded Corners Shapes Tool

Looking for more design tips and tricks? Look no further than our collection of helpful articles and tutorials.


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