Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: 5 Time-Saving Techniques

Dominic Flask is a designer and illustrator who teaches a Skillshare class on Basic Geometric Shapes: Illustrate a Series of Icons of Badges. We asked Dominic to share 5 of the most useful tips he's learned along the way with Adobe Illustrator.

I’ve been an avid user of many of the Adobe products for nearly 17 years now and I still don’t consider myself a pro. The applications are so huge and there are so many different ways to do things that it’s nearly impossible to remember it all. But there are those moments when I pick up a new technique, a new way of doing something, that will forever remain embedded in my mind because the way I was doing it before was so inefficient it was embarrassing.

I’ve outlined five of these things here, all related to some really basic ways of drawing shapes in the hopes that they will save you as much time in your workflow as they have saved me:

1. Creating Repeating Circles

I don’t know how long it took me to figure this one out, but it was at least a few years. All I wanted to do was make a line of circles with some space in between them. There are ways to do it with the brush tool, but changing the spacing is always difficult. Normally what I would do is make a copy and repeat it 20-2000 times until I had what I needed, again, something very hard to adjust. What I learned was that you can easily do this in the stroke palette in about 3 steps.

First, draw a line or an object with a stroke around it.

Next, open up the Stroke palette and make sure that you can see the Dashed Line configuration by choosing “Show Options”.

Select the Dashe Stroke option AND the Rounded Cap option.

Enter ‘0’ for the first dash. This is the part I never tried. I just assumed you had to have at least a 1 in there. Then adjust the gap as you like, it will need to be equal or greater than your stroke width to see the full circles.

Voila! Perfect sets of circles that you can easily adjust the size and spacing of.

2. Using the Blend Tool for Patterns

After I learned how to create these sets of dots I often found myself using them to make dot/halftone patterns in a similar way, by duplicating them over and over and over again. To eliminate this problem I learned how to use the blend tool to make copies of things, making it much easier to edit later on and keeping your Illustrator document more responsive by keeping the number of paths down as well.

To illustrate this I’m going to take by line that is now circles and rotate it 90°.

Then, make a copy of it and add some space between them.

Next, select both objects and go to Object > Blend > Make

To edit the blend go to Object > Blend > Blend Options

From there, select the “Specified Steps” option and you can choose how many copies you want in between until you find a nice number to make the pattern.

This technique can be used with two of any object so you can easily make repeating stars or other elements too, whatever the project might call for.

3. Scaling Items

This is a pretty handy trick too that should save you a whole bunch of time. Most likely you’re already aware that you can scale items with the Selection Tool and the bounding box corners. That’s how everyone does it. If you didn’t know, there is also a specific Scale Tool that has some options for things you can’t do with the bounding box. The main thing here is that you can set the location you wish to scale from and that can be very handy.

Normally, if you select an object and select the scale tool you can click and drag to scale it up or down, just like normal. Holding shift will constrain your proportions and you’llscale things without distorting them.

Doing this always scales from the center though. Sometimes you want to scale from a specific point, like a horizon line.

To do this, just pick the scale tool and before actually clicking and dragging, click once from the point you want to scale from. Then click and scale as necessary.

4. Rotating Around a Point

This one is similar to the Scale Tool, but using the Rotation Tool instead. Once again, picking the specific tool instead of just using the selection tool for rotating objects gives us some different options and benefits. I often find myself wanting to create radial elements like flowers or stars that require an element to be repeated around a central point. This method makes doing that extremely easy.

First draw an initial element.

Hold Alt/Option and click once around the point you want to rotate the element around (in this case the bottom point).

This brings up a dialog box with an input for an angle. You can figure an exact angle by taking 360 (the number of degrees in a circle) divided by the number of elements you want. I use 5 a lot, which gives us 72 degrees. Then click the Copy button instead of the Okay button.

This makes a copy rotated at 72 degrees from the point we selected. Then all you need to do is duplicate (Edit > Duplicate or Command/Ctrl + D) the number of times you need to complete the image.

5. Editing Colors

I learned this one while working to prepare prints for screen-printing, but have used it often in projects for offset printing or for on screen use since then. A lot of times I’ll want to make final adjustments to colors towards the end of a project but I’ll have a lot of elements which use the same color and all of them need to be changed. I used to use the “Select Same Color” method to do this, but there is an even faster and better way to edit the colors used in your entire document.

You’ll want to select everything that you have in your document first so make sure all of your layers and objects are unlocked.

Then go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork

This brings up a dialog box showing you swatches for every color used in your selected objects

From there you can double click on the small color swatches and edit them as necessary.

BONUS: You can also use this to remove duplicate colors if some are just slightly different than others even though they don’t need to be. So instead of 3 slightly different shades of black you can pick one perfect shade of black and make sure everything is exactly the same.

That’s it. Hopefully these quick little tricks save you as much of your life as they have mine. Do something fun with the extra time like learn even more on Skillshare...

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