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Get Familiar with Panels in Adobe Illustrator CS6

This chapter will help you become more intimately acquainted with the Illustrator interface features that you will be using continually as you work: the panels.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter will help you become more intimately acquainted with the Illustrator interface features that you will be using continually as you work: the panels. In the preceding chapter, you learned how to arrange them onscreen. Here you will see what the individual panels look like and be briefly introduced to their specific functions—from choosing color swatches (Swatches panel) to switching among artboards (Artboards panel) to editing layers (Layers panel). Note: In-depth instructions for using specific panels are amply provided throughout this book.

The Illustrator panels that are used in this book*

You can read through this chapter with or without glancing at or fiddling with the panels onscreen, and also use it as a reference guide as you work. Panel icons are shown on the next page. Following that, you’ll find instructions for using the Tools panel, a brief description of each tool, an introduction to the Control panel, then a description and illustration of all the other Illustrator panels that are used in this book (in alphabetical order). Note: To open a panel that isn’t already in a dock, choose the panel name from the Window menu.

Identifying the panel icons

Each panel in Illustrator has a unique icon.A If you keep the panels collapsed to conserve screen space, you can identify them by their icons. If you don’t recognize a panel icon, use the tool tip to identify it.


A When collapsed, each panel has a unique icon.

Using the Tools panel

In addition to the tools on the Tools panel, which are used for creating and editing objects, you will also find color controls, a menu or icons for choosing a drawing mode, and a menu for choosing a screen mode. If the panel is hidden, choose Window > Tools to display it. To convert the panel layout from single column to double column or vice versa, either click the double arrowhead at the top or double-click the top bar.

Click once on a visible tool to select it, or click and hold on a tool that has a tiny arrowhead to choose a related tool from a fly-out menu. You can cycle through tools on the same menu by Option/Alt clicking the visible tool.

To create a tearoff toolbar for a group of related tools, red_star.jpg press and hold on the arrowhead for a tool, then click the vertical tearoff bar on the right edge of the menu.A–B To dock tearoff toolbars together, drag one tearoff toolbar to the side of an existing one and release when the vertical drop zone line displays.C–D To make a tearoff toolbar vertical instead of horizontal, click the double-arrow E–F or double-click the top bar. To close a docked tearoff toolbar, drag it by its gripper bar out of its dock, then click its close button (x).


A A tearoff toolbar is being created.


B The floating tearoff toolbar was moved upward.


C A second tearoff toolbar is docked to an existing one.


D Now two tearoff toolbars are docked together.


E The double arrow on a tearoff toolbar is clicked, to switch its orientation ...


F ... to vertical.

To access a tool quickly, use the letter shortcut that is assigned to it. The shortcuts are listed in parentheses on the next two pages, and also in the tool tips onscreen.G (Note: If the tool tips aren’t displaying, go to Illustrator/Edit > Preferences > General and check Show Tool Tips.)


G The tool shortcut displays in a tool tip.

Some tools can also be accessed temporarily via a toggle key. For example, pressing Cmd/Ctrl turns the current tool into a temporary selection tool. You’ll learn many tool toggles as you proceed through this book.

To turn the tool pointer into a crosshairs icon for more precise positioning, go to Illustrator/Edit > Preferences > General and check Use Precise Cursors. Or if you prefer to keep that preference off, you can turn the pointer to a crosshairs icon temporarily by pressing the Caps Lock key.

You can choose options for the current tool from the Control panel (see page 42). Some tools, such as the Paintbrush and Pencil tools, have a related options dialog, which opens when you double-click the tool or when you click the tool and then press Return/Enter.

The Tools panel illustrated

The tearoff toolbars*


LIQUIFY TOOLS (apply distortion)


SYMBOLISM TOOLS (edit symbol instances)


The Control panel

The Control panel houses many frequently used controls conveniently under one roof, and changes contextually depending on what tool and kind of object are selected. Two of the many variations are shown below. For example, you can use this panel to apply fill and stroke colors; change an object’s variable width profile, brush stroke definition, or opacity; apply basic type attributes, such as the font family and point size; align and distribute multiple objects; access controls for editing symbols, Image Trace, and Live Paint objects; and embed or edit linked images.

When no objects are selected, you can use this panel to choose default fill, stroke, brush, style, and opacity settings for the current document and quickly access the Document Setup or Preferences dialog by clicking the button with that name.

To move the Control panel to the top or bottom, respectively, of the Application frame, choose Dock to Top or Dock to Bottom from the menu at the right end of the panel. Or if you prefer to make the panel free-floating, drag the gripper bar on the far left side. To control which options display on the panel, uncheck or check any of the items on the panel menu.

blue-arrow.jpg Options are in more consistent locations on the Control panel in Illustrator CS6 than they were in version CS5. red_star.jpg

Align panel align_panel_icon.jpg

The buttons on the top two rows of the Align panel align and/or distribute two or more objects along their centers or along their top, left, right, or bottom edges. Objects can be aligned to a selection, an artboard, or a key object (one of the selected objects). Buttons in the lower part of the panel redistribute (equalize) the spacing among three or more objects. See pages 105–106. This panel can also be used to align anchor points (see page 170). Align buttons also appear on the Control panel when two or more objects are selected.

Appearance panel appearpanelicon.jpg

The appearance attributes of an object consist of its fill and stroke color, Stroke panel settings, effects, and Transparency panel settings. The Appearance panel lists the specific appearance attributes and settings for whichever layer, group, or object is currently targeted on the Layers panel. You can use the panel to add extra fill or stroke attributes, edit or remove attributes, apply and edit effects, and edit individual attributes within an applied graphic style.

Using convenient in-panel features, you can edit attributes quickly. For example, you can click a link (blue underlined word) to open a dialog or a temporary panel: Click Stroke to open the Stroke panel, Opacity to open the Transparency panel, or the name of an effect to open its dialog. To open a temporary Swatches panel, click the Stroke or Fill color square, then click the thumbnail or arrowhead (or Shift-click the latter to open a temporary Color panel). See Chapter 14.

Artboards panel appearpanelicon-a.jpg

In addition to listing all the artboards in the current document, the Artboards panel lets you display, create, rename, and duplicate artboards; change their order; rearrange them in the document; choose options for them; change their orientation; and delete them. The Artboard Options dialog opens when you double-click the artboard orientation icon, which is located to the right of the artboard name. See pages 7–12 and 28.

Attributes panel artboards_panel-a.jpg

The Attributes panel lets you choose overprint options for an object (see page 415), show or hide an object’s center point (see page 103), switch the fill between color and transparency in a compound path (see page 348), or change an object’s fill rule.

You can also use this panel to create a hotspot for Web output. Assign an image map shape and a URL to a selected object, then to verify the URL in the Web browser that is currently installed on your system, click the Browser button.

Brushes panel brush_panel_icon.jpg

There are five varieties of decorative brushes that you can apply to paths: Calligraphic, Scatter, Art, Bristle, and Pattern. You can apply a brush either by choosing the Paintbrush tool and a brush and then drawing a shape, or by applying a brush to an existing path.

To personalize your brush strokes, you can create and edit custom brushes. If you modify a brush that’s being used in a document, you’ll be given the option via an alert dialog to update the paths with the revised brush. Brushes on the Brushes panel save with the current document. See Chapter 23.

To open a temporary Brushes panel, click the Brush Definition thumbnail on the Control panel, or for a selected Stroke listing on the Appearance panel, click the Brush Definition thumbnail.

Character panel charpanelicon-a.jpg

You will use the Character panel to apply type attributes: font family, font style, font size, leading, kerning, tracking, horizontal scale, vertical scale, baseline shift, character rotation, special glyphs, a language to be used for hyphenation, and an anti-aliasing method. See pages 263–266 and 280.

When a type tool or a type object is selected, the Control panel also provides some basic type controls. To open a temporary Character panel, click Character on the Control panel.

Character Styles panel charstylespanelicon

A character style is a collection of settings for type characters, including a font family, font style, font size, leading, tracking, and kerning. Unlike paragraph styles, which apply to whole paragraphs, character styles are used to quickly format small amounts of type (such as bullets, boldfaced words, italicized words, or large initial caps) to distinguish them from the main text. When you edit a character style, any text in which it is being used updates accordingly.

Using the Character Styles panel, you can create, apply, edit, duplicate, and delete styles. See pages 274–277. (Compare this panel with the Paragraph Styles panel, which is shown on page 51.)


Color panel colorpanelicon.jpg

In Illustrator, colors are applied to an object’s fill (interior) or stroke (edge). Use the Color panel to mix a global process color, enter a hexadecimal code, or set a tint percentage for a spot color. Choose a color model for the panel, such as RGB or CMYK, from the panel menu. Quick-select a color by clicking in the spectrum bar at the bottom of the panel, or click the black, white, or None button. You can expand the bar by dragging the gripper bar downward.red_star.jpg See page 117.

To open a temporary Color panel, Shift-click the Fill or Stroke square or arrowhead on the Control panel or the Appearance panel.

Color Guide panel colorguidepicon.jpg

Use the Color Guide panel to generate color schemes from a base color by choosing a harmony rule and/or a variation type (Tints/Shades, Warm/Cool, or Vivid/Muted). You can click any variation swatch to apply it as a fill or stroke color to one or more selected objects. You can also save variations from the Color Guide panel as a group to the Swatches panel, or edit the current color group via the Edit Colors dialog. See pages 115 and 128–130.

Document Info panel docinfopicon.jpg

The Document Info panel lists data about artwork in your document, depending on which category is chosen on the panel menu: Document (all data), or all Objects, Graphic Styles, Brushes, Spot Color Objects, Pattern Objects, Gradient Objects, Fonts, Linked Images, Embedded Images, or Font Details. If Selection Only is chosen on the menu, the panel lists data pertaining to just selected object(s). See page 432.


Flattener Preview panel flatprepicon.jpg

Artwork that contains semitransparent objects must be flattened before it is printed. Using the Highlight menu options in the Flattener Preview panel, you can preview which objects in your document will be affected by flattening, adjust the flattening settings, then click Refresh to preview the effect of the new settings in your artwork. See page 418.

Glyphs panel glyphspanelicon.jpg

Using the Glyphs panel, you can find out which character variations (alternate glyphs) are available for any given character in a specific OpenType font, and insert specific glyphs from that font into your document (including glyphs that can’t be entered via the keyboard). See page 269.

Gradient panel gradientpanelicon.jpg

The Gradient panel lets you create, apply, and edit gradients, which are soft, gradual blends between two or more colors. You can use the panel to apply a gradient to an object’s fill or stroke, red_star.jpg adjust the amount of a color by dragging its stop, choose a different color or opacity value for a selected stop, click below the gradient slider to add new colors, move a midpoint diamond to change the location where two adjacent colors are mixed equally, reverse the gradient colors, change the overall gradient type or angle, or change the alignment of a gradient in an object’s stroke. See Chapter 24.

Graphic Styles panel grstylespanelicon.jpg

The Graphic Styles panel enables you to store and apply collections of appearance attributes, such as multiple solid-color fills or strokes, transparency and overprint settings, blending modes, brush strokes, and effects. Using graphic styles, you can apply attributes quickly and create a cohesive look among multiple objects or documents (similar to how paragraph styles are used with type). See Chapter 16. To open a temporary Graphic Styles panel, click the Style thumbnail or arrowhead on the Control panel.

Image Trace panel imagetracepanelicon.jpg red_star.jpg

The Image Trace feature detects and traces areas of color and shade in a raster image that is opened or placed into Illustrator, such as a Photoshop, TIFF, or JPEG image or scanned artwork, and converts those areas to Illustrator paths.

You can choose from a wide array of tracing options on the Image Trace panel prior to the tracing—and because a tracing is “live,” you can also use the panel to fine-tune the results. You can use a built-in tracing preset (predefined settings) as a starting point, or create and apply custom presets. Among the numerous settings that you can specify are a mode (black and white, grayscale, or color), a color palette, the number of resulting colors, whether fill and/or stroke colors are produced, and the precision with which the image is traced. See Chapter 17.

Info panel infopanelicon.jpg

If no objects are selected in the current document, depending on the current tool, the Info panel lists the x,y (horizontal and vertical) location of the pointer. If an object is selected, the panel lists the location of the object, its width and height, and data about its fill and stroke colors (the color components; or the name of a pattern or gradient; or a color name or number, such as a PANTONE PLUS number). While an object is being transformed via a transform tool, the panel lists pertinent information, such as a percentage value for a scale transformation or an angle of rotation. When a type tool and type object are selected, the panel displays type specifications. When the Measure tool is used, the Info panel opens automatically and lists the distance and angle the tool has just calculated.

Layers panel layers.jpg

The indispensable Layers panel lets you add and delete layers and sublayers in a document, and create layer groups. You can also use this panel to select, target, restack, duplicate, delete, hide, show, lock, unlock, merge, change the view for, or create a clipping set for a layer, sublayer, group, or individual object. When your artwork is finished, you can use a command on the panel menu to flatten the document into one layer or release all the objects to separate layers for export as a Flash animation. See Chapter 13.

Links panel linkspicon.jpg

When you place an image from another application, such as Photoshop, into an Illustrator document, you can opt to have Illustrator embed a copy of the image into the file (and thereby increase the file size but allow the program to color-manage it) or merely link the image to your document (and minimize the file size but require the original file to be available for print output). Using the Links panel, you can monitor the status of linked images, convert a linked image to an embedded one, open a linked image in its original application for editing, update an edited image, and restore the link to an image that is missing or modified. See pages 300–303.

Magic Wand panel magicwandpanelicon.jpg

The Magic Wand tool selects objects that have the same or a similar fill color, stroke color, stroke weight, opacity, or blending mode as the currently selected object. Using the Magic Wand panel, you specify which attributes the tool may select and set a tolerance value for each attribute. For example, if you were to check Opacity, choose an opacity Tolerance of 10%, then click an object that has an opacity of 50%, the tool would find and select objects in the document that have an opacity between 40% and 60%. See page 97.


Navigator panel navigatorpicon.jpg

The Navigator panel has two main functions. To use it to move the current document in its window, drag or click in the proxy preview area (red outlined box). To change the document zoom level, use the zoom controls at the bottom of the panel. To both zoom to and bring a specific area of a document into view, Cmd-drag/Ctrl-drag in the proxy preview area.

OpenType panel opentypepanelicon.jpg

Among the Roman OpenType font families that ship with Illustrator, the fonts that contain an expanded character set and a large assortment of alternate glyphs are labeled with the word “Pro.” By clicking a button on the OpenType panel, you can specify which alternate characters (glyphs) will appear in your text when you type the requisite key or keys. The special characters for a given font may include ligatures, swashes, titling characters, stylistic alternates, ordinals, and fractions. You can also use the panel to specify options for numerals, such as a style (e.g., tabular lining or oldstyle) and a position (e.g., numerator, denominator, superscript, or subscript). See page 270.

Paragraph panel parapanelicon.jpg

Use the Paragraph panel to apply settings that affect entire paragraphs, such as horizontal alignment, indentation, spacing before or after, and automatic hyphenation. Via the panel menu, you can choose hanging punctuation and composer options and open a dialog for choosing justification or hyphenation options. See pages 267, 271–273, and 278.

The Align Left, Align Center, and Align Right buttons are also available on the Control panel when a type object is selected. To open a temporary Paragraph panel, click Paragraph on the Control panel.

Paragraph Styles panel parstylespanelicon.jpg

A paragraph style is a collection of paragraph specifications (including horizontal alignment, indentation, spacing before or after, word spacing, letter spacing, hyphenation, and hanging punctuation), as well as character attributes, such as the font family, font style, and font size. When you apply a paragraph style to one or more selected paragraphs, the type is reformatted with the specifications in that style. When you edit a paragraph style, the type in which it is being used updates accordingly. With paragraph (and character) styles, you can typeset text quickly and ensure that the formatting is consistent. Use the Paragraph Styles panel to create, store, apply, edit, duplicate, and delete paragraph styles for the current document. See pages 274–277.


Pathfinder panel pathfinderpicon.jpg

Depending on how they are applied, the Shape Mode commands on the top row of the Pathfinder panel combine selected, overlapping objects into one or more standard paths or into a compound shape. The Expand button converts a compound shape into either a path or a compound path (the latter if the command originally produced a cutout shape). The Pathfinder buttons on the bottom row of the panel produce flattened, cut-up shapes from multiple selected objects. See pages 341–346.

Pattern Options panel patternpanelicon.jpg red_star.jpg

Via the Pattern Options panel, along with some intuitive on-image controls, you can create and edit seamless patterns. When you create a pattern, it appears automatically on the Swatches panel for the current document. You can apply any pattern swatch in the Swatches panel to an object’s fill (interior) or stroke (edge).

The Pattern Options panel lets you change the pattern tiling configuration (Grid, Brick, or Hex); adjust the spacing between tiles; and for objects that straddle the tile boundary and overlap one another, control which objects are in front. You can also choose preview options for pattern-editing mode, including the number of copies that display, to what extent the copies are dimmed, and whether the tile and/or swatch boundaries display. See pages 135–142.

Separations Preview panel separationsprevpicon.jpg

The Separations Preview panel gives you an idea of how the individual C, M, Y, and K color components in a CMYK document will separate to individual plates during the commercial printing process. You can use the panel to check that a color is properly set to knock out colors beneath it in your artwork, or to check whether a color is properly set to overprint on top of the other colors. Other uses for the panel are to monitor the use of spot colors in the artwork, to verify that any spot color is set to knock out colors beneath it, and to determine whether a specific black is a rich black (a mixture of C, M, Y, and K inks) or a simple black that contains only the K component. See pages 414–415.


Stroke panel strokepanelicon.jpg

Stroke settings control the appearance of an object’s path (edge). By using the Stroke panel, you can specify a stroke weight (thickness), cap (end) style, and corner (join) style, and an alignment option to control the position of the stroke on the path. You can also use the panel to create a dashed (or dotted) line or border, apply an arrowhead and/or tail style, and change the stroke width profile. See pages 120–122 and 162. To open a temporary Stroke panel, click Stroke on the Control or Appearance panel.

Swatches panel swatchespanelicon.jpg

Use the Swatches panel to choose, store, and apply solid colors, patterns, gradients, and color groups. If you click a swatch, it becomes the current fill or stroke color (depending on whether the Fill or Stroke square is active on the Tools panel and Color panel), and it is applied to all currently selected objects.

Double-clicking a swatch opens the Swatch Options dialog, in which you can change the swatch name or change its type to global process, nonglobal process, or spot. See pages 114, 116, 118, 124–127, and 132. To open a temporary Swatches panel, click the Fill or Stroke square or arrowhead on the Control or Appearance panel.

Symbols panel symbolspalicon.jpg

Symbols are Illustrator objects that are stored on the Symbols panel and save with the current document. Using symbols, you can quickly and easily create a complex collection of objects, such as a bank of trees or clouds. To create one instance of a symbol, you simply drag from the Symbols panel onto the artboard; to assemble multiple instances quickly into what is called a symbol set, you use the Symbol Sprayer tool.

The other symbolism tools let you change the position, stacking order, proximity, size, rotation angle, or transparency of multiple instances in a set, or gradually apply a color tint or graphic style—while maintaining the link to the original symbol on the panel. If you edit the original symbol, all instances of that symbol in the document update automatically. See Chapter 28.


Tabs panel tabspanelicon.jpg

The only way to align columns of text precisely is by using tabs and the Tabs panel. Using the panel, you can insert, move, and change the alignment of custom tab markers, specify a leader (such as a period character, to produce a dotted line), and specify a character for your text to align to (such as a decimal point). See pages 278–279.

Transform panel transformpanelicon.jpg

The Transform panel lists the location, width, height, rotation angle, and shear angle of the currently selected object, and can be used to change those values. By clicking a reference point, you can control what part of the object the transformations are calculated from. The panel can also be used to align selected objects to the pixel grid. Via commands on the panel menu, you can control whether just the object, the object and a fill pattern, or just the fill pattern is transformed. See pages 148–149.

A reference point icon and X, Y, W, and H fields also appear on the Control panel when one or more paths are selected. To open a temporary Transform panel, click the X, Y, W, or H link (or if those fields aren’t showing, click the word “Transform”).

Transparency panel transpanelicon.jpg

You can use the Transparency panel to change the blending mode or opacity of a layer, group, or individual object. The Make Mask button applies the opacity value and grayscale equivalent of a color (or colors), gradient, or pattern in the topmost object to underlying selected objects, and optionally hides sections of those objects that extend beyond its edges. See Chapter 27.

To open a temporary Transparency panel, click the Opacity link on the Control or Appearance panel. You can also change the opacity of an object directly via the Control panel.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020