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

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Creative Suite

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Creating Vector Art

In this section, we'll work on the essentials of Illustrator—the ability to use the drawing tools; select and arrange your artwork; work with strokes, fills, color, and type; and utilize some basic effects. If you're new to Illustrator, that's a lot to cover, but it will provide a foundation for further study. As you'll discover in this chapter's project, a lot of creative work can be done using just these tools.

About Vector Art

To understand how Illustrator works, it's helpful to contrast it with Photoshop. If you've worked with photographs or artwork in Photoshop, you'll know that such images are composed of pixels—tiny dots, each with its own color. A group of pixels put together form what is called a bitmapped image.

Images created in Illustrator (and other vector-based software programs) don't have pixels. If you zoom in closely on them, you won't see any little dots. Illustrator artwork is referred to as vector-based; vector art uses mathematical equations to create lines and blocks of color.

Thankfully, you don't need to know a thing about those equations when you create your vector art. What you do need to know is that they contribute to the beauty of Illustrator. Vector art is infinitely resizable. Make your design much larger or smaller, and you'll experience no loss of quality—which is not the case with bitmapped images, which can get blurry and muddy when you resize.


Figure 3.6 Size doesn't matter in the vector world. No matter how much I enlarge this vector graphic, it retains its crisp edges.


If you're launching Illustrator for the first time, why not begin by exploring different ways to create lines and shapes? Illustrator provides a number of basic drawing tools that create different shapes but share common functionality and features.


Select the Star tool startool.gif in the toolbox and click once on the Artboard. Doing so displays the options for this tool. You can access options for all the shape tools (Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, Star, and Flare) and line tools (Line Segment, Arc, Spiral, Rectangular Grid, and Polar Grid) in this manner.

In the Star options box, enter a value of 25 for Radius 1 (the star's inner radius) and a value of 50 for Radius 2 (the outer radius). Leave the Points value as is, and click OK. In doing so, you've drawn a shape numerically rather than with a mouse. Be sure to try this with the other tools.


Figure 3.7 Clicking with most tools on the Artboard gives you their numerical options.

Drawing numerically is useful for precise drawing, but it may leave you feeling restrained creatively. Rather than clicking and entering numbers to draw, you can also click and drag with a mouse or drawing tablet—certainly a lot quicker than entering numbers. Illustrator accommodates whatever drawing style you choose.

If you draw with a mouse or tablet, hold down the Shift key to constrain shapes (such as the rectangle or star) so that all sides are of the same length (equilateral), creating squares, perfect stars and polygons, and so on. In the case of an ellipse, holding down the Shift key while you drag will create a perfect circle. To create a shape from a center point, hold down the Alt key (Option on a Mac) as you draw. Use both modifier keys together (Alt+Shift/Option+Shift) for additional control.

Those of you with sharp eyes might be wondering where, amid all the basic drawing tools, a Triangle tool is. Well, there is no such tool. To draw a triangle, select the Polygon tool and click and drag on the Artboard—but don't release your mouse button just yet. While dragging, press the down arrow key on your keyboard and note how the number of sides on the polygon decreases to three, the minimum. Instant triangle. And you can even draw a triangle numerically by clicking once on the Artboard with the Polygon tool and entering a value of 3 in the Sides input box.


Figure 3.8 What is a triangle but a three-sided polygon?

Want to try something really cool? As you draw with the mouse, hold down the tilde (~) for a dramatic wireframe effect. On a standard keyboard, look for the tilde on the accent key, just to the left of the 1 key. By pressing this key, you make a copy of the shape any time you move the mouse while drawing. Try it now with the Star tool—click and drag to create a star, but don't let go of the mouse button. Hold down the tilde key and give your mouse a spin.

Stop for a moment and look at the various drawing tools that all share this functionality. Just by using ellipses, line segments, rectangles, polygons, and other simple shapes and lines, you can construct a multitude of creations, from robots to landscapes.


Figure 3.9 My handcrafted automaton. Basic shapes form the backbone of this robot illustration.


Shape and line tools are certainly not your only drawing resources. Those who like to draw freehand will enjoy the Paintbrush and Pencil tools. The Paintbrush tool brush.gif is a freehand drawing tool that's effective with a mouse and downright powerful with an electronic drawing tablet. The Paintbrush works in conjunction with the Brushes palette (Window > Brushes). With it, you can create artwork that emulates the look of watercolors, chalk, or even scribbles with a pen. Double-click with the Paintbrush tool to display its many options, such as Smoothness. Experiment with them to see a variety of painting possibilities.


Figure 3.10 Look to the Brushes palette for a range of media that you can emulate with the Paintbrush tool.

The Pencil tool penciltool.gif is practically an identical twin to the Paintbrush. They share similar tool settings (Fidelity, Smoothness) and functionality. While the Paintbrush automatically starts drawing with a brushstroke, the Pencil tool, by default, starts off with a 1-point stroke. The Pencil can draw with Brush palette brushes, but it does not do so by default. The Pencil and Paint Brush tools have been part of the Illustrator family for so long that if Adobe chose to combine the two into one, much chaos and mayhem would ensue.


Figure 3.11 This cartoon piece of sushi was drawn with the Pencil tool. (The Chopstick tool is still being developed.)

Finally, there is the Pen tool, which goes beyond the scope of this chapter— but you'll learn all about it later. The Pen provides the ability to construct ultraprecise paths, but has a learning curve almost as steep as that of the rest of Illustrator's features put together.

As you draw more and more shapes on the Artboard, they will invariably overlap. The newest shapes always appear on top of the older ones in what Illustrator calls a stacking order. Think of this as layers upon layers of shapes or objects. Up next, we'll look at how to alter the stacking order with the Selection tool.

Selecting and Arranging

If you've been trying out all of the drawing tools, your Artboard may be pretty crowded by now. Time to clean up. Select the solid arrow in the toolbox (in the top-left corner). selectiontool.gif


This is the Selection tool, and with it you can select, move, rotate, and modify shapes on the Artboard. A shape or object in Illustrator must be selected before you can make any kind of changes to it.

When you select a shape, a bounding box consisting of an outline with eight points appears. If for some reason you don't see a bounding box as shown below, choose View > Show Bounding Box. To move a selection, click within the bounding box and then drag. To resize, move the cursor directly over a bounding box point until it turns into a double arrow. Click and drag to resize or reshape the selection. Press and hold the Shift key to resize proportionately. Hold the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key to constrain movement from the object's center.


Figure 3.12 An object's bounding box and handles are visible when you select a shape.

To rotate an object, move the cursor just to the outside of one of the points until a curved double arrow appears. Click and drag in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion. Hold down the Shift key to constrain rotation to 45-degree angles. Reset the orientation of your bounding box after rotating by selecting Object > Transform > Reset Bounding Box from the menu bar.

To select more than one shape with the Selection tool, hold down the Shift key and click additional objects. If the object you're clicking does not respond, it may not be filled with a color. Try clicking on the outline of the object instead. Another way is to click the Artboard and drag a selection marquee around the objects you wish to select, just like making a marquee with the Zoom tool to zoom in on objects.

To make multiple copies, select an object, press the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key, and then click, drag away from the original object, and release. To deselect, click on the Artboard away from the selected object(s).


Remember stacking order? It's time to shake things up and down. Draw two circles that overlap each other a little.

Select the bottom circle (with the Selection tool) and choose Object > Arrange > Bring To Front. The stacking order of the two circles changes. If you select the Send To Back command (from the same menu), the circle returns to the bottom of the stack.

If you try this and don't see any effect, make sure both of your objects have a fill. Select an object, and then click the miniature Fill and Stroke icon in the lower-left corner of the regular Fill and Stroke boxes in the toolbox.


Figure 3.13 Clicking this mini button gives an object a white fill and a black stroke.

Now, add another overlapping circle on top of the other two and make sure you can see all three. Select the bottom circle and choose Object > Arrange > Bring Forward. The circle moves between the other circles to the middle of the stacking order. Rather than jump to the top of the stack, this command can bring an object forward one position at a time in the stacking order. The Send Backward command has the opposite effect, sending an object back one step rather than all the way to the back.


Figure 3.14 You can control the overlapping of any objects, like these stars, by adjusting the stacking order.

If you have an object selected, you can also access the Arrange commands by right-clicking (Ctrl-clicking on the Mac) to display a pop-up menu.

Working with Multiple Objects

Why reinvent the wheel when you can so easily cut and paste it? That is the wonderful philosophy behind objects, which permit us to clone repeated design elements.


Like most modern software applications, Illustrator features traditional copy and paste commands. They function as expected. You select an object, choose Copy or Cut from the Edit menu, and then click Paste. The new copy appears on the Artboard in the middle of the screen.

If you need to paste an object precisely in front (or back) of its original, however, these traditional commands are ineffective. To the rescue come the Paste In Front and Paste In Back commands. When you use either of these commands, found in the Edit menu, Illustrator will paste your copy either exactly behind the original or exactly in front.

The keyboard shortcuts for the special paste commands appear in the Edit menu.

For the skeptics in the audience, draw a circle, select it, and make a copy—Ctrl+C (PC) or Command+C (Mac). Select Paste In Front (Edit > Paste In Front). Nothing's changed, it would seem. Now select the circle and drag it across the Artboard. Notice the other circle now? That is the original; you are dragging the copy, which was pasted in front of the original. Voilà! The Paste In Back command works the same way but pastes the copy behind the original.


Next, let's take a look at the grouping (and ungrouping) of objects in Illustrator.

When you group objects, you effectively create a temporary bond. Group three stars together, and when you select one of them (with the Selection tool), you select them all. Fill one object with a color, and you fill them all. Rotate one object, and … you get the picture. Grouping is useful for organizing related objects in your document or for moving multiple objects about with little trouble. To group, select two or more objects and choose Object > Group or press Ctrl+G (Command+G on a Mac). To ungroup, choose Object > Ungroup or press Ctrl+Shift+G (PC) or Command+Shift+G (Mac).


Figure 3.15 Just click any of the objects in the group to select them all at once.

You can group together object groups, and those groups can also be part of another group!

Working with Strokes and Color

Different strokes for different folks, they say. That is true in Illustrator too, once you gain control over your stroke palette.


Stroke may seem an odd name for something deserving of a palette, but you'll quickly come to appreciate it. A stroke refers to the outline of an object, whether it's a simple line or an elaborate polygon. The objects you're drawing so far are all (most likely) in black and white (until a few paragraphs from now!), and the stroke is the black part.

The controls on the Stroke palette affect both the style and width of the lines in your artwork. Since you can now select objects, grab a shape on the Artboard and enter a value of 5 in the Weight input box. As you do this, the line's thickness, or the stroke weight, changes on your object. Preset stroke weights are available from a drop-down menu; spin controls (the up and down arrows in the box) provide an alternate selection method.


Figure 3.16 Thick, thin, or in between, the Stroke palette handles all your outlining needs.

The Cap and Join settings on the Stroke palette determine how a line terminates (the cap) and how one line meets the other (the join). A line or stroke can have one of three caps: a butt cap (a straight end), a round cap (a semicircular end), or a projecting cap (an end extending beyond the endpoint by half of the current line width). The three types of joins are Miter, Round, and Bevel. The Miter join has an input box below the Weight input, which allows you to select the Miter limit, or how long and pointy the join can be until one line turns into the other.


Figure 3.17 Cap and join options, from left to right: Miter join with a butt cap, Round join with a round cap, and Bevel join with a projecting cap.

As you might have guessed, the Dashed Line option will give you dotted or dashed lines. To activate it, click the check box and enter a value for the dash size (1, for example) and a value for the gap (such as 3) between dashes. It's only necessary to enter a value within the first dash and gap box. The other boxes give you enhanced control over the dashed-line appearance by mixing dashes of different sizes and shapes with smaller or larger gaps. Experiment with different values in each box to see the result.


Figure 3.18 Strokes are found throughout this delightful Sonoma Joe illustration by Heidi Schmidt, particularly in its text.

By default, the stroke on any object is positioned above the color that fills it. As you increase the stroke weight, it begins to obscure the fill below it. This is most noticeable on text objects. To move the stroke below the fill, select the object you wish to edit and open the Appearance palette (Window > Appearance). This palette displays both the stroke information and fill information for the selected object. Click the Stroke appearance and drag it below the Fill appearance.


Before we move deep into the territory of color, I want you to first look at the fundamental components of the shapes we're drawing. By doing so, you'll gain an understanding of what you can apply color to.

If you draw a circle in Illustrator, you'll see that the shape is made up of four points and four curved lines. The points are anchor points, and the lines are path segments. Together, the anchor points and path segments form either a closed or an open path. Squares and circles are examples of closed paths. A straight line, an arc, and a spiral are examples of open paths.


Figure 3.19 A closed path comprises anchor points and path segments.

With an object such as a square, the outline of the square is the stroke; the area within the outline is the fill.

In the toolbox are the Fill and Stroke color boxes. The Fill box is the solid square, and the Stroke box is the hollow square. The boxes represent the current colors used in newly drawn objects or the colors used in selected objects. Every object we have drawn so far has had a white fill and a black stroke, unless you have already changed these settings.


Figure 3.20 The Fill and Stroke color boxes are found at the bottom of the toolbox.

Some of the drawing tools, such as the Line Segment tool linesegmenttool.gif and the Arc tool arctool.gif , remove the fill color and use only the stroke color. If you drew objects earlier with these tools, the Fill box most likely has a red slash running across it, which indicates no fill color. fillnone.gif

Draw a circle on the Artboard and we'll change its colors. Be sure the object is selected once the circle is complete. With the Selection tool, double-click the Fill box to display the Color Picker. Click and drag in the color box or color spectrum bar (the thin vertical bar) to select a color. Click OK. The fill color of the circle changes to reflect your color choice.


Figure 3.21 Checking the Only Web Colors box in the Color Picker shows only colors in the Web-safe palette. Leaving this unchecked will give you the full color range to choose from.

To change the circle's stroke color, double-click the hollow black square. The Stroke box is now the active color box since it is in front of the Fill box. Choose a color and click OK.

The double arrow in the upper right of the Fill and Stroke area lets you toggle colors back and forth between boxes. A single click on either box will make it active without displaying the Color Picker. To restore black and white default colors, click the mini Fill and Stroke box icon in the lower-left corner.

To see how the fill and stroke affect an open path, select the Spiral tool and click and drag on the Artboard to draw the shape. The fill color abruptly cuts off at the last endpoint on the outside of the shape. That cutoff connects the two endpoints of the path. Any open path can have only two endpoints; Illustrator will automatically connect them with the selected fill color.


Figure 3.22 The black dots I've added in this example represent the connection of the endpoints of the open path.

As another example, select the Pencil tool and draw a free-form line on the Artboard. Be sure to select a color for both the fill and the stroke. When you complete the line, Illustrator again connects the two endpoints.

In case you're wondering, a straight line can have both fill and stroke colors as well. However, because the path has no interior, the fill is not visible. To confirm its presence though, just look at the Fill and Stroke boxes in the toolbox.


To set either the Fill or Stroke box to fill or stroke a shape with no color (making the area transparent), choose the None icon (shown as a red slash) just below the Fill and Stroke boxes.

A shape does not have to have a fill or stroke color. In fact, a shape doesn't have to have any color information whatsoever. Select an object you've drawn, and then click the Fill box to make it active. Click the None icon just below the Fill and Stroke boxes. Do the same for the Stroke box. Your object is now invisible, so to speak, but you can still select it to see its outline and bounding box.

The fill of an object can consist of a gradient rather than a solid color. A gradient is a smooth transition of one color to another. The stroke of an object cannot accept a gradient fill. Feel free to experiment with this on your own using the Gradient palette (Window > Gradient).


Slider controls beneath color bars on the Color palette (Window > Color) give you another way of changing and selecting colors. Depending on the color model active on the palette, you can also enter numeric and hexadecimal values in input boxes. Choose from among grayscale, RGB, CMYK, and other choices in the palette's option menu. The color spectrum bar or tint ramp that appears is also based on the color model.


Figure 3.23 The Color palette —the entire spectrum at your service.

A miniature Fill and Stroke icon is displayed on the palette. As with the toolbox version, click either the Fill or Stroke box to make it active. The palette supports drag-and-drop features. Click the Fill box and drag its color onto an unselected object on the Artboard. The fill of the object changes to reflect the color on the Color palette. The toolbox version also supports this handy feature.

Swatch palettes give you a third choice in color selection. Choose Window > Swatch Libraries to display a menu of color swatches. Select Default CMYK to display its swatch palette. The palette features various CMYK color swatches (plus gradient and pattern fills as well) that you can drag onto selected or unselected objects, the Fill and Stroke boxes, or the Color palette.


Figure 3.24 The Swatch palette holds solid fills as well as gradients and patterns.

To keep a swatch palette visible between Illustrator sessions, uncheck the Persistent option on the palette's menu.

Use the Eyedropper tool if you want to select or sample an object's color. To use the tool, select the Eyedropper and click an object on the Artboard. Both the Fill and Stroke boxes take on the sampled colors. Press the Shift key while using the Eyedropper to selectively sample colors for the active color box. This is particularly useful if you have a multicolored object and you only want to sample a particular color from it.

Another trick is to select an object, then click another object with the Eyedropper tool. This changes the color of the first object to match that of the second.

Using Type

Typography is essential to many design projects, so let's go over some of the text possibilities using the various type tools. Text in Illustrator behaves a lot differently than does text in a word processor, making it a little more challenging but a lot more powerful and flexible.

Let's start with the standard Type tool on a new, blank document.


Click anywhere on your document with the Type tool typetool.gif to set your cursor, and then type out a few words. The default is that the text is filled black, has no stroke, and is a small, standard font. But, like anything else in Illustrator, this can be changed by selecting (either with the Selection tool or by highlighting with the cursor) and applying a change using various palettes. The Color palette and Fill and Stroke boxes can be used on your text just like on any other object.

The most important typography features are found in the Character and Paragraph palettes (Window > Type > Character, Window > Type > Paragraph). The Character palette gives you all of your font face, font size, and spacing choices. The Paragraph palette handles the alignment and justification of lines.


Figure 3.25 This text has a fill as well as a stroke, and its letterspacing is set to –50 to pull it close together.


Figure 3.26 This line uses the default letterspacing, but the word Up! has a baseline value of 10.


Figure 3.27 These lines of text are centered in the Paragraph palette. For some breathing room, the line spacing was set to be much larger between the heading and the first item, and closer between the four menu items.


If you click and hold the Type Tool button in the toolbox, you'll see a series of useful (and a few not-so-useful) special type tools:

The Area Type tool areatype.gif is easy to use. First create a shape in Illustrator as you normally would, and select it. Then, with your Area Type tool, click in the upper left of the shape. (Try to click directly on the path; otherwise, you may get an error message.) Any text that you type will be formatted to fit inside the shape. Use the Justify All Lines button on your Paragraph palette so the text flows to both edges of the shape. The Vertical Area Type tool vertareatypetool.gif is just as simple, but the results usually aren't very readable—so this tool should generally be avoided.


Figure 3.28 Go ahead, type a few lines in any closed shape or path.

The Type on a Path tool pathtype.gif can be a little trickier at first, but it's one of the most useful of the special type tools. First, create a path that you'd like your text to follow, like a curved line, using any drawing tool such as the Pen, Line, or Pencil. Make sure that this path is not an important part of your artwork— it will disappear after you enter your text. Click with your Type on a Path tool directly over the path or shape (if you get an error, keep trying to click right on the path)—when the cursor appears, you can begin typing. The Vertical Type on a Path tool works in the same way, but just like the Vertical Area Type tool, the effect isn't always very readable or attractive.


Figure 3.29 If you need to move your type elsewhere along a path, use the Selection tool and drag the bottom of the I-beam that appears at the beginning of the text.


If you'd like to give your text some other effects, like a gradient fill, for example, you'll need to convert your text to outlines. This means that the wording will no longer be editable (so check your spelling first!), but each letter will become a shape made of paths that can be edited just like any other Illustrator object. To convert to outlines, select your text with the Selection tool and go to Type > Create Outlines. Each letter will be its own shape, and the letters will be grouped together. If you need to work with the letters individually, you can ungroup them (Object > Ungroup).


While we've been drawing, a heretofore hidden palette has been silently going about its business of tracking movements and displaying information about the tools we've been using and the objects we've been selecting.


This surreptitious palette is none other than the Info palette (Window > Info). It provides x, y coordinates for the currently selected tool, color values of objects, width and height values of shapes and paths, font information for text tools, angles of rotation, and other useful feedback. I mention this palette now because it will come in handy when working with various transformation tools and commands that follow.


Figure 3.30 Now that's a lot of info!


The Rotate tool rotatetool.gif may seem an odd thing to talk about since you already know how to rotate using the bounding box. The beauty of the Rotate tool is that it lets you rotate an object around any point you define. To see this, turn on the Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides), draw a circle on the Artboard, and then draw a couple of small stars close together nearby. Next, group the stars (Object > Group), keep them selected, and then click the Rotate tool. Position the crosshairs cursor over the center point of the circle and click. This defines the origin point for rotation. As you click, the crosshairs become a black arrow. If you click and drag with the black arrow, the stars now rotate around the center point of the circle. Notice that as you rotate the stars, the angle information in the Info palette updates. When you release the mouse, the crosshairs cursor appears again since the tool is still active.


Figure 3.31 You can move objects around any origin point you define using the Rotate tool.

Hold down the Alt/Option key and click again on the circle's center point. The options dialog for the Rotate tool appears. In it, you can enter values to set the rotation angle. Enter a value of 25 and, instead of clicking OK, click the Copy button.


Figure 3.32 Defy your instinct and click Copy instead of OK to place a rotated copy of an object.

Press Ctrl+D/Command+D to repeat the last action. If you continue to press Ctrl+D/Command+D, copies of the stars eventually will appear at 25-degree angles all around the circle's center point. Rather nifty!


Figure 3.33 I needed to create an animation based on this graphic with a needle moving around a gauge. All I had to do was select the needle and then set its rotation origin with the Rotate tool to make it happen.

To demonstrate the Reflect tool, draw an arc (using the Arc tool) on the Artboard. When finished, double-click the Reflect tool reflecttool.gif found within the Rotate tool fly-out menu. The Reflect options dialog appears with a choice of axes to reflect against (Horizontal, Vertical, or user-defined Angle). Select Horizontal and click Copy. A reversed copy of the arc is created across the horizontal axis of the original arc. The axis for an object originates from its center point.

Delete the copy of the arc, and select the original so that we can reflect an object with the mouse rather than via a dialog box. Click once on the Reflect tool (note the crosshairs cursor), and click just to the right of the arc. Press the Shift key and click a little below where you just clicked. The arc reflects across the vertical axis we defined.

To make a copy of the arc across the axis, press both the Shift and Alt/Option keys before you click a second time. In this demonstration, the Shift key is used to constrain our axis to a straight line. Because an axis can be defined at any angle you choose, it is not always necessary to use Shift key.


Figure 3.34 If you want the object you draw to be symmetrical, you only need to draw one side, like I did with the shield shape here. Then use the Reflect tool to make a copy for the other side. Join the paths together to form a closed object to accept a fill.


The Scale tool scaletool.gif is useful for the precise resizing of shapes when used in conjunction with the tool's options. To use it, select the object you want to scale, and then double-click the Scale tool to display the options dialog. Here, you can enter a percentage value for uniform scaling, or an amount to scale the object horizontally or vertically. The Scale Strokes and Effects option, if checked, will increase the width of the stroke. For instance, if you scale a path segment with a 1-point stroke to 200 percent, not only will the object double in size, but the width of the stroke will also increase to 2 points. Effects applied from the Effect menu, such as glows and drop shadows, will also increase in size when this option is checked.

The behavior of this tool when using the mouse instead of numeric values is similar to that of resizing an object using the Selection tool and the bounding box. To scale with the mouse, select an object and click the Scale tool. For uniform scaling, click and drag out at a 45-degree angle while holding the Shift key. For horizontal scaling, drag the mouse horizontally while holding Shift . Drag vertically while holding Shift for vertical scaling. Other than constraining scaling movements, it's not necessary to hold down the Shift key when dragging.

To demonstrate the Shear tool, sheartool.gif select the Spiral tool and draw a spiral on the Artboard. With the spiral selected, click the Shear tool, hold the Shift key to gain a modicum of control over this erratic tool, and then click and drag. If you drag along a horizontal axis, the spiral shape will slant or skew itself along this line. If you drag along a vertical axis or any other angle, the shape slants along that line. By default, the Shear tool sets the center of an object as its origin point. The origin point dictates where the slant will begin.


Figure 3.35 Put a new slant on your designs with the Shear tool.

For those who don't have the patience for such "toolish" nonsense, your best option is to use the Shear options dialog. By doing so, you can enter numeric values for precise control over your shear (or slant or skew—pick one!). As with most tools, you double-click this one to display its options. Set the value of the Shear Angle, choose an axis (Horizontal, Vertical, or user-defined Angle), and make a copy of the sheared shape from this dialog box. Clicking the Copy button instead of OK, and then repeating the command by pressing Ctrl+D/Command+D again and again, can quickly lead to chaos! Enjoy it.


Figure 3.36 Gain more control with the Shear tool options dialog.


The Free Transform tool freetransformtool.gif is the Swiss army knife of transformation tools. This one tool can resize, shear, rotate, and distort objects. Unleashing its full potential requires the use of modifier keys such as Shift, Alt/Option, and Ctrl/Command.


Figure 3.37 The billboard and the box images in this illustration by Leo Espinoza were distorted to great effect. When you need quick and dirty perspective angles, Free Transform is the tool to use.

Since we've yet to use a rounded rectangle for demonstration purposes, draw one on the Artboard—the Rounded Rectangle tool is found in the Rectangle tool fly-out. To use the Free Transform tool, you must first select the rounded rectangle with the Selection tool, and then click the Free Transform tool. There are no visual clues that the Free Transform tool is active, other than the Info palette displaying some new information.

To resize or rotate the rounded rectangle, you use the tool in the same way you use the Selection tool and an object's bounding box. Click and drag a handle to resize, or click near a point to rotate. Let's move beyond these basic functions and distort the rounded rectangle with the tool.

Click and drag a bounding box corner. As you drag, hold the Ctrl/Command key. Notice that it affects only that corner of the object.


Figure 3.38 Object distortion using the Free Transform tool.

Now press the Shift key along with what you're doing. This constrains the distortion to the horizontal and vertical axis. Press a third key—Alt/Option—simultaneously to have an adjacent corner mimic the movements of your selected corner point. To shear the object, release the Shift key but continue to hold the Ctrl/Command and Alt/Option keys while you drag. You can achieve a variety of distortion effects by using practically any number of modifier keys while selecting any of the bounding box points. The key is to click and drag first, and then use the modifier keys.


Figure 3.39 Use the magic of Free Transform to create swanky boxes.


Many of the functions found in the Free Transform tool can be found and modified numerically in the Transform palette (Window > Transform). As a reminder, an object must first be selected in order for this palette or any palette or tool to have an effect.


Figure 3.40 The Transform palette.

By entering values in the input boxes, you can move an object along the x- or y- axis, alter its width or height, rotate it to any angle, and shear it to any angle. When a project calls for precision, this is the palette to have on hand.

The Transform palette features a miniature representation of a bounding box that surrounds a selected object. Select a point on the bounding box icon from which to originate changes. For instance, if you select the lower-left point of the bounding box icon and then set a rotation angle, the object you're modifying will rotate around its lower-left bounding box point. The Transform palette's option menu provides additional functionality. From this menu, you can choose to reflect an object along a horizontal or vertical axis and check the Scale Strokes and Effects option rather than accessing this function through the Scale tool's options box.


Transparency is simply the ability to see through an object. When designers talk transparency, they often use the word opacity. Opacity is the level of transparency you give to an object.


Figure 3.41 The blue window's low opacity lets you see through to the yellow shape below.

To use opacity, select any object under the Illustrator sun—an object already sitting on your Artboard will do just fine. Open the Transparency palette (Window > Transparency) and enter a value from 1 to 100 in the Opacity box, or drag the slider that appears when you click the right-facing arrow on the Opacity box. The lower the value, the more you can see through the object. Objects are said to be opaque if the value is set to 100 percent. To be absolutely certain this is working, turn on the Transparency Grid (View > Show Transparency Grid). The grid should be visible through any object with an opacity level other than 100. To change the size or color of the grid squares, choose File > Document Setup and choose the Transparency option from the drop-down list.


Figure 3.42 The lower the opacity, the more you can see through an object.

You can modify settings for the Transparency Grid by choosing File > Document Setup from the menu bar—select Transparency from the drop-down menu. These settings are document-specific, so don't expect to see your changes reflected elsewhere.

Other than the grid, you can use the Appearance palette (Window > Appearance) to determine whether your object uses transparency. If an object has an opacity level of 50 percent, an attribute in the palette will say Opacity: 50%. If opaque, it will read as Default Transparency. This palette will also display which blending mode an object uses.


Figure 3.43 This photo-realistic piece by designer Brooke Nuñez incorporates transparency settings in the sky and the face, in addition to exhibiting many other endearing qualities.

Since we're in learning mode, turn on all options for the Transparency palette by choosing Show Options from the palette's fly-out menu.

Note that if you stack multiple objects with transparency, they will gradually become more opaque where they overlap, because transparency is a cumula-tive effect.


Contrary to one's initial thoughts, knockout groups have absolutely nothing to do with a gaggle of rogue boxers roaming the streets wild and free. Rather, knockout groups serve a fundamental need in the world of transparency by preventing overlapping objects from applying their opacity levels to each other. Confused?

When you stack semiopaque objects, they become more opaque. Many times, this cumulative result is not desirable, such as when you've created semitransparent shadows that overlap. In real life, shadows wouldn't become more opaque—they'd just blend together.


Figure 3.44 The shadows for the silver balls and the lines connecting them have the same opacity setting, 50 percent. Notice the clear distinction between shadows. This is caused by one 50 percent shadow being on top of another 50 percent shadow. From a design standpoint, it just won't do—knockout groups to the rescue.

When this problem crops up, just select the separate objects and group them (Object > Group). As you do this, the objects miraculously merge to eliminate the cumulative transparency. If you want to go back, uncheck the Knockout Group option in the Transparency palette.

Special Effects and Filters

Picture this scenario: You've got an outlandish vision for your next illustration, but you can't quite figure out how you're going to draw everything you want using Illustrator's basic tools and features.

Illustrator's special effects and distortion filters can lend a hand. These workhorse features alter your designs to give them an eye-catching complexity that your trusty drawing tools just cannot achieve (or not quickly enough, at any rate).

If you remember only one thing about this topic, remember this: Filters are final, effects are not. It isn't that filters are bad, they're just not as flexible as effects.

You can apply a whole range of effects to an object (as you'll see), and then save the file, lapse into a coma for years on end, open up the same file in Illustrator, and remove the effects—and the basic shape you began with will still be intact. If you were to apply filters to the same object, you would emerge from your coma to find that you're stuck with the pink drop shadow, the plastic wrap fill, and edges roughened by the Roughen filter.

What follows is a look at some of the filters and effects you can apply to objects. You are highly encouraged to experiment with them and others, keeping in mind that filters and effects require you to first select the object before you can apply them.


Got some bitmap art around, like a photo? Open it in Illustrator and go to Filter > Create > Object Mosaic. It converts the color values in a bitmap image to vector mosaic tiles, similar to a stained glass window. Control tile size, spacing, and number of tiles with the filter's options. Additional options constrain the width and height ratio, output the result in color or grayscale, and let you keep the bitmap image visible with the result or delete it.


Figure 3.45 A photo of fish becomes an abstract design with the Object Mosaic filter.

Filter > Create > Trim Marks places tiny marks around artwork to serve as guides for trimming or cutting after printing. It uses the dimensions of the bounding box around selected artwork. If you work in print design, you'll find this handy.

A wide range of Distort and Stylize filters are found in your Filter menu, and these do some pretty cool things to your art such as give it a shadow or pucker the shape inward. But hold your horses—the Effect menu has many of the same ones, so we'll look at them when we get to effects.

The remaining filters below the last divider line on the Filter menu (and the Effect menu) are borrowed from Adobe Photoshop. They are quite extensive, and because they are primarily raster-based filters, I will not discuss them here. If you use them in your work, I would advise using only the ones in the Effect menu so you can go back later to make changes. Feel free to experiment with them, though.


Note that most of the effects described below will not work in CMYK mode. If you need CMYK mode, such as for a print project, start out your artwork in RGB when you create the document. Apply the effect you want, and then change the document's color mode to CMYK (File > Document Color Mode).

Effects are cumulative. For example, if you apply the Drop Shadow effect to an object over and over, the shadow gets progressively darker. To remove any of the effects from an object, choose Window > Appearance to display the Appearance palette. Select the guilty effect and click the trash can icon at the bottom of the palette.

Effect > Convert to Shape gives objects the effect of having the shape of a Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, or Ellipse. In the Shape Options dialog (common to all three shapes), set Relative or Absolute width and height and adjust the corner radius (for Rounded Rectangle).

To give your shapes pointy spikes or rounded bulges, choose Effect > Distort and Transform > Pucker and Bloat. Pucker is great for creating interesting stars, while Bloat is useful for creating flowery shapes.


Figure 3.46 Boring squares become much more exciting with the Pucker (left) and Bloat (right) effects.

Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen/Scribble loosens paths to give an almost hand-drawn feel to them. With some of the settings on Roughen, you can create both jagged and smooth paths.


Figure 3.47 Try out the whole range of Roughen settings for a variety of results.

The Transform effect under Effect > Distort and Transform has many of the same features you'd find within the Transform palette, such as sliders and value boxes to control scale, rotation, size, and horizontal and vertical movement. Some of the controls are limited. What makes this effect special, though, is when you start playing around with the Copies and Random options. Select an object on the Artboard, choose this effect, check the Preview option, and start entering some values and moving sliders. You can get some really interesting effects by doing so.


Figure 3.48 Letting Illustrator create random transformations can yield some wild designs.

Enough with the twisting and twirling commands! There are no fewer than four commands in Illustrator to do such a thing, like Effect > Distort and Transform > Twist. If you've tried the Twist tool in the toolbox, you're 99.9 percent of the way there with this effect. However, because it's an effect, remember that you can always go back to the original shape.

For an instant wavy line, try Effect > Distort and Transform > Zig Zag. Draw a straight line, choose this filter, and uncheck the Preview box. Next, adjust the Ridges per segment slider, and then select Smooth from the Points section.


Figure 3.49 Instant wavy line!

The Effect > Rasterize command is similar to the Rasterize command found within the Object menu, and turns your vector art into a bitmap. But, as an effect, it will not do permanent damage. Remember that you're changing the appearance attributes of an object, not the object itself.

Add Arrowheads, found under Effect > Stylize, is useful for adding not just arrowheads, but also arrow tails to an open or closed path. Use Object > Expand Appearance (plus a few Ungroup commands) to work with the individual heads or tails.


Figure 3.50 The Add Arrowheads effect has plenty of different heads and tails to choose from.

The series of Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow/Feather/Inner Glow/Outer Glow adds soft (or hard) effects borrowed from the pixel world. The end result, however, is in fact a raster-based (bitmapped) effect added to an object, since the results still scale up and down without any loss in quality. These effects are good to have around the house, so to speak. The Feather effect is useful for creating a blurred look to hard-edged vector objects.


Figure 3.51 Drop shadow and other raster-based effects are shown here.

Need to emulate the rounded corners on a road sign or make a pointy star look friendly? Effect > Stylize > Round Corners will tackle those tasks with no effort. Setting the radius of the corners is the only option you get with this no-frills effect.


Figure 3.52 A simple effect with lots of uses.

So now you're armed with all sorts of methods for distorting simple and complex objects. Use these techniques in moderation, so as to enhance your creations rather than overpowering them. I know I can trust you!

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account