An Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: Getting Started
October 9, 2013
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This Adobe Illustrator tutorial will help you understand the basics of how this program works, so you'll know which projects in your graphic design classes are best suited to Illustrator and which ones are best completed using Photoshop.
Illustrator is a vector-based program, meaning that it uses mathematical equations to draw your images. Photoshop, on the other hand, uses pixels—small squares—to compose an image. When an image is created in Photoshop, thousands of those squares are necessary to create a clear, crisp image. If the image contains too few pixels—for instance, 500 to 1,000—the image will be blurry, especially when it's enlarged. Because Illustrator is based on math, it can "recalculate" an image when it's stretched, which means that the image will be crisp and clear no matter how much you stretch it. This makes Illustrator ideal for illustrations, logos, line drawings and any other projects where you might want the image or text to always be crisp, regardless of its size.
You'll find that many of the tools used in Illustrator and Photoshop are similar. The Selection tool, Lasso tool, Magic Wand and Rectangle tool all work in much the same way in both programs. What differs is the pen tool, and this is one of the major reasons you might use Illustrator. With the pen you can draw whatever you like, but it does require a bit of practice. Sometimes creating a smooth, seamless line will require a few tries because you'll need to figure out just how many anchor points—little dots—to use. And it really is like connecting the dots! But with a lot of practice.
So, let's do it. Select File, Open, and then choose an image to import into Illustrator so that you can practice drawing. You're going to trace over this image using the pen tool. Place the image on a layer—Layer One—in the layer box. (Think of layers as transparency sheets or tracing paper—paper you can see through.) Then create a new layer—Layer Two—by selecting Create New Layer in the layer box. Make sure to place it on top of Layer One. Literally, select the first layer and just slide it above Layer Two in the Layer tool box. You'll be able to see the original image and draw on top of it without changing it. Now select the pen tool and practice a bit. If you want to see your work in progress, simply click the eye next to Layer One to hide the original image.
Another tool to play with when you're first learning Illustrator is the Stroke, which is Adobe's term for the thickness of a line. You'll find the Stroke in the Transparency tool bar on the right. Simply raise or lower the stroke value to change the appearance of your line. The higher the number, the heavier the line. This is useful because you'll probably need some lines to be a bit thicker than others to add depth, especially in an illustration.
Next, play around with the Opacity function, which controls the darkness or lightness of a line. You can make parts of your drawing or logo almost transparent with this tool. You'll find it in the Transparency box next to the Stroke.
This Adobe Illustrator tutorial covers just a few concepts and tools in the program to help you in your classes with illustrations, logos and other cool stuff that any budding designer needs to know. Good luck and have fun.
Image Source: Flickr