If you use Illustrator you should know the major tools, especially the mother of them all; the pen tool. I would say on any given project I use the pen tool 90% of the time and the other 10% is spent on the other tools. But if variety is the spice of life one cannot create the pen tool alone. I have hopefully compiled some tools and some tricks that maybe even die-hard Illustrator users don’t know about or use regularly.
1) The Smooth Tool: I hesitate to show beginners the smooth tool because I think you can rely too heavily on it but for people that are comfortable with the pen tool it’s a great help. No matter how much you have perfected the pen tool you are bound to have a bumpy line you can’t fix or some wonky anchor points that just won’t go away. The smooth tool simply does exactly what it says it smooths out your lines. Simply select your path and then draw over it with the smooth tool & Walla! TIP: Make sure you only use it sparingly along a path. Too many uses along the same path can ruin your initial line or shape. It can also add or delete anchor points with too many applications.
2) Width Tool: Most people who use Illustrator are familiar with brushes. I love creating characters with the calligraphy brush because it gives different widths to the lines and gives your illustration a more dynamic look. However, I didn’t like the lack of control it allowed me over the end result. Bring on the width tool! This may be my favorite new tool in Illustrator. The width tool is fairly new to the toolbox and most people have no idea it’s there. It kind of resembles a mustache and can give your illustrations amazing depth and a unique style. TIP: If you want to only pull from one side of the line (therefore creating a more subtle line) Hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac).
3) Scribble: This is one of those features that you never know when it will come in handy. I have used it several times for logos or in the backgrounds of some websites. Like with most things moderation with this is essential. To utilize Scribble you must create a shape and then go to Effect>Stylize>Scribble. You will get to choose from options such as Childlike, Snarl, Sketch or Zig-Zag. You can create some pretty interesting compositions and have full control over the amount, line options, spacing, and angles.
4) Color Guide: I love the Color Guide. It is a great time saver when you are looking for alternate shades and tints of a color. It also provides other color options to match your current color choice. Simply choose a color, make sure your color guide palette is open and start easily experimenting with different color options already created for you!
5) Swatches: Swatches might be one of the first things you learn in your Illustrator career. It is also a palette you probably have open all the time. But what you might not know is how many pre-made swatch libraries there are for you to choose from. Some that I use on a regular basis is food and skin tones Need to know the exact colors that make up a watermelon? You’re in luck. They have so many wonderful choices that simply take the guessing out of finding that exact color. TIP: Make sure if you find a collection you like that you click the color group icon (folder to the left of the group) to add it to your swatches for easy & time-saving use.
6) Grunge: Many illustrators are familiar with the symbols options. Symbols make it easy to recreate the same imagery over & over again very easily. I use the web symbols a lot in my work but recently I discovered a set of symbols I never noticed before. Because of the increase in creating designs or sites with a “grunge” look; these can be a huge help. Under symbols, you will find a Grime Vector Pack. These symbols are perfect for creating splatters, drips, paint splashes and irregular edges. TIP: Don’t forget to expand your symbols for even more creative control.
7) Copy: This might not seem like a hidden or an even a new revelation about Illustrator. But to those who don’t know of it, I guarantee it will quickly become one of your favorite and most used key commands. Instead of using Copy & Paste simply select the object you want to make a copy of, hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and then drag. Instant copy! How easy is that? (and yes that is a picture of a naked piece of bacon below)
8) Retro: Creating retro and vintage style graphics is a huge trend right now. One easy way to make your image appear to be vintage is to create a “weathered” overlay. There are tons that you can get around the internet but why search for them when one is hiding in your Illustrator. We are going back to the symbols palette and choose artistic textures. The one I think works best is the charcoal symbol. Simply drag it from the symbols palette, expand its appearance, change its color and then lay it over your images. TIP: Experiment with the transparency to intensify or soften this effect.
9) Dotted Line: Before I get into this one indulge me to rant a bit. Why doesn’t Illustrator have a dotted line option? Why in the name of all things holy? I mean InDesign has one, Fireworks has one, even Word has one (and that’s saying something)-so why doesn’t a design program have one? Ok, I’m done ranting. Just because Illustrator doesn’t have a dotted line feature doesn’t mean you can’t achieve this effect, you just have to MacGyver it a bit. Make sure your stroke palette is open. Draw a line and then choose the dashed line from the stroke panel. Set your dash to 0 and for the gap, you might have to experiment with some values based on your desired results. Lastly, choose the round cap option and you will have your dotted line.
10) Text Sampling: Again this is one of those tips that sounds simple but if you didn’t know it, can save you a bunch of time. Let’s say you have created a piece of text, and it’s the perfect size and font and you need four other headlines to have the same. Instead of manually adding the font size and the font name simply use the eyedropper to select the font and it will copy those attributes to your current text!
So what do you think? Did I forget something? Do you have a tip, trick or hidden gem in Illustrator? I’d love for you to share it.