Monday, August 12, 2013

Beginning Illustrator Lesson 1 Shapes

Welcome to my very first tutorial on Adobe Illustrator.  I am not an expert.  I've actually taken an Adobe skills test several times on several job board websites and failed, well I got an average score(they were super hard). I am a Graphic Designer and an illustrator and I pretty much fell in love with Adobe Illustrator from the first time I used it.  I have about 8 years of experience with Illustrator and I've mostly taught myself everything I know.  I did take a couple digital illustration classes in college but that was it, the rest I learned through trial and error and online tutorials.

If you don't have Illustrator then you can get a free trial download here at the Adobe website. 

I also must confess that I'm working with CS4 which is a little out of date because they are now on CS6, but the basic vector graphic concepts should still be the same.  

If you are brand new to Illustrator and Vector Graphics or "Digital graphics" for the lay person, then welcome. 

(If you are not new then skip the next couple of paragraphs)

I'll give you a brief overview of what they are.  Vector graphics use a program that assigns plot points on a graph(that's unseen by you) to plot out lines.  It's all mathematical and very precise. What's wonderful about vector graphics is that they can be re sized and modified without loosing any quality. They do not get fuzzy or pixelated because they don't use pixels like Raster based programs like Photoshop. They use lines that are assigned by you and then are filled in with color to create a clear, clean image. Vector graphics (.ai) can only be read by Vector programs like Illustrator, but you can use a vector program to create a clear image and then save it as a .jpg, or .pdf to be used on the internet or in print. What's wonderful is that you can keep that vector file and re size it whenever you need to use it in any platform.  You can't do that with Raster images like photos.  

Have you ever noticed that when you try to enlarge or print an image you found on the internet it's usually fuzzy and pixelated.  That is because the image is created with little square dots or pixels of color (raster).  When a raster image is created the program used assigns a specified number of "dots per inch" or "dpi" to the image and then fills in the appropriate colors.  That's why the more dots per inch you have the clearer your image. This is also referred to as the resolution of a picture.  If you start out with a low resolution image like a small .jpg you found on the internet of a flower you can't enlarge it to a size larger than it's original size without it getting fuzzy.  Your printer cannot add dots or make the picture clearer and neither can Photoshop or any other photo editing software.  Whew, okay I'm not sure if that made any sense.  We might have to do a whole blog post on Raster vs. Vector to clear all that up.  Hopefully I didn't confuse you too much. 

So lets get started.

First open up Illustrator and create a "New" file.  There are several file types to choose from but today we'll focus on "print".  If  you select "print" from the drop down  menu it will load the print default settings which are CMYK color mode, and 8.5 x 11 inch in size. It is possible to manually set the height and width here but for today lets leave it at default. Also lets name our file Lesson 1.  

Yay.  Now you can see your artboard.  So what now.  Well lets get to know the work area a little bit.  I'm just going to go over the things that I use the most and are perfect for getting started. 

The Toolbar on the left is you friend.  It contains all the tools you will use to create, like the pen, the paint brush, the selection tools and shape tools. 

The Palette on the right has your styling tools.  All of the options you can use to modify or make adjustments like color, transparency or brush stroke.

The art board in the middle is just that your art board. It is your work area. 

So lets start with a basics shape.  
Any drawing in Illustrator can be broken down into shapes.  Some are more complicated than others but the best way to start out is with simple shapes. So lets see what we can do with a circle. 

Go to your tool bar on the left and hover over the shapes tool.  Notice that it has a tiny little arrow at the bottom right corner of the button.  That means there are several other tools attached to that button with a drop down menu.  To pull up the menu you have to left click on the button.  Then scroll down and select the Ellipse tool.  

Once Ellipse is selected you just right click and this little box will appear where you can enter the size of your circle.  If you want a 1x1 inch circle just type in 1in in the width and 1in in the height and voila you've got a one inch circle. So lets do that. Type in 1 inch for height and width and create your circle. 

This circle looks very plain so lets give it some color.  You can change the color by selecting the color buttons at the bottom of the tool bar or selecting the color button on the palette on the right side.  Either one will pull up the color palette. Let me talk for a minute about stroke and fill...

The fill is the inside of the shape and the stroke is the outline of your shape. These can both be adjusted in many different ways or removed completely. 

To change the color of an object you must make sure it's selected, by right clicking on the shape.  If you just created your circle it will probably already be selected. When the shape is selected it will be highlighted with a color outline. Then go to the color palette on the right to adjust your color by sliding the little color slider bars.  

One of the most important tools in your tool bar are the selection tools.  The Two little arrows at the top of the tool bar.  The black arrow on the left is the "selection tool" and will select an entire object.  It can be used to resize an shape or line but not manipulate it's appearance or shape.  The white arrow on the right is the "direct selection tool" and can be used to select an entire object or shape as well as parts of a shape.  It's also used to select anchor points and manipulate the shape of an object or line. 

I don't want the outline or stroke on my circle so lets remove it. 

Select the little stroke box and then click on the white box with the line through it.  This will delete any color or effects you have on the stroke, outlining your shape.  Next lets create an oval.  Just select the Elipse tool again and place an oval shape onto the art board. 

Then change the fill color to pink or purple or whatever you like. 

Then remove the black outline by clicking on the stroke button and then clicking on the strike through button below. 

Next lets create a copy of our oval.  To copy a shape just click on it with the selection tool and then "Ctrl+C" to copy and then "Ctrl+V" to paste.  This is a short cut that I use so often my "C" and "V" keys are worn off on my keyboard:)  If you prefer not to use the shortcut then you may select the shape and go to "Edit" and select copy on the drop down menu. 

Here is another shortcut that I love and use constantly.  Hold down the "shift" key and select the top and bottom oval.  Both ovals should be highlighted showing they are selected. Now copy and paste them with "Ctrl+C" and "Ctrl+V".

Once they are pasted to the art board lets rotate them.  If you right click on your screen you will see a small menu screen pop up.  Select "Transform" and then "Rotate".  Then you will see this little box asking you what angle you'd like to rotate to. 

Type in 90 if it's not already in the box and click on "OK". 

Then "BAM"  your ovals will rotate 90 degrees. It's like magic. 

Since we already copied the two ovals they are stored on your clipboard so all you have to do is "Ctrl+V" again to paste.  This time lets rotate them 45 degrees.  Right click and select "Transformation" again and "rotate" and type 45 in the "Angle" box. 

Then "BAM" they rotated 45 degrees.  If you guessed what we're making already don't tell.

Since these petals are already selected just copy and paste them and we'll use them to finish up. 

Rotate the copied petals 90 degrees this time and we are almost done. 

Our circle is buried under all of the ovals so lets bring it to the front. The best way to do that is select the "Layers" palette and you will see a menu open up with all of our shapes. 

The Layers palette is your best friend.  We will work with it more later but it is where you can move your shapes and organize them into groups and create multiple layers.  It's the bones of Illustrator. Today we are keeping it simple though so just select the circle at the bottom of all those shapes and drag it to the top.

Once it is at the top you will see the circle pop up on the screen in front of all the ovals or petals. Yes we're making a flower, but I'm sure you figured that out awhile ago. 

And we're done!!!  Make sure to save your work here, by going to "File" and "Save", because we will probably use this file again.  Always, always save your work, while you are working and when you are finished.  I have had several times where my computer locked up while I was in the middle of working on something and I hadn't saved it and everything was lost:(  It's just a really good habit to get into.  

I recommend playing around with this and adding more elements or changing the colors. It's a great way to get familiar with your work space.   

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  If you have any questions or suggestions I would love to hear them.  This is just the first in a series of tutorials so also please be patient more will follow. Thanks for stopping by. 



  1. you did a great job, super easy to understand and follow!

    1. Thanks so much. Thanks for checking it out too.

  2. You are so patient to offer these step-by-step tutorials!

    1. Thanks. After working with it for so long you just kind of do things on auto pilot and it's kind a challenge to try and walk through every step. I'm so worried that I'll miss something.


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