Aclimatizing Yourself To The Adobe Illustrator Environment


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.

When running Illustrator training courses, we have noticed that a lot of delegates have had difficulties in getting into the program and finding applications for it. People will say things like: “It’s been on machine for ages. I’ve just never got around to using it.” To a lot of people, it seems far less exciting than Photoshop and far less useful than QuarkXPress or InDesign. Many of these people seem to be suffering from “Blank Canvas Syndrome”: you create a new file and there is this blank page just sitting there with nothing on it. It’s up to you to create everything yourself. At least, with Photoshop you can build your artwork using photos as your raw material.

As Illustrator trainers, we take on board the fact that running an Illustrator training course involves more than just tuition of the use to tools and techniques. To get delegates feeling enthusiastic about using the program, we also need to rid them of their fear of the stark blank canvas facing them every time they create a new file. We have identified four main techniques for ridding new users of “Blank Canvas Syndrome”. Firstly, it is important to clearly identify the type of artwork you want Illustrator to create for you. Secondly, use Illustrator’s Live Trace facility to create vector elements which can become a starting point for your own artwork. Thirdly, use background images as guides as you create your own drawings. And, fourthly, copy, reuse and modify elements that already exist within your own drawings.

Getting started with Illustrator becomes a lot easier once you have a clear idea of what type of artwork you need to produce. When 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.

Bitmapped images can also provide useful visual reference points as you create your own artwork. You place the image on a background layer and, optionally reduce its opacity down to around 45%, so it doesn’t clash with the elements you are creating. As you draw, you can then make constant comparisons between your own art and the content of the background reference images.

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 realise 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.

The author is a trainer and developer with Macresource Computer Solutions, a UK IT training company offering Adobe Illustrator Classes at their central London training centre.

Ana Illustrator 2011
Image by Fran Villena (villano)

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