Learn about vector-based software Adobe Illustrator, and how to use Adobe Illustrator for vector arts in the creative industry:
The following topics will be covered: what Adobe Illustrator is, why we need it, what are the core components of the illustrator, and how to use adobe illustrator to create an artwork as you wish.
We have created this article explaining the core ideas of Adobe Illustrator so you can grasp them better. So let us answer the first question, what is Adobe Illustrator? In simple terms, it is software which we can use to do illustrations, created by an American company, Adobe Inc.
Illustrator is used for drawing cartoons, logos, illustrations, infographics, and package designing, to name a few. Graphic designers, web designers, visual artists, and professional illustrators use Illustrator in their day-to-day life.
What You Will Learn:
- Understanding Adobe Illustrator
- Why Illustrator
- Vectors Images Vs Raster Images
- Objects in Illustrator
- Fill And Strokes
- Object Appearance
- Illustrator Interface
- How to Use Illustrator Tools to Draw Objects
- How to Use Illustrator Tools to Edit Objects
- Type Tool
- Creating an Artwork Using Adobe Illustrator
- Simple Example Using Adobe Illustrator
- Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding Adobe Illustrator
Illustrator’s user-friendly interfaces live tracing capabilities, in-panel editing ability, and many more other factors have made it the most popular software for vector arts in the creative industry.
Adobe Illustrator is commercial software, but you can download a free trial version and experience how great it is.
Even though there are a number of other vector-based software, Adobe Illustrator has an edge.
Illustrator has an advanced toolset that helps users to do complex tasks with a single click.
Illustrator has a big community behind it. It helps Illustrator to grow by recognizing the flows of current tools to fix them. Also to add new features. Hence, it is up to date.
Adobe Illustrator is in sync with other Adobe products and it makes users’ lives so much easier when collaborating with each other.
Illustrator is a vector-based program. Vector graphics have much smoother curves than raster graphics. You can scale up or down the images without worrying about loss of quality or images being pixelated. Vectors are editable. You can always come back and edit.
Vectors Images Vs Raster Images
Raster images are simply images made of pixels. Almost every image you find through a digital screen in your day-to-day life is made up of pixels.
Scaling up a pixel image is not recommended. When you scale up a raster image, it loses the quality of the image. Edges and lines will lose their sharpness them resulting in a blurry and fuzzy image. This incident is called pixelation.
On the other hand, vector images are created using vector graphics. Unlike the raster images, vectors use points, lines, curves, and shapes, which are based on mathematical formulas, to display an image. Hence, you can scale up or down a vector and it will not lose its quality. The mathematical formula will adjust its parameters to show the image as scaled up or down.
The below image shows the comparison vector image vs raster image:
Objects in Illustrator
In Illustrator vectors are called ‘objects’. Basically, inside Illustrator, anything you draw is an object. Each of these individual items is called an object.
The outline or the line you used to draw the objects are called ‘paths’. For example, if you draw a triangle, that triangle’s contour is called the path of that triangular object.
Path of an object:
An object’s path can be opened or closed. A straight line will have an open path while a square has a closed path as shown in the below image.
Paths are created by connecting the lines. Lines can be straight or curved. Think about drawing a rectangle. You draw it by connecting 4 straight lines. If it is a more complex shape like a bird, you will have to connect, both straight and curved lines, to one another to get the shape of the bird.
Straight-line vs curved line:
To draw lines in Illustrator, we use points. A straight line can be drawn using 2 points. One at the start and another at the end. Once we mark the start point and endpoint, by clicking on the screen, Illustrator will draw a line connecting the start point and the endpoint.
The line has two anchor points, as shown below:
Assume you want to draw a triangle. To do so, 3 anchor points will be needed as shown below.
In Illustrator, these points are called ‘anchor points’. Every anchor point has two handles. These handles are used to manipulate the curvature of a line. Therefore, the curvature of the path.
Let’s summarize the things we learned till now. Now we know anchor points create lines and those lines, regardless of straight or curved, are connected together to create paths. Paths are used to draw different shapes, and those shapes are called objects.
Here is an example of an object:
That’s it! That’s the basics of objects. This might sound simple, but it is very important. Objects are the basic unit of Illustrator and a thorough understanding of them will help you learn Illustrator easily. If you don’t get it at the first glance, don’t worry. Go through it again.
Fill And Strokes
As we discussed earlier, objects can be in any shape. Regardless of the shape of the object, objects contain 2 main components in each.
The stroke is referred to the thickness of a path. According to Adobe, “A path’s outline is called a stroke”. A stroke has different characteristics and can be modified, according to the needs of an artwork.
The area inside an object is referred to as the fill. More precisely, according to Adobe, “A color or gradient applied to an open or closed path’s interior area is called a fill”. As the latter sentence mentioned, the fill can be in any color or gradient. As same as a stroke, a fill also has different characteristics, which can be used according to your needs.
We can define objects with both fill and stroke, only with fill and no stroke or only with stroke and no fill.
Stroke and fill variations:
Objects have few attributes which directly connect with the appearance of an object. Changes made to these attributes cause to change the appearance of an object.
Let’s see what these attributes are.
In Illustrator, when we talk about the color of an object, we refer to the fill color. We learned what fill is. Full color refers to the color of the fill. We can pick any color in the color wheel as a fill color. Choosing a pattern or a gradient as a fill color is also possible in Illustrator.
#2) Anchor Points
Anchor points are used to create line segments. Each anchor point has two handles. By adjusting anchor points and its handles, the object’s shape can be altered as shown below.
Every object has a stroke. Every stroke has a color, a width, and a style. As infill color, any color in the color wheel, a gradient, or a pattern can be picked as the stroke color.
Different stroke colors:
The width of the stroke can also be set. Higher values will create thick outlines around the object.
You can pick whether the stroke is a solid line, or a dashed one. That’s the style of a stroke. There are more options to the styles other than solid and dashed.
#4) Blending Modes
In Illustrator, objects are packed as a stack. For example, assume that you have created 10 objects. Your first object will be at the bottom of your screen while the last or the tenth object will be at the top. You can organize your objects into layers as well. Layers will also create a stack too.
Blending mode defines how you wanna blend an object with other objects. Illustrator will take the color of an object and decide how it’s gonna blend with the colors of the objects underneath, using different techniques defined by users as the “blend mode” of that particular object.
Take a stack of objects with 2 objects in it. Depending on the blend mode of the top object, the output of the two object artwork will differ.
Opacity has an inverse relationship with the object’s transparency. If some object has a low value as its opacity, it will have high transparency and vice-versa. Transparent objects will reveal the objects underneath, through them, as you can see in the below image.
Illustrator objects can scale up or down to any size you want. You can scale width and height independently. You should keep in mind that, when you do the latter, it will distort the object, as long as you don’t do it on purpose.
Scaling with freehand:
Illustrator also allows you to scale up or down, keeping the width to height ratio a constant, without distorting the object.
Scaling with a constant aspect ratio:
You are allowed to rotate an object around its center. You can rotate objects to right or left or to arbitrary angles, depending on the requirement.
You can also control the rotation. Illustrator allows you to rotate objects in 45-degree steps.
Before we move into learning how to use Illustrator, let’s understand the interface.
When you start the Illustrator application, you will come across a window to create a new document. You will be asked to enter a few details, which are essential to create a new document, such as,
- Name of the document
- Height and width of the document
- Unit of measurement
- Information about the bleeds
- Color mode
If you want more settings, there are some advanced options too. After you enter the above information, you can click the Create button to create the new documents according to the specified data.
Then you will be introduced to the main window of Adobe Illustrator. It contains 4 main components:
- Main menu bar
- Control bar
#1) Main Menu Bar
It is like a guide to everything. It gives access to a wide range of functionalities in Illustrator. These functionalities include,
- Creating new documents
- Saving the documents
- Exporting artworks
- Editing artworks
- Adding and adjusting objects and their features
- Change workspace settings, etc.
Some of these functionalities can be accessed through keyboard shortcuts and other components in the window, such as panels.
This includes tools to the functionalities, such as the following:
- Creating objects
- Edit objects
- Selects objects
- Color objects
- Add text to artwork
To activate a tool, you just have to click on it or use the keyboard shortcuts. If a tool is activated, the tool icon in the toolbar will be highlighted and the mouse cursor icon will change accordingly.
Some tools are working as a set. They have a set of similar options with different functionalities. The symbol, at the bottom right corner, on the below image is used to symbolize the extended toolset.
To access them, click and hold on to the tool icon. If you click once, the previous option you selected or the default option of that set will be selected.
Tool set looks like below:
#3) Control Bar
The control bar allows you to control various properties of a particular tool or object, you have selected. It is a kind of shortcut to the common properties of an object or a tool.
The functionality of the panels is somewhat similar to the control bar. It gives extended options to edit an object.
If some of these panels are not activated in your workspace, you can activate them using the Window option in the main menu bar, where all the panels are listed.
How to Use Illustrator Tools to Draw Objects
Since you now have the theoretical understanding of the basics of Illustrator, let’s learn how to use Adobe Illustrator practically. To create artwork in Illustrator, you should create objects.
We can create objects using the following tools:
- Pen tool
- Pencil tool
- Shape tools
- Shape builder tool
Let’s learn them one by one.
#1) Pen tool
The pen tool is used to create objects or draw paths by creating anchor points. You can keep adding anchor points as long as you want. More anchor points mean you can add more details to the path you draw.
But it is recommended to use as minimum anchor points as possible since it is very hard to manage and manipulate a large number of anchor points.
You can activate the pen tool using the
- The toolbar, or
- The keyboard shortcut “P”
If you are creating a closed path, click on the first anchor point again to complete the path.
Holding the shift key, while you are going from one point to another, will create horizontal or vertical straight lines, depending on the direction you are going.
This is a pen tool icon:
#2) Pencil tool
Pencil tool is used to create freehand paths. It can be accessed through,
- The toolbar, and
- Keyboard shortcut “N”
You just have to click and hold the mouse and draw as you do with a physical pencil. Illustrator will add anchor points accordingly.
You change the smoothness of the path you draw by changing the fidelity settings in the “Pencil Tool Options” window. You can activate the “Pencil tool Options” window by double-clicking on the pencil tool after selecting it.
Release the mouse near the starting anchor point to create a closed path. The cursor icon will change near the starting anchor point, informing you that if you release the mouse, it will create a closed path.
Holding the shift key while you are drawing will create straight lines.
This is a pencil tool icon:
#3) Shape Tools
You can use a pen tool or pencil tool to draw any shape. But to make your life easier, Illustrator comes with built-in tools to draw common shapes such as
As with the previous tool, you can activate it using
- The toolbar
- Keyboard shortcut “M” to activate the rectangle tool and
- Keyboard shortcut “L” to activate the ellipse
This tool comes as a set. You just have to select the tool you want and click and drag to any size you want and release the mouse. Illustrator will create the shape you selected accordingly.
Holding the shift key while you are dragging will create squares if you are using a rectangle tool. If you are using the ellipse tool, holding the shift key will create a circle.
Rectangle shape tool icon:
How to Use Illustrator Tools to Edit Objects
Creating an art piece is not always straightforward. You always take a step back and look for places where you can improve to get a better output. Hence, you have to make changes to the first sketch you created.
The advantage of using vector-based software is you can edit vectors at any time. Changing the appearance of objects such as:
- Changing the color of the objects
- Increase the width of the stroke
- Scaling up a bit
- Adjusting the angle
We can easily achieve it by modifying the features or the attributes of an object. Let’s learn how to use Illustrator to do so.
#1) Eraser Tool
The eraser tool can be found in the toolbar. Shift + E is the keyboard shortcut for the eraser tool.
To erase an object,
- Activate the eraser tool.
- Click and drag over any portion of your artwork.
When you activate the eraser tool, the mouse cursor will change to a circle. You can change the size of this circle using the control bar.
Eraser tool icon:
#2) Edit color
To change the color of an object, we should change the fill color of that object. The tools needed to change the fill color will appear in the following places, once you select the object,
- In the control bar.
- In the color bar inside the bottom of the toolbar.
- In the panels – for more advanced options.
If you don’t see them in the panels. You can activate them using the main menu bar > Window > Swatches and main menu bar > Window > Gradient.
#3) Anchor points
You can change the position of the anchor point if you want. Using the handles, you can change the curvature of the line that the anchor point is associated with.
By changing the angle of the handles, we can change the shape of the curvature, as shown below:
By changing the size of the handles, we can change the size of the apex.
You can use the direct selection tool to edit the anchor points. The direct selection tool can be found in the toolbar. The keyboard shortcut for the direct selection tool is “A”.
Direct selection tool icon:
#4) Edit Strokes
Before you do any change to a stroke, you should select the object first. Then you can use,
- The control bar
- The color bar at the bottom of the toolbar, or
- The panels
To make changes to the stroke. You should use the appearance panel on the panels. If you can’t see it in the panels, use the main menu bar > Window > Appearance path to activate it.
When you select the object, it will be surrounded by a box with 8 points. You can follow the following steps to change the scale of an object:
- Take the mouse cursor near to one of the 8 points.
- Wait till the cursor changes into a double-headed, straight arrow.
- Then click and drag to scale the object.
Hold the shift key while dragging to have a constant aspect ratio.
To rotate an object,
- Select the object.
- Take the mouse to near a corner point (a bit outside of the point).
- Wait till the cursor changes into a double-headed, curved arrow.
- Then click and drag clockwise or anticlockwise to rotate the image.
Hold the shift key while dragging to rotate in 45-degree steps.
#7) Changing the blend mode and the opacity
To change blend mode or opacity, follow the below steps:
- Select the object you want.
- Activate the Transparency panel.
- Make changes using the Transparency panel.
You can find the right panel by using the main menu bar > Window > Transparency path.
Type tool is used to add text objects to your artwork. You can find the type tool inside the toolbar. Type tool is a tool, which contains a similar set of tools inside it. You can access the full set of type tools by pressing and holding on to the type tool.
Type tool icon:
Type tool set contains tools for the following.
- Type text
- Type in an area
- Type on a path
Remember that each of these can be done both horizontally and vertically.
These options are almost self-explanatory.
- Typing text means simply typing the text horizontally or vertically.
- Type in an area option will allow you to type inside a shape.
- Type on a path will allow you to type the text on a selected path.
The control bar will give you the common options to edit the type objects such as:
- Changing the typeface
- Increase or decrease font size, etc
For more advanced options, there are panels, such as
- Open type
In the panels, if you don’t see those panels, you can go to the Window > Type in the main menu and select the option you want from there and activate them.
Creating an Artwork Using Adobe Illustrator
Creating artwork in Illustrator simply means organizing a set of objects to get a meaningful outcome.
Let’s get an example and clarify that statement. Assume that you have a container with a depth. You also have objects with different shapes.
What you have to do is organize these objects as a stack inside the container, one on top of another. In a way, when you look from the top of that container, you will have a meaningful outcome.
That container is the Illustrator file you create at the start. Your artboard will be the view from the top of the container. In the beginning, there are no objects inside the container. So you see the white bottom of the container. You can create different shaped objects using Adobe Illustrator tools.
We hope this simple explanation helps you to get the concept behind the Illustrator.
Simple Example Using Adobe Illustrator
To create artwork using Adobe Illustrator, the first and most important thing is to imagine and decide what you’re gonna create. This is very important because otherwise, you could lose in indecision.
Let’s create artwork for an air balloon. Now we know what we’re going to create. If you want to, you can sketch the picture in your mind for future reference.
Let’s create the shapes we’re going to need, to create the air balloon. We think that we’re going to need the following shapes:
Once you have the shapes, according to your requirement, the next step is to organize them to create the artwork we want.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q #1) Can a beginner use Adobe Illustrator?
Answer: Yes, they can. It seems difficult and complex at first glance, but don’t shy away. Learn the Adobe Illustrator basics well from Adobe Illustrator tutorials and start practicing how to use Illustrator tools. Eventually, you will get used to it.
Q #2) Is it hard to learn about Adobe Illustrator?
Answer: It will not if you start small. Start by learning a few Adobe Illustrator basic tools first and practice them. When you are comfortable with them, try another.
Q #3) What is Adobe Illustrator mostly used for?
Answer: It’s hard to name one. A lot of artists, graphic designers are using Adobe Illustrator to do various things like character drawing, logo designing, poster designing, and package designing, etc.
Q #4) Do I need to learn Photoshop before Illustrator?
Answer: No, you don’t need to learn Photoshop before you learn Illustrator. If you know Photoshop, it will make your Illustrator learning curve easier, but it’s not necessary to learn it first.
Q #5) Is illustrator harder than Photoshop?
Answer: At the beginning, it can be. But with time, when you get used to Adobe Illustrator basics and how to use the Illustrator tools, Illustrator could be your first choice.
In this tutorial, we discussed how to use Adobe Illustrator. We tried to teach you the basic concepts and how to use some of the Illustrator tools.
Adobe Illustrator contains more tools and functionalities, rather than the tools and functionalities mentioned here. It is very hard to cover all of them in a single tutorial. All we wanted to do here is give you a good starting point to learn and use Adobe Illustrator.
Go through the tutorial and try to implement what you learn, even if you don’t understand it fully. Play with the tools, make mistakes. After that, go through the tutorial again, then you will understand better. Practice will make you a better Illustrator.