10 Secret Adobe Illustrator Tips

pssst... a video version of this blog post is coming... read this in the meantime but keep an eye out on my YouTube channel ;)

So, Adobe apps have been around for quite a while now, and naturally, they hide a ton of features for both old and new users to discover. When working with Illustrator, you might be used to your own tools and workflow, but since Adobe apps are jungle of drop down menus and panels, you might not know every secret it has to offer. So in this blog post, I’m gonna show you 10 secret tips, in order to make your Illustrator journey, a little more enjoyable.

1. Outline Mode (Wireframe)

Have you ever lost an object on your artboard because it was the same color as your background, because it had no fill, or because it was behind another object this whole time?

Well, Never lose them again with this tip! By pressing CTRL or CMD + Y or Selecting “View”, then ”Outline”, you can see every path and anchor point in a wireframe kind of look.

Use this view to find hidden shapes, find stray anchor points and check on if your shapes really are touching or not!

2. Mastering Guides

Guides are a super useful tool for all sorts of design work, so if you’re not using them, you’re doing yourself a disservice. They’re easy to use and are a huge help to align things together in Illustrator. Here’s how to use them!

Start by activating rulers with CTRL or CMD + R, then click and drag from the rulers to your artboard the guides to position them where you want them to be. You can also rotate guides with the Rotate Tool. That’s already super useful, but there is a lot more ways to use them! For example:

2.1 You can cut guides to any length you want! Simply select the scissors tool with C and click on where you would like your guide to be cut, then select the piece of the guide you would like to remove, then simply delete it! Easy! Now you can control the length of your guides!

2.2 But that’s not all! Have you ever wanted a guide of a specific shape? You can easily create one! Simply select the shape you would like to turn into a guide, then press CTRL or CMD + 5 and there you go! Your unusual shape is now a guide! And if you accidentally turned the wrong shape into a guide or want to turn it back into a visible one, simply select the guide, right click and select “Release Guide” and your guides are now turned back into shapes! They also keep their appearance so don’t worry about losing that nice gradient you had on there, it will still be there once you bring them back, though maybe create a backup somewhere safe, you never know with Adobe!

2.3 As for the guides that are on your artboard, if you want to quickly hide them to check out your design, simply use CTRL or CMD + ; or go to View > Guides > Hide Guides to toggle them on and off! You can also quickly lock and unlock them with the similar CTRL or CMD + ALT + ; shortcut or by going to View > Guides > Lock/Unlock Guides, this is also where you can clear all of the guides in your project if you’re feeling like removing them all!

And that’s it! With these handy guide tips you have all the knowledge you need to use them like a pro!

3. Easy select for overlapping objects.

Have you ever wished there was an easy way to select shapes that are behind other ones? Then you’re in luck because there’s a super easy way to do so!

Simply hold CTRL or CMD while clicking and with each click Illustrator will cycle between the layers until you finally select your desired shape!

4. Key Object Alignment

Are you still aligning groups of shapes together by aligning them to artboard or to your selection? If you do then you know how annoying it is to deal with your objects moving around each time you align them to one another, but thankfully there is a better way to align shapes together!

Simply select all the objects you want to align, and then click again on the object you would like the other shapes to be aligned to. Now, the object that you just clicked should have a bigger outline than the rest of the other shapes, that means that it is now a Key Object! If you look at your Align Panel, you should now see the setting for the alignment set to “Align to Key Object”, what this means is that any alignment you make with the panel now gets done to the Key Object, as opposed to the selection or artboard.

And that’s it! Now you can easily Align shapes to one another without messing up your design!

5. Corners Types

You might know that you can round corners of a path by using the little circles that appear near the anchor points of your shapes, but did you know there were 2 other corner types? There are Round, Inverted Round and Chamfer corners! Simply press the Up or Down arrow while holding one of the handles or by ALT clicking on the corner radius handles and that will let you cycle through the available corner types! Crazy right? Now you can quickly make stars and other funky looking shapes! And you aren’t only limited to one corner type per shape, you can mix and match as you please! So go nuts! Have fun with your corners!

6. Copy Colors to Stroke

Have you ever tried to change a path’s color by using the Eyedropper tool only for your path to lose all it’s proprieties in favor of the fill and the stroke appearance of the shape you Eyedropped? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us and even I thought I was damned to copy HEX values for eternity, until I discovered this amazing shortcut: while eyedropping, simply hold Shift before clicking and bam! Easy color selection without the hassle of losing your stroke settings! Amazing!

7. Global Color

Have you ever had to change your whole project’s color palette by hand? Well I’m here to let you know that you never have to go through this process again! While creating your project, create a palette by inserting the colors you will use into the Swatches panel.

You can do this in a fast way by creating a bunch of squares with all the colors you’re going to use, then by clicking the “New Color Group” button in the swatches panel, in the pop up, make sure to check “Convert Process to Global”, this will create a Palette in the Swatches panel that you can then use while coloring your artwork. Make sure your colors have a white triangle in the bottom right, that means that they are global. If not, simply double click on the colors and check the Global Checkbox in the popup window.

What this does is make it so every object that uses this color swatch uses a reference to it, meaning that if you change the color of the swatch, every object in your file that uses this swatch as a color, will change with it!

This is super useful to recolor artworks in a quick and easy way, and you can even double click on the Swatch Group to open the Edit Colors pop up that lets you play with a bunch of neat ways to recolor your palette.

8. Preserving curves while simplifying shape

Sometimes complex shapes can be made of a ton of anchor points, and you might want to remove unnecessary points that might be cluttering it up. You might know about using the simplify tool but it often leads to messy and wobbly looking shapes, making the final output literally unusable. But fear not as there is another way! Simply grab your “Delete Anchor Point” tool with the MINUS key and all you have to do is hold Shift while clicking on the anchor points you want to remove and there you go! Illustrator will keep the curvature of your shape while removing unneeded anchor points, how incredible is that?!

9. Compound Paths

Compound paths is one of those things that you’ve probably seen on a layer name somewhere but didn’t really know what it meant, basically what it is is a quick way to merge multiple objects to act as one, good examples of this are the letters A and O, when you create outlines for these letters, the inside holes in the letters are separate paths, and everything that intersects, is excluded from the shape, creating holes.

Now compound paths can be used for singular objects like the A and O letters but they can also be used to group multiple objects together. Let’s say you have multiple objects in which you would like to have a gradient passing through, a simple group wouldn’t work since the gradient would be applied to each object individually, this is where Compound Paths come in. Simply select all the objects you want to be grouped together, and make them into a Compound shape by using the shortcut CTRL or CMD + 8 or by right clicking and selecting “Make Compound Path”. Now all your objects should act as one, simply add whichever gradient you would like for your shapes to use and there you go! A gradient spanning multiple objects!

Also keep in mind that you can still double click to get into the compound path to move objects around and edit their anchor points! You can also release the path to split it’s content back into separate objects by using the shortcut Alt + Shift + CTRL or CMD + 8

You can also use the pathfinder tool in a non descructible way by ALT clicking on the pathfinder options, creating compound paths instead of altering the paths themselves.

Another useful way to use compound paths is to use them as clipping masks! Let’s say you have a grid of objects and you want to see a picture through all of them, but don’t want to create a separate clipping mask for each object, duplicating what you want masked over and over… Simply create a Compound Path of everything you want to use as a mask, and create a clipping mask with both the compound path and the visual you want to be clipped and there you go, you can now create clipping masks across multiple objects!

10. Multiple Strokes with the Appearance panel

This last tip is one that I doubt many people will know, since I don’t see people using this panel often, but you can actually have as many strokes and fills as you would like on an object! All you have to do is navigate to the Appearance window, and click “Add New Stroke” or the “Add New Fill” buttons! Now simply play with the settings of each strokes and fills to suit your needs! The fills and strokes are visibly ordered kind of like a layer’s would, so a stroke at the top of the list of strokes will appear in front of the other strokes, and same goes for the fills.

Knowing these kinds of tips can make the difference between a painless workflow and a tedious one, so I hope you could come out of this blog post with some new knowledge that’s going to supercharge your workflow. If you would like to suggest more tips for me to cover, or want to continue chatting about everything design with other passionate designers, join our discord community today! I’ll see you there, thanks for reading!

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