Sunday, June 12, 2011

More about Illustrator

My post about using Adobe Illustrator generated a lot of comments and emails and quite a few questions. That was exciting for me so I thought I would expand a little and try to answer some of the questions.

First, another little demo and maybe a bit more about how this program really works and how it differs from raster programs like Photoshop.

The basis of drawing in Illustrator is the use of the pen tool and bezier curves. Instead of drawing, like you would with a pencil, dragging a point across the surface, you draw by creating points and pulling curves that span the distance between two points. Above you can see the Illustrator toolbar and the pen tool is highlighted. The line to the right was created by clicking a point (that little white box at the beginning of the line) then creating a curve that ends at the next point, where the next curve changes direction and ends at the last point, which is black because it is the selected point, where the pen stopped last. Those straight lines with the little dots on the end are handles that you can use to change the curve, depending on the direction that you pull the handle. The points and handles are only visible when the line is selected. This concept and the practice of how to make it work is the hardest part of learning to use a vector drawing program. Once you master it, you can draw anything and your lines will be smooth and your curves beautiful and graceful!

Another tool for creating shapes (lines) is the circle tool, which can also become a square, rectangle, triangle, star, etc. You choose the shape, click on the page and pull the shape to the size you want. You can see that this circle also has points, like the line did. When you click on one of these points handles will appear and you can manipulate the shape using the handles. For example, you can easily take a basic circle and nudge it into the shape of an apple.

Use the pen tool to create a stem and a leaf.

Now you probably want to add color. If you have drawn items in Photoshop or other "paint" programs, you know that you choose a color and a paintbrush and paint the color where you want it. Not so in Illustrator. Instead you select a shape and direct the program to "fill" it in one of several ways.

Starting at the top left, the elements are filled with straight, solid color you choose from a swatch menu. On the right the apple and leaf are filled with a gradient—two or more colors that blend in a continuous smooth transition. On the bottom left the parts of the apple are each filled with a pre-programed pattern fill. Patterns come with Illustrator or you can create your own pattern fills. The last apple and leaf are filled with radial gradients.

This is just a bit of an intro. There are many wonderful things you can create in Illustrator. Now to some of the questions:

  1. How long did it take you to create that iris design? About an hour, but remember I have used Illustrator professionally (I am a retired graphic designer) for more than 15 years.

  2. Do you use a Mac? No, I use a PC, but that is irrelevant. Illustrator is available for both platforms and is identical on either platform. I have used Illustrator on both and there is no difference. I just happen to be using a PC
  3. If I use Photoshop, why would I need Illustrator? They are two very different programs, designed to do different things. Although Photoshop has some drawing capabilities, it is primarily a photo manipulation program. You cannot manipulate photos in Illustrator. Illustrator is a much more powerful drawing tool than Photoshop and creates vector graphics which you can scale inifinitely—without loss of  quality and without creating a larger file. I often draw a pattern for a quilt in Illustrator on a regular sized page, then expand it to full size. I often print my pattern out on up to 40 sheets of paper that I tape together. The lines are clear and smooth no matter how big you make it. And the size of the file stays the same. You can't do that with Photoshop. The two programs work beautifully together and I can't imagine being without either one.

  4. Why do I need Illustrator? You don't, unless you want to design graphics on your computer. Not everyone wants or needs to. But if you like the idea of learning something new, it is a lot of fun to use!

  5. What is the best way to learn to use Illustrator? Do you know of any good books or tutorials? It isn't a program that you can just pick up and play with and learn easily. I took a good class at a university when I learned to use it. The program comes with a tutorial that is quite good and the manual that I have is excellent. I am using Illustrator 10, which is not the most current version, so I don't know if they have continued to include the excellent manual and tutorial, but I am guessing they have. When I took the class years ago, my teacher told us, once we learned the basics, to pick out a published graphic and try to reproduce it. When we came to something we couldn't figure out, look it up in the manual. I chose a colorful Starbucks Coffee label, with a parrot and tropical flowers and worked for hours reproducing it. I learned so much from that exercise that I always recommend it to anyone trying to learn Illustrator.

    I couldn't find the one I used, but this would be a good one to duplicate.

 I hope this has been helpful if you are considering learning to use Illustrator. I discovered some Illustrator 10 versions on eBay for pretty good prices. I am also interested in checking out the open source "Inkscape" program that Jennifer mentioned in yesterday's comments.


  1. Oh, this reminds me of 1986 when I started doing vector graphics for the purpose of transferring analogue typeface design into the vector format. This all came from technical applications like designing ship and car outlines. When I first did that, I had to move each anchor point by values operated on keyboard. No mouse yet! What a relief to have Illustrator. I'm in love with vectors.

  2. Wonderful posts about using Illustrator. Thanks for sharing. While I do use Illustrator, I've found that over the past few years I'm using it less while using Photoshop much more. Its pen and shape tools produce vectors, so that in combination with its painting tools are good for my needs. That being said, you remind me of the power of a pure vector program. :)

  3. Anonymous4:35 AM

    Homescapes is the newest match-3-slash-simulation builder from Playrix.