Illustrator Tips & Tricks: Improving Your Workflow

April 4, 2017



Sure you know how to do some basic designs in Illustrator. You can find your way around the palette just fine, although you have never even touched some of the tools shown. Sound like you? While this is a good start, streamlining your workflow in Illustrator helps you to be a more efficient and productive artist or designer. You should ALWAYS have your left hand on your computer keyboard when working in Illustrator (or any of the Adobe Suite programs, for that matter). 


Here I've compiled a list of tips and tools to help you improve your workflow. The tools I focus on in this post include the Offset Path tool, the Pathfinder tools, and Image Trace. I've also included a short list of Illustrator shortcuts at the bottom. If you are interested in pushing your skills further, take some time to find other tutorials online as well; this is probably the best way to learn how to use these programs! Good luck :)



The Offset Path Tool


This is one of my favorite tools. Use the offset path tool when you want to create outlines or to create an inset path in objects and text. You can find the offset path tool under the "object" menu. With an object or text selected, click Object>Path>Offset Path.



Make sure the box next to "Preview" is checked and type an amount into the "Offset" box. I like to use mm when creating offset paths, since it is a small unit of measurement, but you can put in whatever you want. 



Then change the stroke color of the new path and increase the stroke weight some if you want. This handy tool lets you create cool text effects and even outlines - use the offset path tool instead of making a new shape in order to get an exact transformation!



You can also follow the same process to alter text. (Negative numbers create a path inside the object, positive numbers create a path outside the object.) Before you use the offset path tool on text, make sure you convert the text to outlines by right clicking on the text and selecting "Create Outlines."






The Pathfinder Tool


Another extremely useful tool to understand is the Pathfinder Tool. There are a lot of options with the Pathfinder. Below are all the tools on the palette. If you can't find the Pathfinder palette go to Window>Pathfinder. You can then attach the palette to the sidebar to keep it on-hand. 


The tools I use most are Unite, Minus Front, and Exclude, so I will focus on these tools although it is good to learn about the other ones and know how they work as well. 


The Unite tool is helpful for combining objects. If you are creating a shape using several different objects, then you will want to use this tool to create one solid object when you are finished.


The Minus Front tool is great for creating cutouts. You can use it with text (after creating outlines) or with objects. Simply layer the objects you wish to use with the object for the cutout on top, select both objects, and then click the Minus Front button. 


Exclude is a great tool to create certain overlay effects. If you have several objects overlapping each other, you can select all the objects and click Intersect. However, doing so will create one large object.











Image Trace


The Image Trace tool is a useful tool for creating vectors from raster images (JPEGS, PNGs, etc.). It's also very easy to use. Drop your image into your Illustrator file and with the image selected, click the dropdown arrow next to "Image Trace" and select Black and White Logo. You can use any of the options but for our purposes right now, we'll stick with Black and White Logo to keep it simple. I encourage you to try the other ones as well! 



Next you want to click Expand to turn the tracing result into a vector object. 



And voilà! You now have a vector object from the image you originally imported. You can change the colors, make adjustments with the direct selection tool or with the pen tool. Basically, you can change it any way you would be able to change any other vector. 




Illustrator Shortcuts


Here's a short list of Illustrator shortcuts. This list is by no means comprehensive but it's a good starting point to help get you started. (CMD = Command for Macs. The equivalent is Control on PCs)


CMD+C = Copy

CMD+V = Paste

CMD+G = Group

CMD+Shift+G = Ungroup

CMD+2 = Lock Selected Object(s)

CMD+ALT+2 = Unlock Selected Object(s)

Shift+O = Artboard Tool

V = Select Tool

A = Direct Selection Tool

T = Text Tool

P = Pen Tool

B = Brush Tool

M = Rectangle Tool

L = Ellipse Tool

\ = Line Tool

R = Rotate Tool

I = Eyedropper Tool

ALT+Click+Drag = Duplicate Selection

CMD+D = Duplicate Previous Action



I hope this post was helpful! Send me a message or post in the comments if you have other questions or have another idea for a tutorial that you would like to see!


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