It's important to feel confident with the various tools, panels and menus which comprise the Adobe Illustrator workspace when working with this industry-leading program. In addition to assist in speeding up your workflow and efficiency it's beneficial to get familiar with a few keyboard shortcuts also.
The Illustrator interface is made up of four main elements: firstly, the image itself, of which you can have one or more open at one time. The Toolbox or Toolbar is the second element and sits on the left-hand side of the interface. By hovering your cursor over these tools, a small tooltip appears which reminds you of the tool's function. The keyboard shortcuts for those tools are also included in brackets. It will speed up your workflow if you use these shortcuts for the more commonly-used tools. Some tools have a small arrow on the bottom right, indicating that other related tools are available on a pop-up list if you click and press down on the top tool.
Unlike pixel-based programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator works with vector-based artwork. Shapes are thus created mathematically. An example of this would be a shape like a circle where its size and position, colour and width are all defined and saved as mathematical data. Compared with bitmap images, vector files are relatively small and are known as "resolution-independent", meaning that they can be scaled up to billboard size without losing their definition. Lines will always be drawn smoothly with colours solid.
Creating basic shapes is a simple matter. Firstly a new print document is created in Illustrator. Next go to the toolbox on the left and note that the Rectangle tool is stacked directly underneath the Type tool. Press on the Rectangle tool to reveal several tools stacked behind it. The Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon and Star tools all belong to this group. Choose the top Rectangle tool, then click and drag across your page. This draws a rectangle shape in the default colours of black and white. To draw a square press down on the Shift button on your keyboard as you drag out the rectangle shape. The width and height proportions are constrained by pressing Shift.
The Rounded Rectangle tool is the next basic drawing tool, the corner radius of which can be adjusted by clicking once on the artboard. This opens up a dialog box where you can enter in the precise values for width, height and corner radius. Changing the colours of the fill and stroke is easily done, as is changing the thickness (or weight) of the stroke (or outline), at the top Control panel or in the Stroke panel on the right-hand side of the interface. Next in the stack is the Ellipse tool. Again we press down on Shift to create a perfect circle. Alternatively, clicking on the workspace will open a dialog box in which we can enter the radius value of the circle.
Next is the Polygon tool which creates a hexagon by default. The number of sides can be altered by clicking on the artboard to open the dialog box. The Star tool is also stacked in this group. An alternative to changing the numbers of arms via the dialog box is hitting the arrow keys on your keyboard as you drag out the star shape.
And finally the Flare tool creates a camera-lens flare which is good for adding a simple lighting effect to an image. Again the values can be adjusted in the dialog box to alter the effect. All of these shapes can now be moved, scaled and rotated with the top Selection tool.
Tom Gillan has been training Adobe Illustrator to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. You can learn more about adobe illustrator courses when you click this link.