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Illustrator Essentials

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Designers starting out know Adobe Illustrator as "that program for designing logos," but it's capable of so much more: ads, illustrations, page layouts, and Web graphics, to name just a few applications. It's the industry-standard application for vector graphics.

You don't even have to be a virtuoso at drawing to create good Illustrator art. It helps, of course. But many designers who are not skilled illustrators are able to harness the program's drawing, selection, color, and effects tools to create powerful and detailed artwork.

If you're new to Illustrator (or just rusty), this chapter will get you well on your way toward understanding the fundamentals of using Illustrator to create vector graphics. Test your skills at the end of the chapter on an advertising design project.

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Figure 3.1 Ready to let your imagination fly? Vector art created in Illustrator by designer John Schwegel.

In this chapter you will:

  • Learn about the role of vector graphics in design.
  • Learn to use Illustrator's drawing tools to create vector shapes.
  • Learn to select and arrange objects on the Illustrator Artboard.
  • Learn to apply colored fills and strokes to objects.
  • Learn to modify vector objects using transformations and distortions.
  • Learn how to use basic and specialized typography tools.
  • Learn to apply transparency, filters, and effects to add complexity to objects.
  • Design an outdoor advertisement using only vector art.

Illustrator and Graphic Design

Adobe Illustrator started as a simple drawing program intended to automate technical drawing tasks. Today? Illustrator has come a long way, baby. Its raison d'être is still illustration, the creation of line art. But along the way, its developers have added in a host of features that make it sophisticated and flexible enough for a range of applications.

Mastering Illustrator certainly isn't easy. The program's tough learning curve—compared with that of its ubiquitous pal Photoshop—is daunting to many who are most comfortable with the latter's painting metaphor. But for any serious graphic designer, Illustrator cannot be ignored.

Digital illustration is called for when a designer is looking for digital art with the special quality that only drawn art can impart. To produce an annual report, for example, an art director might commission an illustrator to create a set of icons and illustrations that run throughout the document, identifying chapters and reflecting its major themes.

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Figure 3.2 Editorial illustrations such as these, by designer Heidi Schmidt, add grace to print layouts.

Professional-looking stock photography and clip-art graphics are so widespread these days that unique illustrations can really enhance the perceived quality of a project. Whether it's sketched in Illustrator or by hand, any piece of pictorial art is immediately grasped by the viewer as a symbolic representation—an imaginative rendering of a person, organization, or concept. People respond to such images differently than they do to photographs.

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Figure 3.3 Ready to make your mark? Logo design is a core application for Illustrator.

From a design standpoint, one reason more people are learning Illustrator is that it offers tremendous flexibility in the creative process. With skill and good visualization, the basic building blocks of an illustration (such as lines, fills, colors, and gradients) can be easy to deploy and duplicate. Illustrations can be combined with the precise typography required for visual-identity design and print publication. And the results can be modified using a variety of popular effects such as distortion, transparency, and three-dimensional perspective.

Developing skill in Illustrator can open up many avenues in the design field. The program provides the crisp accuracy in the placement and proportion of lines and letters that's so essential in visual identity and packaging design. The ability to resize a vector-based graphic with no quality loss is invaluable; blow it up to billboard size and you'll still see a perfect result. Illustrator's precise typographical tools lend themselves to basic page layout projects such as promotions, magazine ads, and posters. Even Web graphics and pages can be initially designed in Illustrator before conversion to bitmapped format.

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Figure 3.4 Futuristic, three-dimensional, and designed entirely in Illustrator.

At the professional level, the lines between photography and illustration in design are beginning to blur. Truly proficient Illustrator artists are creating art that looks just like photographic imagery by the skillful use of drawing tools, paths, shapes, and effects. Real or unreal? These images intrigue the eye, pulling us in. And they inspire people to learn Illustrator.

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Figure 3.5 Designer Brooke Nuñez is renowned for her photo-realistic images. This rose uses complex gradient meshes in Illustrator.

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