Illustrator 102

By guest contributor Melissa Coleman.

Now that we have the basics down, let's play with the Illustrator tools. There are a lot of different tools in Illustrator, but today we're going to focus on the ones you'll use the most. Next to each of the tool labels you'll see a letter or a character. That's the keystroke you can use to toggle between tools. You can click the tool itself, but as you become more familiar with Illustrator, you'll want to use the key strokes. The highlighted tools are the ones I find myself using most. Add these keystrokes to your brain first.

You can probably guess what most of these tools do from using the standard Windows Paint program, so I won't bore you with long descriptions. Below are a couple things that you may not know:

Selection Tool vs. Direct Selection Tool: Vector based programs use paths, points, lines, and curves to create objects. Use the Selection Tool to select an entire object--points and all. Use the Direct Selection Tool to select and edit individual points.

Pen Tool: Use the pen tool to create paths, points, lines, and curves. This tool also allows you to add and remove points. Mini lesson: if you remove a point from a square, you're left with a triangle. If you add a point to a square, you have a hexagon. This tool takes a lot of practice. It is helpful to stick with straight lines when starting out.

Eyedropper Tool: The Eyedropper Tool not only picks up color, but it also picks up other attributes like stroke color or stroke width.

Fill/Stroke Tool: This tool allows you to toggle back and forth between your fill and stroke color, making it easier to apply color to each. Press X a couple times and watch it toggle.

Triangle: Notice the triangle at the bottom right corner of some of the tools? Click to expand for more tools.

Let's put those tools to work. Follow the tutorial below. By the end, you'll have your very own flag, similar to the one I've used for "The Tools" artwork. Be patient with yourself; Illustrator is a massive program.

Here are a couple more keystrokes to add to your list: To switch the stroke and fill color:

  • Shift + X To remove color: / 
  • To bring an object to the front: Command + Shift + ] 
  • To bring an object forward: Command + ] 
  • To send object to the back: Command + Shift + [ 
  • To send an object backward: Command + [ 
  • To resize proportionately: Shift

Pro tip: Keystrokes in Illustrator are a bit different than Photoshop, so make sure you do not confuse them.