Getting Started with Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is a widely used vector drawing application with three main areas of functionality. Firstly, it allows the creation of corporate and other graphic artwork for high quality printing. Secondly, it can be used in the web design process, allowing you to build the overall design as well as individual items like icons and buttons. Illustrator is also a basic page layout program suitable for originating single page documents like CD covers, book jackets and posters.

We often find that delegates attending our Adobe Illustrator training courses have difficulty in getting to grips with the program, finding applications for it and incorporating it into their workflows. One of the main reasons for this is what we sometimes refer to as “Blank Canvas Syndrome”. The thing is: at first glance, Adobe Illustrator often seems a lot less enticing and inviting than, say, Photoshop. To many new users, Photoshop is like a big city with bright lights and lots of exciting things to do and places to go. By contrast, Illustrator can seem like a wasteland; there’s just nothing there when you create a new document; it’s up to you to create everything from scratch.

When we run Illustrator training courses, we accept that our job is not just to show delegates how the program works and how to use its various tools and options. We also need to show them how to get past this idea of the stark blank canvas with nothing on it. There are four main antidotes to Blank Canvas Syndrome. The first is to have a very clear idea of the type of artwork you want to produce with Illustrator. The second is to use the excellent Live Trace facility built into the program. The third technique is to make liberal use of scanned and other bitmapped images as points of reference. And, fourthly, reuse elements that you have already created, both within the same drawing and between different illustrations.

Getting started with Illustrator becomes a lot easier once you have a clear idea of what type of artwork you need to produce. We often run courses for companies who will be using Illustrator in a very specific way, such as fashion companies, architects or cartographers. This type of training tends to be very successful because it’s just a case of showing people which tools and techniques they need to use to create the necessary output.

For users who are using the software in a less clear-cut and focused way, we always try to point out on our Adobe Illustrator training courses that you don’t have to start with a blank canvas. We always recommend that wherever possible you import relevant graphic material such as scanned images, keep them on a background layer and use various Illustrator tools and techniques to either trace the images or simply to use them as guides and points of reference as you are creating your own original artwork.

Illustrator’s Live Trace utility was developed from a standalone program called Adobe Streamline and is extremely powerful. It can be used to convert any scanned or bitmapped image into a vector. Naturally, the nature of the resulting vector image depends on the original. However, it’s very fast and the results can be extremely impressive; so it’s always worth trying it out if your feel that it may create something you can clean up and use.

As well as tracing, it is also often useful to just keep an image on a background layer and constantly refer to it as you create your artwork. It can also be useful to reduce the opacity of the background image to about 40 or 50 percent so it doesn’t become obtrusive. Sometimes you may manually trace around areas of these reference images. Other times, you may just use it for reference, so you can check the dimensions or shape of elements that you create in the foreground.

Almost all drawings you create will contain elements that either repeat or are variations on the same theme. Naturally, you will not create such elements from scratch each time you need them. Illustrator contains a wide variety of useful techniques for duplication and transformed duplication of existing elements within your drawing. It also allows you to apply multiple attributes such as fills and strokes to the same object. Thus, for example, you can create the appearance of several concentric circles simply by adding several strokes to one circle (using the Offset Path effect to get the right position).

In short, that blank Illustrator page can soon be filled with lots of funky stuff. The trick is to realize that, once you decide what it is you want to create, your can accelerate the process of drawing by tracing elements from bitmapped images, using images as points of reference and basing new items within your drawing on elements that you’ve already created.

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