Skip to Main Content

Digital Illustration

You don’t have to start big in Illustrator. Lets bring back the basics of art and let’s take some time to work with shapes, use Pathfinder for extra edits, and the handy pen tool to create your art.

Starting Out

In this workshop, we will go over how to use the Pen tool and how to use basic shapes to create unique objects and illustrations through the use of Pathfinder. If you are unfamiliar with the toolbar, here is a quick overview before starting:

 Selection - select, click, and drag objects/text on the screen.
 Direct Selection - select and edit anchor points on shapes and lines.
 Pen - create a path and anchor points.
 Curvature - create vector shapes that have curved edges.
 Rectangle - makes shapes: rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, and star.
 Paintbrush - illustrate thicker strokes you can change the width, shape and texture.
 Type - add text to your document.
 Rotate - rotate selected shape.
 Eraser - remove sections of a vector object or path.
 Shape Builder - quickly combine multiple shapes.
 Gradient - combine and blend colors.
 Eyedropper - sample the color that is selected.
 Width - adjust the width based on selection.
 Blend - combine shapes and colors between objects to create a new object.
 Artboard - create or edit the artboard.
 Zoom - magnify in or out of your document.

Drawing in Illustrator

Simple Shapes

The toolbar has the tool that will let you create your shapes.

By default, it may list it as a Rectangle. Click and hold down on the tool to find more shape options. This will let you change to Ellipse, Polygon, Star, and Line Segment.

After selecting your shape, you can click and drag to create your shape. With the shape still selected, you can add different colors to it with the fill or stroke color options.

The Bounding Box allows you to made extra edits to your selected shape. You can warp and scale the object with the Bounding Box.

With this, you can Transform an object. This includes moving, rotating, reflecting, scaling, and shearing objects. Another way to access this is by going to Object > Transform for extra commands.

If you ever need to repeat an action several times, you can use the Transform Again command in the Object menu.

Using the Direct Selection tool, you are able to select anchor points on your shape to click and drag.

Combine Objects

The Pathfinder panel gives you the option to edit shapes by uniting, excluding, trimming, dividing, and more! 

You are able to pull up the panel by going to Window > Pathfinder or pressing Shift + Ctrl (or Command) + F9.

To use this feature, you must have two shapes selected that are overlapping. When you have them selected, you will be able to select what command will be applied to them.

Shape Modes offer these options: Unite, Minus Front, Intersect, Exclude.

  • Unite - adds shapes together.
  • Minus Front - cuts out a shape from another object.
  • Intersect - shape will be clipped where intersecting.
  • Exclude - intersecting areas will be removed from both shapes.

Pathfinder options are: Divide, Trim, Merge, Crop, Outline, Minus Back.

Custom Illustration

The Pen tool allows the creation of anchor points and paths. A stroke can be applied to the path based on color and stroke thickness (weight).

Similar to the Line tool, you are able to create straight lines simply by clicking to create your first anchor point and selecting another area to create another anchor point. With the Pen tool, you are able to continuously add more anchor points and paths. 

To close a path, make a final selection on the original anchor point. A circle should appear next to the pointer to display that it will close the path when you select that anchor point. If you would like to stop drawing a path without closing, you can press the Escape key.

To create a curve, drag your mouse as you click while holding and it will make direction handles. Release when you are done.

You can alter how much the line will curve by how far you pull the handle.

If you need to edit the curve, you can use the Direct Selection tool and click on the anchor with the handles you want to edit. From there, you are able to click and drag the handles again.

When you want to remove curves from a shape, you can use the Pen tool feature to remove handles and that will alter the path from a curve to a straight line.

Fill and Stroke

The basic way to color is based off the path (stroke) and the enclosed space within a path (fill). 

The Fill is a color, pattern, or gradient within a shape. A Stroke is the outline of an object or the path. Some effects can be applied to the stroke such as dotted lines, arrow heads, and more.

To access the fill and stroke colors, look at the bottom of the Tools panel. They may also be visible in the Control or Properties panels.

If you do not want a color in a particular space, you can select the strike icon below the fill and stroke tools to remove the color in either space.


Convert strokes to object

When working with lines and paths, you may prefer it to be an object to modify. Select your path, go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke.

This will convert your stroke to a compound path. The original stroke color will become the fill color. If you would like to modify it, you may need to ungroup the objects.

Select objects with same color

To use this feature, select an object that has your intended color. Go to Select > Same and there will be a menu with different options to select. You can base it off appearance, stroke or fill color, and a few other options.

Ask a Librarian