July 19, 2022

My 3 Most Used Adobe Illustrator Tools

Now that I think about it, it’s been years since I created my first design in Adobe Illustrator. For someone who is just discovering this software, its functionality might seem a little overwhelming. Depending on your style and design complexity you might need some advanced tools and effects, however, on most days I only use a handful of basic tools to create my graphics. Here is a list of my favourites to get you started!

1. Pen tool

To understand this tool we need to talk about vector graphics as a concept. You probably learned about vectors in your mathematics course. Put simply, vectors are quantities that have properties of magnitude and direction. In the context of graphic design vectors tell us how to get from point A to point B in a two- or three-dimensional space, or system of coordinates.

What is vector graphics then? Whatever artwork you create, each shape is broken down to its components - points and paths. Vectors then allow to define paths by points they connect, saving this information in mathematical formulas. Instead of “screenshooting” your design, the program saves instructions of how to recreate it from scratch most efficiently, and it only needs a sequence of vectors for that (along with properties like colour, opacity or stroke width).

Returning back to the pen tool, it is a visual instrument for you to create your vector graphics. By clicking on the canvas with a pen tool selected, you plot coordinates, or anchor points. Every time a new anchor point is added, a line between the points is created, also known as a path.

If you click, hold down and drag your mouse in different directions, it will allow you to create and adjust line curvature.  

You can shape, bend, extend your paths, add or remove anchor points, and, finally, close up a chain of coordinates to define an area between them as a shape. Shapes drawn with the pen tool can be infinitely complex or as simple as you want them to be. Once you learn how to use this tool, it is very likely to become your best friend!

2. Curvature tool

It is very similar to the pen tool, except there is a bit more magic involved. Just like with a pen tool, by clicking on the canvas with curvature tool selected, you place anchor points. However, instead of default straight lines, the tool will suggest you the best curved line based on the anchor points you have already created.

There are a few great use cases for this tool. First of all, if you are tracing a shape with curved lines, this tool will help you determine, where to place your anchor points to get as close as possible to the original. The way I like to use it most of the time is fixing the lines I have created with the pen tool to make them look tidier and smoother.

3. Shape builder tool

Shape builder allows you to modify multiple intersecting shapes by uniting or extracting them. The tool is very easy to use, as all you need to do is hover over selected shapes with the shape builder tool activated. You will get a preview of all individual overlapping shapes that can be created or deleted. A little plus next to your mouse cursor indicates that a new shape will be created, whereas if you hold the option key, you will see a minus next to your cursor. This means that whatever you click on will be deleted.

Sometimes this tool requires you to use your imagination and think of which shapes need to intersect to give you a desired outcome. I most often use this tool when I need to create shadows of certain elements in my design. Shape builder tool is also great for drawing minimalist geometric designs, such as logos.

Once you learn the basics, you can start creating simple artworks like the one below, using just these 3 tools!

Thanks for reading, I hope this article was helpful!