Adobe Illustrator Tutorials - Beginners

Lesson 1 - intro

Vector Graphics

Adobe Illustrator is a program primarily used to create what is often called "outline art." Examples of outline art are everywhere: think of a typical company logo, or a starburst shape in an advertisement, or a technical drawing, or the customized lettering on virtually any commercial product. It is called outline art because you simply draw the outline of a shape, assign it a fill and the drawing program automatically fills in the shape as a solid. Outline art is also known as a vector graphic.

A quick example is in order. Note that all examples in this document are preceded by the “Venus” illustration as shown below.

Exercise 1 - Exploring Preview and Edit modes

1) Launch the program. Illustrator will open to a blank document page. (If you need to install the program or configure it, see the Installation and Configuration information in Appendix A.)

2) Using the mouse, click on the Oval tool in the toolbox, and then click on your blank page and drag a large oval. If your system is set to the normal defaults, the oval will be filled with solid black. You will also see some blue dots, which appear when an object is selected. As we shall see later, we can resize and manipulate graphics with these dots. Don’t do that now.

Adobe Illustrator Preview mode

First, we are going to look at Preview mode versus Edit mode. These modes have keyboard shortcuts (listed below), which I want you to learn. The commands are also listed in the View menu on your screen. Switch between Preview and Edit mode, and then back again.

Adobe Illustrator edit mode

Caption: Because vector artwork is made up of lines and paths, you can turn off the preview mode and see only the outlines. Press Control-Y to toggle Preview (full color) Mode or Edit (outlines only) mode on or off.

Problems? You can delete a selected object by pressing Backspace. To select an object in Edit mode (outlines), you must click on the outline. In Preview mode, you can click anywhere in the filled portion of the object. Try deleting the object(s) now.

Vectors vs. Bitmaps

Vector graphics programs such as Illustrator and FreeHand are categorically known as "draw" programs, as opposed to bitmap-oriented programs such as Photoshop and Fractal Painter, which are categorized as "paint" programs. Some programs can work with both paint- and draw-type graphics. In fact, the latest versions of Illustrator, FreeHand, Painter and Photoshop all have the ability to work in both vector-oriented and bitmap-oriented modes.

Here are a few common graphics titles in each category:

Paint: MacPaint, Photoshop LE, Sketcher, Digital Darkroom, Kai's Power Tools, Color-it, XRes, Collage, etc.

Draw: Illustrator 5.5, FreeHand 5.0, MacDraw, Claris Draw, etc.

Hybrid: SuperPaint, Canvas, Photoshop (full version), Illustrator 6, FreeHand 5.5, CorelDraw, etc.

Illustrator Pen Tool

FreeHand Pen Tool

Photoshop Pen Tool

Caption: Illustrator, FreeHand, and Photoshop all have remarkably similar pen tools. When you’ve learned one, you’ll easily be able to understand the others.

A Brief History

As is probably obvious from the above list, there have been many releases of Illustrator prior to the current 8.0 version. Here are some of the main differences.

Illustrator 1.x - circa 1987 - the initial release provided basic drawing tools. You could not edit objects in so-called "preview mode," which made it rather difficult to create complex graphics. That's probably a good thing, because the printers of the day had trouble printing complex graphics anyway. Another notable problem: objects could not have holes in them. This lack of "compound paths" made things like the letter "O" a trifle difficult to create.

Illustrator 88 - circa 1988 - still no preview mode editing, no compound paths like the letter "O." Your basic bare-metal drawing environment, with some added tools and usability improvements.

Illustrator 3.x - circa 1990 - Added compound paths, better text handling. Still no tabs or preview mode editing, though.

Illustrator 4.x - circa 1992 - gradients! no TIFF support; limited import capabilities.

Illustrator 5.0 - circa 1994 - big breakthroughs: editable preview mode, and much improved import abilities via support for Adobe's new "digital paper" technology called Acrobat. Still no tabs or TIFF support. "Deluxe" CD cost extra.

Illustrator 5.5 - circa 1995 - Added support for tabbed text and third-party plug-ins. Still no TIFF support. Still only single-page Acrobat files supported. Deluxe CD standard. Still need to run stand-alone Separator program to create color separations.

Illustrator 6.0 - circa 1996 - more big breakthroughs: a wide array of bitmap file types importable; bitmap-oriented filters may be applied to vector artwork, any PostScript file may be imported; Separator now built in. Package now includes Deluxe CD, Dimensions 2.0, ScreenReady, fonts, QuickTime tutorials. This product was a Mac-only release. The Windows version was still at version 4.1 and lacked many features of Illustrator 5.5 – 6.x on the Mac.

Version 6.01 (released in Q4 1996) was a free upgrade for registered owners of Illustrator 6.0 that added a few additional features, such as TIFF and Photoshop file support, plus enhanced support for multi-layer Acrobat PDF (portable document format) files.

Illustrator 7.0 – Circa 1997 – Finally, the Windows (PC) version of Illustrator gained parity with the Mac edition. Mac users complained about some interface changes; notably, an awkward implementation of the Stroke function, requiring the use of three separate palettes.

Version 8.0 - Released in 1999 – Interface improvements and new PDF features, etc.

This document discusses features as found in the 8.0 release; most capabilities are also present in earlier versions. In short, Illustrator 5.x and 6.0x represented the title's coming of age on the Mac; version 7.0 was the breakthrough release on the PC.

Version 8.0, in particular, added a significant number of useful functions that make it a worthy upgrade or purchase. This document will explain the above-listed terms more fully later. First, however, an exercise is in order.

Illustrator Export Options

Let’s look at how Illustrator can open existing clip-art (say, from a CD-ROM or your hard drive) and save it in a format that you could use in a Web site. After all, there are plenty of non-artists out there that make good use of existing clip-art by modifying it a little here and there, or even by simply arranging it creatively.

Of all of the graphics programs mentioned so far, Illustrator, Photoshop, FreeHand and CorelDraw are the most common titles in use in professional graphics applications. Of course, desktop publishing programs such as PageMaker and QuarkXPress are in wide use as well. Some users are surprised to find that neither of these titles can import “native” Illustrator files. (If it’s any consolation, PageMaker and QuarkXPress can’t open native FreeHand or CorelDraw files, either). In order to drop an Illustrator image into a DTP program, you must save it as EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) or another suitable export format.

Exercise 2

  1. There are sample files inside the Adobe Illustrator folder on your hard disk. Using Illustrator’s File:open command, select the first file with a tiny Illustrator icon in the list and click OK to load it. (Obviously, the following info also applies if you have drawn or edited an Illustrator image yourself.) Sample file
  2. Select Save as... to bring up the Save dialog. You’ll find a list of Save options, as shown here. (Note that, at the school, you cannot write to the hard disk. Your teacher will give you a floppy diskette to save files onto.)
  3. Choose “Illustrator EPS.” This is the best choice if you are going to print to a PostScript printer (which is what you should be printing to, if you want the best possible results from any graphics or DTP program). Note that Illustrator 5.5 lacks some of the options shown below. Illustrator 5.5 lacks options
  4. Name the file appropriately (e.g., LOGO.EPS), insert the floppy you want to save the file onto and click Save. An EPS options dialog such as shown here will appear.

EPS options dialog

The default settings are fine (the other options will be discussed later). Click OK to complete the Save operation. The resulting EPS file will then be placeable into QuarkXPress, PageMaker, or virtually any other DTP program.

On the next page, we’ll see how the image looks in the two most popular DTP programs.

Logo EPS

LOGO.EPS as seen when placed into PageMaker 5.0 document.

Logo EPS

LOGO.EPS as seen when placed into QuarkXPress document.

Caption: Many users load vector-oriented clip-art into Illustrator for editing and then simply save it as EPS for placing into PageMaker (top) or QuarkXPress (bottom). Note that these programs, like most others, allow only limited editing of your saved-as-EPS artwork. You can resize and rotate, but not much else. For full control of the graphic, you’ll have toi re-open the file in Illustrator. It’s also worth mentioning that, unlike some other programs, Illustrator can open and edit its own EPS files.

Of course, PageMaker and QuarkXPress aren’t the only desktop publishing programs that can place artwork from Illustrator and/or other graphics applications. We'll discuss importing and exporting artwork in lesson 3. We’ll revisit the process of exporting files in that lesson, too, and describe EPS and other filetypes more fully then.

To summarize the basic principle: file exporting is accomplished via Illustrator’s File menu Save As.... option. Save as “Illustrator EPS” if you want to place the image into a DTP program.

Scanned artwork

Although, as we shall see, Illustrator can also work with photographic (scanned) images, it lacks true photo-editing capabilities (version 6's improvements notwithstanding). For that, you would typically use a separate program such as Adobe Photoshop. While a complete discussion of Photoshop is obviously outside the scope of this document, we will look at how Illustrator and Photoshop work together a little later.

Incidentally, if you aren’t familiar with Photoshop, you should be. It is a wonderful program, and is a perfect complement to the skills you will learn in this course.

Exercise 3 - Bitmap Strategies

You can scan a piece of artwork, save it as a TIFF file and open it as an Illustrator Template, which you can then trace using Illustrator’s array of drawing tools. Here’s how.

  1. Scan an image using a scanner and its software. Procedures vary depending on the software, but assuming you were using Adobe Photoshop as your scanning program and a Hewlett-Packard ScanJet scanner, you might see something like this: Adobe Photoshop Caption: Photoshop accesses many scanner brands via its File:Acquire menu’s TWAIN... option. Using Microtek’s ScanMaker software, the interface looks like this: interface looks
  2. Save the image as a TIFF file. For best results, set the resolution to 72 dots per inch. High-contrast line drawings make the best tracing templates.
  3. If you don’t have enough RAM to keep Photoshop and Illustrator open at the same time, quit Photoshop (File:Quit)
  4. Launch Illustrator.
  5. Open the scanned file via Illustrator’s File:Open menu. (Note: do NOT double-click the TIFF file itself, as this would re-launch Photoshop, not Illustrator).
  6. From the Open dialog’s list of options, choose Open this document as Illustrator Template (PICT).
  7. Note that this is a template for tracing, not final artwork. The template will not print. It is a guide only, to help you accurately draw by simply tracing over the scanned PICT.

If you actually wanted to include a bitmap as part of your illustrator final art, save it as an EPS file and place it using Illustrator’s Place... command. All versions of Illustrator support bitmapped images placed in this way. Bitmaps saved this way can have up to 16.8 million colors and can be virtually any resolution. If the image is to be color-separated, it is a good idea to pre-separate the image by converting it to CMYK via the command in Photoshop’s Mode menu. Illustrator 6.x can also place several other types of bitmapped images, including JPEG, TIFF and Photoshop formats. More on these later.

Exercise 4 - the Toolbox


Let's look at what each of Illustrator's Toolbox tools is used for. To get started, select the Oval tool by clicking on it. On your Illustrator page, click and drag a few oval shapes. Delete them, and then try drawing some more while holding either Shift key and note the difference.

Preview mode

Preview mode (Control-Y)

Edit mode

Edit mode (Control-Y again)

Preview mode

Edit mode

Now, we can test many of the tools in the Toolbox on our oval shapes.

Solid arrowSolid arrow = Object select (click on outline)

Hollow arrow*Hollow arrow = point select (shift-click or drag marquee around blue dot to select)

Bezier toolBezier tool = create Bezier curves (click and drag) and/or straight line segments (click)

Hand toolHand tool = change your view position (Space bar performs same function)

Zoom toolZoom tool = change magnification level (Alt zooms out)

Scissors*Scissors = cut object outline(s)

PaintbrushPaintbrush = draw wide lines

Freehand tool*Freehand tool = draw freehand shapes

OvalOval = create ovals (shift-drag to create circle)

RectangleRectangle = create rectangle (shift-drag to create square)

RulerRuler = displays dimensions, coordinates

Text tool*Text tool = click on page to create headline text; click/drag to create paragraph text. Existing text can also be edited with this tool.

RotateRotate = rotate object(s). Shift constrains. Alt key shows numeric-entry dialog

ResizeResize = resize object(s). Alt key shows numeric-entry dialog

ReflectReflect = flip object(s). Alt key shows numeric-entry dialog

SkewSkew = skew object(s). Alt key shows numeric-entry dialog

PaintbucketPaintbucket. Fill

EyedropperEyedropper. Choose color

GradientGradient. Blends color from foreground to background

BlendBlend - "morphs" objects and/or lines and/or colors from one to another. Click similar points on two selected objects.

ChartChart - makes a bar, scatter or pie chart. Bar charts can be pictorial.

PagePage - drag to set printable area.

Note: toolbox items with a small arrow in the upper-right corner have other options that pop out when you hold the mouse button down. The Text tool, for example, shows these pop-out options, for text inside a shape, and text on a path:

small arrow

We’ll look at these, and other pop-out tool options, later.

There are some additional special-purpose tools in Illustrator 6.0 or newer that were not present in earlier releases. These will be discussed later, along with additional details of the many Toolbox Tools:


For now, the most important thing to understand and remember is that to edit a shape, you MUST be in the hollow arrow mode. Remember to shift-click or drag a marquee around a blue dot to select.

TIP: To temporarily turn any tool into the arrow, hold down Control. To switch from solid arrow to hollow arrow mode,press TAB. Explore the various drawing and selection tools. If your screen gets cluttered, press Control-A to select all, and press Delete to erase everything.

Exercise 5 - Bezier Curves

At the heart of Illustrator -- and indeed, the PostScript language itself -- is the Bezier curve. Rather than describing a circle as hundreds or thousands of short line segments, Illustrator, and other programs that use Beziers, can describe a circle with as few as three clicks of the mouse. Here's how.

  1. Choose the Bezier tool Pen tool. Click and drag, from left to right, a horizontal line about 2 inches wide. Try holding the shift key to keep the line perfectly horizontal. shift key
  2. About 2 inches below this horizontal line, click and drag to draw another 2-inch line but this time, drag from right to left -- again, using the shift key to help keep the line perfectly horizontal. Note the curve that appears when you click and drag. Try to make the bottom line's length and position match that of the first line you drew. If you end up with a reasonable looking semi-circle, you're doing it right. semi-circle
  3. Move the mouse pointer back up to the first place you started drawing. (Notice the way the pen tool changes, displaying a little "o" when you return to the position that will complete the circle! This is called Closing the Path.) Click and drag in the same direction you did the first time -- from left to right. With a little practice, this will result in a smooth circle. Practice it a few more times to get the hang of it. smooth circle

Note that you MUST complete each circle before you can begin a new one. The small "o" that appears when you are about to close a path helps you to find the start point of your shape. Once a shape has been closed, notice that the Pen tool displays a tiny "x", symbolizing that a new shape is ready to be started.

Congratulations: you are well on your way to mastering the Pen tool!

Delete the shape you drew by clicking on it with the solid arrow Solid arrow and pressing Backspace

Exercise 6: Tracing a template

In this exercise, we will load a scanned, hand-drawn image into Illustrator so that we can trace over the shapes with the Bezier pen tool.

Note: follow these instructions exactly. Do not attempt to launch the SampleShapes.TIFF file by double-clicking it from the Finder. This will NOT open the file in Illustrator, as the file was created in a different program (typically, something like Photoshop).

From Illustrator's File menu, choose Open. If a message appears advising you to insert a floppy disk, insert the Tutorial diskette and click OK. If not, insert the floppy when the File dialog appears. In a few seconds, you should see a list of the contents of the Tutorial disk. Choose the file called "Simple Shapes.PICT" and click OK.

Simple Shapes

Open TIFF as Template

partially grayed-out image

For the first shape (rectangle), we can use the Rectangle tool. Select it from the toolbox and trace over the template.

You’ve already done ovals and circles “the easy way” with the Oval tool (remember, holding Shift while drawing an oval creates a circle). You drew a circle (or hopefully something like one) “the hard way” with the Pen tool in the last exercise, so here’s a chance to practice it again. We’ll trace the circle on our template exactly as we did in exercise 5, with the Pen tool. Refer to those instructions again if you need to. Remember, holding Shift while clicking and dragging the horizontal lines will help your circle come out more even-looking.

Bezier PenUsing the Bezier Pen tool as you did in exercise 1, start in the upper left, and work your way clockwise around the other shapes, being careful to close each one for moving on to the next.

Use the Zoom tool Zoom tool to zoom in, if you wish. Remember, Alt- Zoom tool zooms out.

Note that for straight line segments, you do NOT need to click and drag. A simple click will do for straight lines, such as the sides of the rectangle and triangle.

The rule of thumb is: Click and pull to create a curve; just click to create a straight line.

The football shape introduces a new function -- clicking twice in the same place to make a corner. Click once in the left corner and click-and-pull (down and to the right) in the right corner, pulling the curve out so that it follows the template. It should look like this:

pulling the curve

Once you have the curve "pulled out," click again on the right corner (notice the Pen tool gets an upside-down "V" symbol to signify that it is creating a corner!).

symbol to signify

This is how the shape looks after clicking the second time on the right corner.

Then, return to the original point on the left corner, and pull the curve out to follow the template shape.

template shape

Notice that you always pull curves in the direction the line is heading. At the top or bottom of a circle, we pull horizontally; at the sides, we would pull vertically. As we approach the corner of this football shape, the line is heading in an approximately diagonal direction, therefore, we pull at a 45-degree angle.

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