Vector graphics are to raster graphics as apples are to oranges — They share some distant similarities (both can edit and create graphics) but they are very different in form and function! Raster graphics are typically created and edited using Adobe Photoshop, and Illustrator is king in the world of vector graphic editing and creation. Seems simple enough! Once you understand the functionality of various Adobe Illustrator tools, you’ll know how to create logos and countless other vector graphics!
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE “TOOLS OF THE TRADE”
We touched on the quick and dirty fundamentals of Adobe Illustrator in our previous Illustrator quick start guide post, and today we’ll be diving into the essence of what makes Illustrator the ideal choice for learning how to create logos and other scalable graphics.
THE SELECTION TOOLS
There are two Selection Tools available in the Default Tool Menu (which is typically docked on the left-hand side of your window.) These tools can be used to select parts of your document and manipulate it in several different ways.
THE GROUP SELECTION TOOL
[BLACK ARROW ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘V’]
This is the go-to, default Selection Tool for Illustrator. It behaves pretty much the same way here in Illustrator that it does in Photoshop, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this one. The primary function of this tool is to be able to select an entire group or layer at once versus having to select each one individually.
THE DIRECT SELECTION TOOL
[WHITE ARROW ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT ‘A’]
This is the tool you want if you need to adjust a single path or one part of a path — it is ideal for moving individual anchor points around without having to delete and then recreate them if they wind up in the wrong place. This tool also behaves in a similar fashion across the Creative Suite (this is the name of Adobe’s software package which includes Illustrator and Photoshop.)
THE DRAWING TOOLS
THE PEN TOOL(S)
[PEN ICON, CLICK AND HOLD TO REVEAL TOOLS | PEN : ‘P’/ ADD ANCHOR: ‘+’ /DELETE ANCHOR: ‘-‘ /ANCHOR POINT: ‘SHIFT+C’]
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and with the Pen tool that line is just a couple of clicks away!
To create a simple line, select the Pen Tool, hover over the point you would like your line to begin, and then hover over the point you would like your line to end, clicking again to create your second anchor point. Now you have your first path!
The remaining anchor point specific Drawing Tools are fairly self-explanatory; you can use the Add Anchor Point tool to add an anchor point to any spot on your path. You can use the Delete Anchor Point Tool to remove any existing anchor point on your path. The Anchor Point Tool can be used to modify an anchor point by converting it to a corner point or a smooth point, and to manipulate the handles that allow the path on either side of an anchor point to create the desired curve / angle / line.
THE SHAPE TOOL(S)
[RECTANGLE ICON, CLICK AND HOLD TO REVEAL TOOLS | RECTANGLE: ‘M’ / ROUNDED RECTANGLE / ELLIPSE: ‘L’ / POLYGON / STAR / FLARE]
If you know that you’re going to need a certain, basic shape, why reinvent the wheel by creating that shape with the Pen Tool? Use the Shape Tool instead. Several basic shapes are available by default such as squares (hold down the Shift key while dragging the rectangle tool to create a shape with equal length sides), rectangles, ellipses, circles (hold down the Shift key while dragging the Ellipse Tool to create a shape with equal diameter all around), polygons, stars, and flares.
THE PENCIL TOOL
[PENCIL ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘N’]
The Pencil Tool in Illustrator behaves much the same way that the Freeform Pen Tool does in Photoshop — users are able to draw freeform paths as though they were using a pencil and paper. Once a path has been created, Illustrator will add anchor points for you in places where your path changes shape / direction. These anchor points can then be modified using the Pen Tools mentioned above.
The Brush Tool behaves much like the Pen Tool in that it can be used to create freeform paths — the main distinction between the Pencil and Brush Tools lies in the appearance of the resulting path. When a path is created using the Brush Tool, it will already be styled with a brush stroke, whereas a path drawn with the Pencil tool will be a uniform path from end to end.
OTHER IMPORTANT TOOLS
[SQUARE WITH EXTERIOR CORNERS ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘SHIFT+O’]
The Artboard Tool allows you to modify an existing artboard or create a new artboard anywhere within the Illustrator window. This is very useful for creating multi-page documents as well as keep elements of a design separate until time to combine them.
[HAND ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘H’]
The Hand Tool is very handy (<- pun intended) for panning around within the Illustrator window without having to worry about the Navigation Panel, Zoom Tool, or accidentally selecting and modifying any of your active layers.
[MAGNIFYING GLASS ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘Z’]
The Zoom Tool is as simple as any tool can be; select the Zoom Tool, and click on an area of your document you want to see up close. Done. If you would like to use keystrokes instead for zooming in and out, you can zoom in by holding down the ‘Control’ key and pressing the ‘+’ key until you reach your desired magnification. To zoom out, hold down the ‘Control’ key and press the ‘-‘ key until you’re back to where you want to be.
GETTING STARTED WITH VECTORS
STARTING WITH SHAPES
Let’s get started creating our new project!
Select your desired Shape tool. Next, either click and drag it across your main artboard to the desired dimensions (hold down the ‘Shift’ key to produce a “perfect” even-sided shape) OR click once on your active artboard and enter the desired dimensions for your chosen shape.
Once your shape has been created, you can choose to leave it as it is, or to modify it using the Selection Tools and / or the Anchor Point Tools.
- The Group Selection Tool can be used to enlarge or condense your shape. Simply select your shape and then use the transformation control points that appear as a box surrounding your shape. Hold down the ‘Shift’ key while manipulating your shape to maintain its current proportions.
- The Direct Selection Tool can be used to modify the individual anchor points of your shape. Choose the Direct Selection Tool and hover over the path of your shape (run your pointer over the edge of your shape and the path will be highlighted) and click on an anchor point. This should select that anchor point and allow you to move it wherever you’d like it to be.
- The Add & Remove Anchor Point Tools can be used exactly as their names imply.
- The Anchor Point Tool can be used to alter the ‘state’ of an anchor point from being part of angle or part of a curve.
STARTING WITH THE PEN TOOL
As we’ve already discussed, the Pen Tool can quickly create lines and shapes with ease — each click of your mouse or tap of your stylus creates an anchor point that can then be manipulated into an angle or a curve, or left alone until the path has been completed.
When creating right-angle shapes (rectangles & squares) with the Pen Tool it is helpful to drag a few Guides onto your artboard. If you have your rulers showing on the left and top of your workspace, simply click on any spot on the ruler and drag down; a guide should appear. If not, select View > Guides > Make Guides or use the keystroke ‘Ctrl’+’5’. Once your guides are placed to create the shape you want, click once in each place the guides intersect — this will create anchor points in each corner. When you’re finished, open your Layers palette (on the right-hand docked menu) and simply delete the guides, which will appear individually under your current active layer. Ta da! You’ve just made a new custom shape with just the Pen Tool. The Pen Tool is such a multi-faceted and versatile tool, it can help you create some truly amazing things.
Once you have created a path, you can select it and explore the path modification options available from the File / Application menu — Select Object > [any of the items on the menu that are black / active] and you can modify your path in lots of different ways, including joining two separate paths, or simplifying a path you’ve made.
Typography is such an enormous part of logo design and learning how to create logos that it bears special mention in this guide. In fact, many logos for top brands are created using only type.
Illustrator doesn’t disappoint in this area, and offers a wealth of tools that give users an incredible amount of flexibility and versatility when it comes to adding type to their designs, or even starting with type and working their way through their project.
THE TYPE TOOLS:
[“T” ICON | KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: ‘T’]
To initiate the Type Tool, you can click on your active artboard to create a Point Text Object (text with no constraints i.e. a text box) or click and drag across your active artboard until you have created your desired size text box (known as an Area Type Object.)
AREA TYPE TOOL
[“T” WITH SHAPE BACKGROUND ICON]
Click on any Closed Path on your active artboard to create an Area Type object — this will enable you to constrain your text to only appear within the boundary of that path. You’re essentially creating a custom text ‘box’ for your text.
TYPE ON A PATH TOOL
[“T” AT AN ANGLE ABOVE A LINE ICON]
Create a path using any of the tools we’ve discussed so far and adjust it however you would like your text’s baseline to follow. (The baseline of your text is the “bottom” of the letter with no ascenders or descenders; letters like lowercase e’s and o’s.)
VERTICAL TYPE TOOL
[“T” WITH ARROW POINTING DOWN ICON | KEYSTROKE: “T” + HOLD DOWN ‘SHIFT’ KEY]
Click anywhere on your active artboard and drag to create the shape that will contain your vertical text.
Creating vertical text is NOT THE SAME as rotating the shape as shown in the image for the Area Type Tool.
VERTICAL AREA TYPE TOOL
[“T” WITH SHAPE BACKGROUND AND ARROW POINTING DOWN ICON]
Create a shape and click anywhere on the path with the Vertical Area Type Tool in order to transform that path into the perfect customized text box for your vertical text.
VERTICAL TYPE ON A PATH TOOL
[“T” AT A DIFFERENT ANGLE ON THE SAME SHAPE / LINE AS THE TYPE ON A PATH TOOL.]
Create a path using any of the Drawing Tools or the Line Segment Tool and click anywhere on that path with the Vertical Area Type on a Path Tool in order have your vertical text follow the angles / curves of the path you have chosen for it.
CONVERTING TYPE TO OUTLINES
HOW / WHEN / WHY TO TAKE YOUR TEXT BEYOND THE RESTRICTIONS OF “EDITABLE TYPE”
Thanks to some of the advances made in Illustrator CC you can keep your type “live” while still employing many techniques that used to mean converting your text to outlines first was a must.
Using the Appearance Panel (usually a part of the docked sidebar on the right edge of your workspace) you can now:
- Apply multiple effects to the same character(s) including strokes
- Use Envelope Distort [‘Object > Envelope Distort’]
- Mask “live” editable type
There are still some cases where converting your type to outlines can be beneficial, so don’t completely discard the idea just yet!
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT YOU WILL NEED TO TAKE THE PLUNGE AND CLICK “CONVERT TO OUTLINES”:
- Will you need to transform or distort your type beyond Warping Effects or Envelopes?
Outlining your type transforms each character into a path (or compound path for letters with holes such as O’s) that is composed of the same angles and curves as any other path you’ve created thus far. This means that you can grab an anchor point with your Direct Selection Tool and drag it somewhere else, modify it with the Anchor Point Tool, and so on until you create exactly the character you need. This is a very common practice when creating a logo because it allows you to start with something you know and create something truly unique for your client.
- Will your type be printed at a small size?
If your answer is yes, you’re better off keeping your type “live” because even at 600 dpi, type that has been converted to outlines is not as clear as type that is kept in its original form.
- Have you kerned your type, or otherwise altered the spacing of your characters / words?
If so, you may want to convert your type to outlines as one of the final things you do before saving your final file for a project. Many programs do not recognize custom kerning or tracking changes made in Illustrator, and having your type as outlines will prevent any modifications from being lost in translation.
- Do you have permission to embed or otherwise distribute the font you’ve used?
If you don’t have a license to embed or share the font you’re working with, and your client / their printer / etc. does not have their own license, you will need to convert your type to outlines before sending over your final files.
ADDING STROKES & FILLS
Fills and Strokes are what give shapes and paths in Illustrator their appearance — otherwise our creations wouldn’t have any substance at all!
A Fill is the name given to the color, pattern, or gradient that is applied to the inside of an object. Both open and closed objects can have Fills applied to them.
A Stroke is the visible outline of a shape or path. You can control the width and color of a stroke, as well as give it a dotted or dashed appearance. You can even create stylized strokes using brushes.
You can apply and adjust Strokes and Fills using the Appearance Panel, which is automatically part of your standard workspace in Illustrator, and can be found docked in the sidebar on your right.
Once you have created a path like the one pictured above, you can select it with either of your selection tools and using either of these two sidebar options you can choose a stroke color. Only by using the Appearance Panel can you alter the width and opacity of a stroke.
As we’ve shown in the same image above, a fill can be applied to any path, even an open one, though this obviously creates a rather interesting effect.
Fills can be solid colors, gradients, or patterns, and can be customized to suit your project by adjusting the opacity and/or Blend Mode.
Illustrator offers you several different ways of saving your finished project.
To save your document in a vector-friendly format, Select “File” from your Application Menu / File Menu, and then choose the option that reads “Save As”. You will then be able to save your file as AI (illustrator’s native file type, like PSD is for Photoshop), PDF, EPS, or SVG.
Next you will see a screen which will give you the option of saving your file in a “legacy” format. This means that your saved file will be able to be read and edited by past versions of Illustrator. If you would like to stick to the version of Illustrator you are using, then simply leave the options as they are.
As you are saving your files, please consider saving a copy of your document as a native AI file. Native file formats associated with each member of the Creative Cloud are able to store large amounts of information about your document that will be lost when saving as another file type, even one that is meant to be vector-friendly.
Hopefully this post has left you with a greater understanding of just how powerful Illustrator really is, and how how relevant it is when learning how to create logos and many of the other graphics we see around us every day!
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F.I.R.S.T. Institute’s Graphic Design and Web Development Program will give you the tools to become a graphic designer in just 11 months and skills that stretch far beyond those covered in this Illustrator quick start guide. Not only will you learn how to make logos and similar graphics, you’ll learn how to thrive in the design industry. From a faculty made up of experienced design industry professionals to a broad spectrum of courses and a dedicated Career Development department, we give students access to everything they need to succeed in the design industry, both in class and on the job.
If you’d like to know more about our Graphic Design and Web Development school, please give us a call or send us an email! Our admissions team are standing by to answer any questions you might have.