Illustrator, like any design software, can seem overwhelming at first glance. There are so many options, tools, and functions, that one might feel learning how to use the program could prove impossible. However, take heart! Learning Illustrator is not as difficult as it might seem. I will be showing you how to get started in Adobe CS5, formatted for MAC. If you are using a PC, your keyboard shortcuts will differ slightly, but this should still be quite helpful.
Step one, launching illustrator. (I have assumed you already have AI set to your dock, if not, find the program in your applications.) Once you’ve double clicked on the program and allowed it to load, you will need to open a new file. Illustrator comes loaded with several premade template options, but we’re just going to choose File>new (⌘N). You will be presented with a dialog box that allows you to set up your file parameters.
The first thing you do is name your file, which will identify it once it is saved. Next, if you choose, set your document profile. Depending on the purpose of your image, you can choose to set it up for web, print, mobile devices, etc. Thirdly, a great function now available in Illustrator, is multiple artboards. This means you can have more than one printable area in one document. (Beside the number of artboards square, you can see available layouts.) However, you can add artboards in any single artboard document using the artboad key… more on that later. In this panel, you will also want to set the size and layout of your file. You can choose a preset size or put in your own custom measurements, choosing portrait or landscape. You can also set bleeds up to one inch.
At the bottom is a set of “advanced” options where you can choose color modes, raster effect resolution, and preview modes. The setting of these options will depend on if your image is to be used for print, web, or mobile devices.
OK, I’m going to open a new file, a 9X9…
Take note, on the left is your toolbar and on the right, a group of palettes. The toolbar contains all of the… well, tools, you’re going to use to create your graphics. The palettes provide additional options for the images you create with the tools, such as stroke weight, color, transparency, and many other functions. A complete list of the palettes is found under “window” on the bar at the top of your screen. I suggest opening each one and seeing what is there, just to get yourself familiar with your menu.
Selection Tools and Anchor Points
Now that we have a document prepared, let’s learn a few basics!
What I’ve done here is drawn a circle using the ellipse tool, as I’ve indicated above. I created a perfect circle by holding down the shift key while I dragged my stylus across my tablet (or, mouse if you have no stylus and tablet.) You can see that my circle is incased in a blue box… this is the bounding box, and shows the perimeter of your object. I’ve used the selection tool (V), the black arrow at the top of your tool box to select the circle and can manipulate its size and proportions by dragging the any of the anchor points on the bounding box (the black arrow is pointing to an anchor point.) Again, if I hold shift, the proportions will be constrained. Using the same method that I created the circle, I’ve created a star and used my selection tool to select it and drag it into the middle of the circle. If you look back to your toolbar, place your stylus (mouse) over the ellipse, you will have a pull out menu of other shapes- Rectangle (M) is the default shape, rounded rectangle, star, polygon, ellipse, and flare.
Now, looking at the image of the star, you see the direct selection tool, the white arrow (top right of the toolbar) beside one of the anchor points. If you click the point with the arrow, you will be able to manipulate that point’s position. If you hold shift, you can click and select multiple points.
Another function of the direct selection tool allows you to manipulate the anchor points using their “handles.” If you click on the entire shape with the tool, all of the available anchor handles will become visible. Or, if you click on one specific point, only that handle will show. One thing to remember, only rounded lines will produce handles, sharp points will not. Click and hold the dot on one end of the handle and drag it around your artboard. As you can see in the above image, you can greatly affect your shapes by the use of the handles.
Another useful attribute of anchors is that you can convert them. As I said earlier, you won’t find handles on sharp points, but, by the use of the Convert function, as you see in the upper left section of this picture, you can change sharp points to smooth, and smooth to sharp. Simply select the point you want to manipulate, and then click the button at the top. You can see the effect each has had on the image of the star and circle.
Beside the handle buttons, you see a list of other options. The other tool handles perform the functions seen in the image above. (The dotted line in the last image represents the path of the points I joined.) Simply select the points you wish to affect, and click the button that corresponds to that action. You can see in my image what they achieve. However, I feel that the pen tool better handles the last two.
There is also a group selection tool using the direct selection tool, but I think I’ll save that for when we discuss grouping objects.
Another handy selection tool is the magic wand, second row, first tool. The magic wand allows you to select by color. If you click on one object, say, the pink polygon, it will select everything that is that color. This is a tremendous time saver. Instead of wasting time clicking, clicking, clicking, your magic wand does it all at once. You can then move, change the color of, or delete the selections. This can come in very handy when you need to change multiple elements, lots of small details, or hidden objects.
The last thing I’ll cover today is the lasso tool. The lasso tool, second row, second tool, is useful when you want to select and manipulate a group of points in the same direction. Click on your lasso tool and use it to draw around the points in the object that you want to change. Then, take your direct selection tool, (white arrow) click and hold on one of the points or the line and drag it to the desired location. Every point you selected will follow.
Well, that just about covers it for now. I hope this was helpful to you if you’re getting started in the world of Adobe Illustrator. If it was, please let me know. I am working on a few more tutorials, and will be posting more shortly!