I have a secret to tell you, I had a hard time getting started with Adobe Illustrator. A few years ago, I almost gave up on it because creating a simple wordmark logo used to take forever and I had no idea how to use the Pen Tool. Which is strange considering that it’s one of my favorite Photoshop tools.
As a web designer and developer, I was taught to use Photoshop for wireframes and logos, and learning how to use it came naturally to me. As I started to become more passionate about illustrations and pattern design, I had to settle for creating them in Photoshop because Illustrator gave me nightmares.
It took years, but now I finally know how to use Illustrator and I use it to create vector graphics for my clients and for my shop. Since I started writing a few Illustrator tutorials and I want to share more, I decided to tell you a few things about using and learning Adobe Illustrator:
The age-old Photoshop vs. Illustrator debate
You’ve probably heard about graphic designers complaining that their clients send them Photoshop files and web designers swearing by Photoshop. Although you might hear that one of them is perfect for everything and you don’t need the other, they usually complement each other and the way you use them depends on the type of work you do and personal preference.
While Photoshop is used to edit and manipulate photos and Illustrator is used to create graphics, you can also create illustrations in Photoshop and make simple edits to photos in Illustrator.
One of the biggest differences between the two is that Photoshop is a raster based image editor, while Illustrator is a vector based software. Raster-based images are formed of thousands of pixels and they can be anything from simple images to complex illustrations and photographs. Vector graphics are actually mathematical formulas that communicate with your computer and tell it what shape to render. This is why vector images can be scaled without losing quality, while raster images appear pixelated.
Vector graphics are often composed of smoother shapes and fewer colors and they don’t preserve certain details and textures the way raster images do. This is one of the reasons many artists prefer to work with Photoshop.
When to use Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator is a very powerful software and there are many things you can do with it from creating products to improving your website’s design. Here are some of the most popular ways people use it:
Illustrations and pattern design
Since it’s called Illustrator, I don’t need to tell you that you can create illustrations with it. I love to create graphics using a drawing tablet or with shapes and the Pen Tool.
Illustrator also lets you easily create brushes that you can use over and over again. You can also turn objects into patterns with the Pattern Maker or create more complex patterns.
When it comes to digitizing traditional art, I prefer using Photoshop, but there are many artists who love using Illustrator for this. Although there are also a lot of people who use a combination of the two.
While Photoshop has all the tools to make a good looking logo, you might run into trouble if you want to print your logo. Illustrator lets you create simple and complex logos that can be used on websites, but also on business cards and large banners.
Pixel-based images are still the standard in web design, but Illustrator also lets you save your images in raster formats (JPEG, PNG). You can also create icons for your website and save them as SVG (scalable vector graphics). As responsive design becomes more popular, vector graphics are used more and more on websites since it’s easier to scale them without losing quality.
Both Photoshop and Illustrator have the Slice Tool which lets you cut an image into smaller pieces and save them for your website using the “Save for Web” option.
Wireframes are the mockups of websites that designers create which are then turned into the real website by developers. Designers used to do this in Photoshop and there are still a lot of designers who use it because you can organize the files using layers and groups.
Lately, I have met designers who prefer to use Illustrator because they can work faster and organize objects using the Symbols panel.
Adobe InDesign is the best when it comes to creating business cards, books, and worksheets, but if you don’t want to learn how to use another software, you can do this in Illustrator.
I use a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator to create printables, but when it comes to eBooks or the blog planner, I like to use InDesign.
Getting started with Adobe Illustrator
If you want to start using Illustrator, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the workspace and eventually create the best workspace for the type of work you usually do.
The Start workspace
When you launch Adobe Illustrator, you will first notice the Start workspace. You can set your workspace to show:
- most recent files: to view files that you have recently modified
- libraries: for the list of libraries associated with your Creative Cloud account
- presets: display different starter templates (A4, Letter, Web, etc.)
You can also create a new document or open an existing file.
When you open a new document, you will see many tools and menus. The workspace is the way these items are arranged. If you are familiar with Photoshop or other Adobe apps, you’ll notice that the workspaces are similar.
In the middle of the workspace, you have the artboard. You can resize it or even create multiple artboards using the Artboard Tool (Shift+O).
Application bar (A): contains menus (on Windows), workspace switches and different application controls.
Control panel (B): right under the application bar, you can find controls for the currently selected tool or object.
Panel groups (C): you can add or remove panels from this bar. These panels help you modify or organize your work. To open a panel, you have to go to Window and select the item you need. You can add the Layers Panel, Brushes, Swatches or Libraries.
Tools panel (D): It contains all the tools you need to create and edit your work. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the tools are organized by their use. There are also hidden tools that you can reveal by holding down the mouse button on the visible tool. The tools are organized into the following category.
- selections tools (E)
- drawing and type tools (F)
- reshaping tools (G)
- painting tools (H)
- symbol and graph tools (I)
- artboard, slicing, zoom and moving tools (J)
- fill and stroke (K)
Adobe Illustrator courses usually walk you through the workspace, but if you want to try to create a logo or pattern following a tutorial, you should take some time and discover all these tools and menus.Getting started with Illustrator: an introduction to the workspace and my favorite tutorialsClick To Tweet
My favorite Adobe Illustrator tutorials
I always felt that project-based learning is the best way to acquire new skills. There are many great tutorials out there, but these are some that I’ve tried or are highly recommended by others:
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase using my affiliate link. However, I love these classes, and I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t find them helpful.
Skillshare is under $10/month and you get access to hundreds of great tutorials. My favorite tutorials are:
- Learn the Ins and Outs of Illustrator
- Intro to Surface Pattern Design: Learn Adobe Illustrator | Create Patterns
- plus 8 other Skillshare tutorials that I love
If you use my referral link, you can get the first two months of Skillshare Premium for FREE.
This is my favorite Illustrator course. In 9 hours, you will not only learn how to use Illustrator, but you will also learn how to create graphics for a business website. This is a great course for new web and graphic designers. A Treehouse subscription is only $25/month, but it also has a 7-day free trial.
Nataliya is a graphic designer and illustrator that shares free tutorials for those who want to create cute illustrations and patterns. Two of my favorite tutorials are:
Subscribe to my brand new YouTube channel for Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop tutorials that will teach you how to create seamless patterns, textures, and illustrations. New videos will be added every week.
Do you use Adobe Illustrator? Did you spend a lot of time learning how to use it?