What is Adobe Illustrator?
Adobe Illustrator is a powerful software drawing program offered by Adobe. Anyone, regardless of artistic or computer ability, can use Illustrator to draw shapes and lines, create text, or import graphics and pictures. You can use Illustrator to do a layout for a book, create a web page, and the list goes on. The best thing about it is, however, that you can do all these things easily using Illustrator once you learn the program and what different functions and features it provides.

Illustrator allows you to create and use vector graphics. Vector graphics use geometrical primitives like points, shapes, lines, curves, and polygons to represent images. These vector graphics are all based on mathematical expressions. Many of the cartoons that you see online nowadays are actually vector images that were designed using Illustrator or programs similar to it such as Macromedia Freehand.

Who Uses Illustrator?

One of the best ways to illustrate all the things you can do with Illustrator (before we teach you), is to show you how different industries and professionals use this program to create what they need.

Designers that work in various types of media rely on Illustrator for their creative projects because of Illustrator's vector capabilities. The drawing tools and effects make it essential to almost any designer.

Print designers, such as those who create brochures and postcards, can create elaborate artwork with Illustrator. Web designers use it because Illustrator also allows them to export raster formats with little risk of error. A raster file is a grid of X and Y coordinates that create the image. It is also referred to as a bitmap.

Video production designers also use Illustrator because it can handle vector for video projects. The UI brightness is also now adjustable in Illustrator, which makes it even more appealing.

What's New in Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is the sixth generation of this software program. It seems with each generation, the program keeps getting better and better, but bigger and bigger also.

Perhaps the biggest change in Illustrator is that it now offers a 64-bit version. It is not important that you know what 64-bit is, but it is critical that you know why this is so important to you. (64-bit is the length of a computer "word", for example. This in simple terms, means that you can have twice as much information in one "word" as you did in a 32-bit word.)Previous versions of Illustrator were 32-bit. This means that if you had 16GB of RAM on your computer, Illustrator could only use up to 3GB. However, with the 64-bit, it can use all the RAM, and speed up processing. It helps to eliminate software crashes and frozen screens when you are working with large, complex files.
Mercury Performance System, which makes interaction more responsive. Now you can keep the flow going when you use Illustrator and experiment in new ways. You can move between tools, panels, options, and layers smoothly. The Bristle Brush has been optimized for speed and efficiency. You can now create complex designs easier than ever before because of the Mercury Performance System. This is nothing you have to learn to use. It is just a part of Illustrator that makes the user experience easier and better than ever before.
Gaussian Blur and effects is now faster than before. In addition, interaction with the tools has been improved. You can now set a blur radius by simply using a slider and then preview the blur instantly on the artboard instead of having to open another dialogue box.
Trace. Now you can convert raster images to vectors with a new tracing engine. Illustrator automatically senses the right preset to use. Moreover, you have more control with an image Trace Panel with all options for trace in one place. You are going to get cleaner lines and better results because of this improvement.
New Pattern Options panel. Illustrator now allows you to experiment with different types of repeating tiles and pattern shapes that you can also edit. You can also instantly preview your work.
Gradients. Apply gradients to strokes either along the length of the stroke, the width, or within the stroke. You have control over placement and opacity.
New Make Mask and Release button. You can work with opacity masks easily now with this button.

If you have used previous versions of Illustrator before, you will find to be the most intuitive and easiest to use yet!

Navigating Illustrator

The first step in learning how to use Illustrator is learning how to navigate through it. When you open Illustrator, you will see this window.

You can take a minute to look at all the options that you have with Illustrator. Go ahead, click on menus and toolbars and get a feel for what you can do with Illustrator. These are all the things that you are going to learn, very shortly.

Opening a New Document

When you want to start a project or create something in Illustrator, the first thing you have to do is open a new document.

To do this, go to the Menu Bar at the top of the window, as pictured below:

Click on File and select New from the dropdown menu.

This dialogue box will appear:

First, select a name for your new document and type it into the Name field.

Now, select a profile. You can select for print, web, devices, video and film, basic RGB, or flash builder. You will select the profile by the purpose for this new document. We can also browse other profiles. Selecting a profile is very important because you can also select your settings for the document. As you can see above, the profile is set to Print (by default). For print, we can select the size and bleed. The bleed is the part that is on the sides of your documents where you do not put graphics or text for fear that the paper will shift during printing and those graphics or text will be cut off during trimming.

Now, if we choose Video and Film as our profile, Illustrator will allow you to input settings for that as well, as shown below:

Next, no matter what profile you are using, you will be asked to input the number of artboards. An artboard is an onscreen design surface. It is where your printable art is located. Let us say that we want two artboards. You can have up to 100 artboards per document.

Now we have to select how we want to arrange the artboards.

The first button on the left is Grid by Row. This arranges the artboards in the specified number of rows. Enter the number of rows in the Row box.

If you want to grid by column, click the Grid by Column button. You can just run your mouse over the buttons to see their names. Select the number of columns you want in the Columns field.

Click Arrange by Row to have all artboards in a single row.

Click Arrange by Column to have them in a single column.

You can change right-to-left layout to change and arrange the artboards from left to right or right to left. By default, the artboards are left to right.

Now, you can select the spacing between artboards. This is for horizontal and vertical spacing.

Click OK to create your new document.

As you can see above, both artboards show on the screen. These artboards make up your new document. As you create these artboards, you can create them independently. For example, one could be a brochure and the other a poster. Alternatively, they can overlap. You will also be able to print them at the same time, or just print one. Illustrator gives you all the choices.

The Toolbox

The Illustrator toolbox is located on the left side of the screen.

Each individual button represents a tool. The buttons are grouped together by the type of tool.

These are your selection tools:

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Adobe Illustrator course?

You also have drawing tools, type tools (text), painting, reshaping, symbol, graph, slicing and cutting, and moving and zooming tools. You will learn how to use all of these.

The Control Panel

Whenever you use a tool from the toolbox, you will see the Control Panel appear below the Menu Bar. Below is the Artboard tool options shown in the Control Panel.

As you can see, the Control Panel is right below the Menu Bar. You can use panels, as well as the Control Panel, to complete tasks with Illustrator. We will talk more about panels in just a moment.

The Application Bar

We already showed you the menu bar at the top of the Illustrator window. This is where you will find all your menus. You can click on File, Edit, Object, Type, Select, Effect, View, Window, or Help and a dropdown menu will appear giving you options all relating to the menu name. For example, all the options in File have to do with your documents, such as opening, creating, saving, printing, and so forth. Edit gives you editing options. Moreover, we will learn more as we progress.

The Menu Bar is located within the Application Bar:

The Application Bar also contains a workspace switcher and other application controls.


Panels appear on the right side of your screen.

Above, you can see the Color panel.

Click on a button on the right, and the panel opens to the left. Below is the Brushes panel:

Customizing the Workspace

Illustrator allows you to create a custom workspace. You can move document windows and panels. In addition, you can save workspaces then switch between them.

Moved and Rearrange Document Windows

Let us start with learning to rearrange, dock, and float document windows.

If you have more than one file open, the document windows appear as tabs.

You can see all of your open documents in the snapshot below:

You can drag a tabbed document window from one location to another. Let us say that you want the document Untitled 1 to appear AFTER Untitled 2. Just click and drag on Untitled 1 by holding your left mouse button down.

It is then moved.

If you want to undock (float or untab) a document window from a group of windows, all you have to do is drag the window's tab out of the group, as shown below.

In the snapshot below, we are dragging Untitled 2 out of the tabs by clicking on the tab, holding the left mouse button down, and moving the document window.

When we let go of the mouse, the document window is out of the tabs and floating on our screen:

You can also group different document windows together. In the example above, we pulled Untitled 2 out of the tabs and undocked it. Now, let us say that we want to undock Untitled 6, but we want to group Untitled 1 with it.

Here is how we do it.

First, undock Untitled 6. Now, drag Untitled 1 to Untitled 6. You will see a blue frame appear below the document name in Untitled 6 and around the document area of the window.

This is where you place Untitled 1. This is called a drop zone. Let go of your mouse button.

As you can see below, these document windows are now grouped together:

Dock and Undock Panels

Remember, panels are on the right side of the Illustrator window. Panels are docked by default, or attached to the side of the Illustrator window. You can undock a panel to move it around your screen and place it where you want it to appear.

To undock a panel:

Simply click and hold down the left mouse button at the top of the panel, and drag it to where you want it to go.

Let go of your mouse button when you are finished.

To dock a panel:

Drag it by its tab and place it above, below, or between other panels. Using the example above, click on the Color tab and drag and drop it to the other panels on the right. We have dropped them at the bottom of the panel list.

Setting Preferences

You can set preference options to tell Illustrator how you want it to work. You can set preferences for display, ruler units, tools, and exporting information. Illustrator saves your preferences in a file that is launched every time you start Illustrator. The file is called AIPrefs in Windows and Prefs in MacOS.

To open the preference dialogue box, go to Edit on the Menu Bar, then Preferences, then select the Preference name.

Now you can set your preferences.

Keyboard Shortcuts

To set keyboard shortcuts, go to the Edit menu and select Keyboard Shortcuts.

Shown are the default keyboard shortcuts for different tools and menu commands (to reach the shortcuts for menu commands, click the dropdown arrow beside Tools.

Using Rulers, Guides, and Grids


Rulers help you place and measure objects in a window or an artboard. Where 0 appears is called the ruler origin.

That said, you have two different types of rulers in Illustrator. Global rulers appear at the top and left sides of the Illustrator window. The default ruler origin is at the top left corner.

Artboard rulers appear at the top and left sides of an active artboard.

If you want to show or hide rulers, go to View on the Menu Bar.

Click Show Rulers to show the rulers. If you are viewing global rulers, you can change to Artboard and vice versa. Once rulers are shown, the Show Rulers option will change to Hide Rulers.


Guides help you to align graphics and text. Guides do not print. There are two guide styles: dots and lines.

To show or hide guides, go to View>Guides.

To create guides, first make sure the rulers are showing. Now, put your mouse pointer on the left ruler for a vertical guide or the top ruler for a horizontal guide.

Drag the guide to where you want it.

We will show you how to do this below in snapshots. This will also help you see what a guide is.

We are going to create a vertical guide, so we click the left side ruler. Click inside the ruler, and then drag your mouse to create the guide.

Here is an enlarged snapshot of part of our ruler. You can see where we clicked (and held down the mouse button inside the ruler.

Now, holding your mouse button in, drag over your document and drop the guide where you want it.

Smart Guides are temporary guides that will appear when you create objects on artboards. Smart Guides are turned on by default. You can use them to align, edit, or transform objects or even artboards as they are relative to other objects or artboards. To turn them off, go to View>Guides>Smart Guides and click to uncheck.


A grid appears behind artwork. It does not print.

To see the grid, go to View>Show Grid.

To hide a grid, go to View>Hide Grid.

You can snap objects to the grid by going to View>Snap to Grid. Simply select the object, and then drag it to its location. When the edges of the object get within 2 pixels of a gridline, it snaps in.