Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Creative Suite

Creative Drawing in Adobe Illustrator CS4

Mordy Golding discusses the use of color, composition, texture, and feel, including how to use the Live Paint feature in Illustrator CS4.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In the previous chapter, we discussed technical drawing. On the other side of the spectrum is creative drawing, where the focus is on the appearance of the path. In creative drawing, you couldn't care less about anchor points and control handles. The importance here is color, composition, texture, and feel.

Unfortunately, many people get caught up in the technical drawing aspect of Adobe Illustrator CS4. After experiencing frustration in the attempt to grasp the concept of the underlying vector graphics structure, they never realize there's an entirely different side of Illustrator—a side that not only can be fun to use but that can also be rather addictive.

A huge part of drawing creatively in Illustrator is the Live Paint feature that was introduced in Illustrator CS2. Live Paint not only "breaks the rules" of vector graphics, but it adds an entire new dimension to drawing and editing in Illustrator, so much so that traditional technical folks may want to pay close attention to this chapter—there's something here for everyone.

The artwork featured throughout this chapter comes from Cheryl Graham (iStockPhoto; username: freetransform).

Drawing with Live Paint

Although you can appreciate the power and precision that vector graphics have to offer, you can also appreciate how easy it is to use pixel-based paint programs such as Adobe Photoshop CS4 or Corel Painter to easily apply color to artwork. In a paint program, you can perform flood fills, in which you choose a color and use a paint bucket–like tool to fill areas of the illustration with color. When working with vectors, you know that you have to create distinct paths and shapes in order to apply a fill to add color. In other words, you can't just apply a fill to any arbitrary area on your artboard; rather, you need to select a distinct object to which to apply the fill. This need to create distinct objects can make drawing in Illustrator seem nonintuitive or time-consuming at best.

Live Paint introduces a new concept of working with vector paths, where you can colorize vectors and edit them without having to follow the traditional vector rules we've been covering up to this point. This feature makes it a lot easier to draw (and edit) in Illustrator. Let's take a closer look.

Using Live Paint to Color Paths

First let's draw something using Live Paint so you can get a feel for what the feature is all about. Then we'll discuss how the feature works, and at that point, you'll better understand how to use it in a meaningful way. The art itself may not be that exciting to look at, but the concepts you learn will be priceless.

  1. Using the Line Segment tool, draw two parallel vertical lines and two parallel horizontal lines to create a rough outline of a rectangle. It doesn't matter if the lines or spacing aren't perfect; for this exercise, you just want to make sure the lines cross each other (Figure 4.1).
    Figure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 Using the Line Segment tool, you can create a simple tic-tac-toe graphic.

  2. Select the four lines, and select the Live Paint Bucket tool. As you move your pointer over the four paths, the paths become highlighted (Figure 4.2).
    Figure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 If you have the Live Paint Bucket tool selected, Illustrator shows a tool tip to create a Live Paint group when your pointer passes over a valid selection.

  3. Click once to create a Live Paint group.
  4. Pick a fill color (a solid color, gradient, or pattern) from the Control or Swatches panel, and move your pointer over the center area of the four paths.

    The enclosed area in the middle becomes highlighted in red, which indicates an area that you can fill with color (Figure 4.3).

    Figure 4.3

    Figure 4.3 Illustrator's Live Paint Bucket tool highlights areas that can be filled as your pointer moves over them, even if the Live Paint groups aren't selected.

  5. Click once with the Live Paint Bucket tool to fill the highlighted area (Figure 4.4).

    Figure 4.4

    Figure 4.4 With one click of the Live Paint Bucket tool, you can fill areas that appear to be enclosed, even though there isn't an actual vector object there.

    The resulting behavior is very "Photoshopesque"—you've filled an area that looks like it is enclosed on all sides, but you didn't apply a fill to an actual object.

  6. Select the Direct Selection tool, select one of the anchor points on one of the paths, and move it just a bit.

    Notice that the color in the area updates to fill the center (Figure 4.5). If you move one of the paths far enough so that it no longer touches the other paths, you'll find that the fill color disappears, because there is no longer an enclosed area to fill (Figure 4.6).

    Figure 4.5

    Figure 4.5 The fill areas in a Live Paint group update automatically when you're moving the paths with the Direct Selection tool.

    Figure 4.6

    Figure 4.6 When editing the paths in a Live Paint group, creating an opened area results in the loss of the fill.

Understanding Live Paint groups

Let's take a moment to understand how Live Paint works. When you select several overlapping paths or shapes and click them with the Live Paint Bucket tool, you are creating a Live Paint group. This is a special kind of group in which the object stacking order is thrown out the window. All objects in a Live Paint group are seemingly combined onto a single flat world, and any enclosed area acts as a closed shape, which can be filled with color.

Although clicking several selected paths with the Live Paint Bucket tool (K) is the easiest way to create a Live Paint group, you can also select several paths and choose Object > Live Paint > Make (or press Command-Option-X [Ctrl-Alt-X]) to create a Live Paint group. Once you've created a Live Paint group, however, you may find that you want to add paths or shapes to the group. To do so, draw the new paths, and use the Selection tool to select the existing Live Paint group and the new paths. Then choose Object > Live Paint > Add Paths. The new paths will become part of the group, and any intersecting areas will act as individual areas that you can fill with color.

Live Paint groups can also use the isolation mode feature that enables you to draw objects directly in existing groups. Using the Selection tool, double-click an existing Live Paint group to enter isolation mode, indicated by a gray bar that appears across the top of the document window. Now switch to any shape or path tool to add paths directly to the Live Paint group (Figure 4.7). This ability to add paths directly to a Live Paint group is extremely powerful because it allows you to define regions for color in just a few quick steps. Using Pathfinder filters to create multiple overlapping shapes is no longer required for such tasks. Exit isolation mode by pressing the Escape key.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 In group isolation mode, you can draw new paths in an existing Live Paint group to instantly create additional regions that can be filled with color.

It's important to understand that the geometry of the paths themselves define the paintable regions. So if you wanted, you could set the stroke attributes for the additional paths to none (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Even though the strokes aren't visible, they still allow you to fill the areas they define.

In the Tools panel, double-click the Live Paint Bucket tool to change its behavior. By default, the Live Paint Bucket tool affects only the fill of a path, but you can also set the tool to apply color to strokes as well (Figure 4.9). The Pointer Watch Preview option refers to the three boxes that float above the Live Paint Bucket tool pointer (Figure 4.10). These boxes represent swatches that appear in the Swatches panel, and when the Live Paint Bucket tool is active, you can press the arrow keys on your keyboard to select a color swatch. This allows you to choose colors and quickly fill areas without having to return to the Swatches panel. Additionally, you can specify the color that the Live Paint tool uses to highlight closed regions.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 You can set the Live Paint Bucket tool to apply color to strokes in a Live Paint group as well.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 The three colors that appear above the Live Paint Bucket tool represent the selected color in the Swatches panel and each swatch immediately to the left and right of that swatch.

Dealing with Gaps in Your Artwork

Until now, all the regions you were filling with color were completely closed. But what happens if your paths don't exactly meet each other? That's where the Gap Detection feature can really make a difference. You need to choose Object > Live Paint > Gap Options to control the settings for this feature (Figure 4.11). If you don't have any Live Paint groups selected when you choose this option, the settings you pick become the default settings for all new Live Paint groups. You can specify different gap options for each selected Live Paint group in a document as well.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 The Gap Options dialog box makes it possible to fill areas in a Live Paint group even if they aren't completely enclosed.

With Gap Detection turned on, you can specify that paint will fill areas containing small, medium, or large gaps (Figure 4.12). Additionally, you can specify an exact amount for how big a gap can be before Live Paint considers it an open area instead of a closed one. Illustrator previews gaps in the selected color, and you can also have Illustrator fill any gaps in an object with physical paths (Illustrator always uses straight paths to do so).

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 Even though the paths don't actually enclose the areas completely, you can still fill the areas with the Gap Detection feature.

Releasing and Expanding Live Paint Groups

Live Paint groups can be expanded, at which time they behave like ordinary vector paths. The appearance of an expanded Live Paint group remains identical to the original, but it is split into multiple objects for both fills and strokes. This is similar in concept to expanding live effects. To expand a selected Live Paint group, either click the Expand button in the Control panel or choose Object > Live Paint > Expand.

From a production standpoint, you don't need to expand Live Paint groups in order to prepare a file for print. Live Paint groups print perfectly, because Illustrator performs the necessary expansion of paths at print time (similar to live effects).

Additionally, you can choose Object > Live Paint > Release to return a Live Paint group to the original paths used to create it. Whereas expanding a Live Paint group results in objects being broken up in order to preserve appearance, releasing such a group preserves the geometry of the original paths, but the appearance or colors are lost.

Merging Live Paint Groups

If you have several separate Live Paint groups, you may want to combine them to edit them as one entire group. You can do so easily by selecting the different groups and clicking Merge Live Paint in the Control panel. Alternatively, you can choose Object > Live Paint > Merge. Just note that for Live Paint groups that consist of many complex paths, the Gap Detection feature impedes performance. You may experience better performance by splitting very large Live Paint groups into several smaller ones or by turning off Gap Detection.

Using Live Paint to Edit Paths

Live Paint allows you to apply attributes—such as fills and strokes—to paths based on their appearance as opposed to their actual makeup. It would be even nicer if you could actually edit your paths based on appearance as well, don't you think? Adobe was apparently reading your mind and added another tool to the mix—the Live Paint Selection tool (Shift-L)—that enables you to select portions of objects based on their appearance (Figure 4.13).

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 With the Live Paint Selection tool you can make selections based on the appearance of artwork, not the underlying vector construction of it.

Let's work through an example:

  1. Use the Line Segment tool to draw two perpendicular lines, creating an x.
  2. Select both paths, and press Command-Option-X (Ctrl-Alt-X) or choose Object > Live Paint > Make to convert the two paths into a Live Paint group.
  3. Select the Live Paint Selection tool, and click one of paths.

    You'll notice that you can select each segment of the line individually. What were two paths before are now four line segments (Figure 4.14).

    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14 Using the Live Paint Selection tool, you can select visual segments of a path.

  4. With one segment selected, press the Delete key to remove that segment from the path.
  5. Select another segment, and change its stroke (Figure 4.15).
    Figure 4.15

    Figure 4.15 In a Live Paint group, you can easily apply different strokes to the segments of a path.

The Live Paint Selection tool can also select Live Paint areas (fills). If you have two overlapping shapes in a Live Paint group, you can select the overlap and delete it (Figure 4.16). You can also double-click to select continuous areas of similar attributes and triple-click to select similar attributes across the entire Live Paint group.

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 The Live Paint Selection tool enables you to select any area of a Live Paint group.

At the end of the day, Live Paint adds a more flexible way to color and edit paths, and it also adds more value to the Pencil tool, because complete closed paths aren't required. The important point to remember is that a Live Paint group is a group, and anything you can do with a group in Illustrator you can do with Live Paint groups as well. For example, you can add attributes such as strokes to the Live Paint group for interesting effects. Experimenting with the Live Paint feature certainly helps you when you're editing paths, and the good news is that it's a fun feature to use.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020