Illustrator #1: Getting Started

Introduction to Adobe Illustrator - its basic functionality and value it brings to architects' workflow.


In this tutorial, you will learn the following:

Why Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator is a program used by graphic designers and artists to create vector drawings: illustrations, posters, cartoons, charts, logos… For a reminder of what vector drawings are and the difference between vector and raster, click here download the 0B session lecture.

It can also be used to create compositions that combine vector drawings (created in Illustrator, or imported from other programs) with raster images (photos or renderings, imported from Photoshop). This capability makes Illustrator a valuable tool for architects to create compelling posters and presentation boards, especially for the purpose of design competition and public display of the work:


In addition to that, architects can use Illustrator to create quick 2D or schematic sketches to assist the design process, taking advantage of Illustrator comprehensive set of drawing tools and very visual nature of its workflow (easy control over shapes and colors, as opposed to CAD software that feel more restricted in its use):


Adobe Illustrator Basics

Create New Document

Open Adobe Illustrator on your Windows or a Mac based computer.

Click on File Menu > New, and a New Document window will open:


Do the following (instructions from top to bottom):

Give a name to the document: “Tutorial 1

Make sure the units are in Centimeters.
This refers to the size the drawing will have in print (even if we don’t intend to print in this particular tutorial). You can also change this size later during the work.

Enter, for both width and height a value of 10 cm.

Click Advanced, and then select Color Mode: RGB.
The default CMYK profile  is fine-tuned for printing purposes, but when you want only to make drawings to be seen on screen only (like in this tutorial), we’d want to use RGB. Also please have in mind that for most ink-jet printers good results can be obtained while working in RGB color space (except if you plan to use some screamingly intense colors). If you want to know more about the difference between CMYK and RGB, there are plentiful of information online, just have in mind that in general CMYK is used to prepare documents for print (with great control over color precision), while RGB is used for on-screen documents, although generally works well for printing purposes too.

Now click OK. You will now see Illustrator interface with an empty white artboard.


User Interface Overview

Illustrator has a huge number of features, that are all grouped in main several interface elements:


Biggest part of the screen is occupied by drawing area, which is in Illustrator called Artboard.

All the drawing tools are located in the Toolbar which is usually on the left side of the screen.

Near the top of the screen, you’ll see Control bar, which provides a range of options to modify the selected objects; these options depend on what object you have selected.

At the right hand side of the screen you have Panels, which are represented by icons; each of the panels (see below) has a range of options to modify the objects in greater detail than in Control bar.

Here is the overview of each of the icons in the Toolbar and Panels (letters in parenthesis are keyboard shortcuts). Note that the Toolbar icons are grouped according to their functionality.


Don’t be afraid, you don’t need to start using all of these right now. In fact, most of the tools you will rarely use, and these are shaded light gray in the above image.

Now we will put some of these tools to action.


Draw Basic Shapes

Click Rectangle tool icon (or, better yet, press the ‘M’ key on the keyboard) to activate Rectangle tool that lets you, well – draw rectangles. Then click anywhere inside of the Artboard and, while holding the left mouse button, drag to draw a rectangle:


Now let’s try to draw a circle. We will need to activate Ellipse Tool.

Click the Rectangle Tool icon and hold the mouse down until a drop down menu opens.
Now select the Ellipse Tool (or press ‘L’ key). Then click and drag to start drawing an ellipse, the same way as you did to make a rectangle. Press SHIFT key while drawing to force the shape to have equal width and height (in effect making it a circle, not ellipse; note that SHIFT key works with rectangles, polygons and other basic shapes from this drop down menu).


You can also try drawing other basic shapes from the same drop down menu: Rounded Rectangle, Polygon or a Star.


Select Objects And Change Drawing Order

Right now you probably have something like this:


Now let’s try to select the rectangle and change the drawing order so that it appears on the top of the circle.

First, you have to select the rectangle, so activate Selection tool (or press ‘V’ key):

Since this tool is so often used, you really want to remember the keyboard shortcut (‘V’) rather than clicking the icon every time you need to use the tool.

Now left-click the rectangle to select it, and then -with the rectangle selected (and highlighted on screen)- right-click anywhere on screen to open context menu with different options. Inside of Arrange tab, select Bring To Front, and the rectangle will move in front of the circle:


Please note other options, too. Bring to Front (or to Back) moves the selected object in front (or behind) of ALL of other objects, while Bring Forward and Send Backward move the selected object just in front (or behind) of just ONE other object.


Use Transform Panel To Change Size And Position

There are many ways to manipulate object size, rotation and position in Illustrator, and using Transform panel is the most accurate of all because you get to manually enter the values for each of the dimensions.

Select the circle, and then open the Transform panel, either by clicking the Transform icon (on the right-hand side dock), or by Window Menu > Transform.

Then enter the following values, as in the screenshot: X: 1cm, Y: 1cm, W: 8cm, H: 8cm.
You will notice that circle changes the size and position and now appears centered on screen:


Now let’s select the rectangle, and write down the following values in Transform:  X: 2cm, Y: 4.5cm, W: 6cm, H: 1cm.

The rectangle will now change proportions and appear centered over the circle:




Change Shape Fill Color

To change the fill color, select the circle, and click on the white color rectangle in the Control bar at the top of the screen to bring up the color palette, then select the red color. The circle will become red:


You can also, instead of chosing the color from palette, mix your color manually, and there are several ways to do that.

  1. Via Control bar (left image): click the same rectangle in the top Control bar that you just did (the rectangle just turned red to indicate the select object’s color), but hold the SHIFT key to bring in alternate color interface instead of color palette.
  2. Via Toolbar (right image):  double-click the big red rectangle near the bottom of the toolbar to bring the Color Picker interface:



Change Shape Stroke (Outline) Color

Now to change the stroke color, we can use the same interface as for the fill color, we just need to click to a different icon/rectangle. For example, with the circle still selected, click the black rectangle in the Control bar, just next to the fill color rectangle. Then in the color palette, select the first option (which is a white rectangle with a red diagonal line).
This symbol means “NONE” – the outline will be discarded completely.


Alternatively, the same way you changed the fill color, there are other ways to access outline color, for example by clicking the outline color icon indicator in the Toolbar:


Please note that we can use this symbole (“NONE”) to also remove the fill color to make our objects transparent.


Finally, select the rectangle, and remove its outline color, too:

1-0-final :)Cool.
So we’ve made a ‘NO ENTRY’ traffic sign. Not much really, but we have to start somewhere, right?

Don’t forget to save your work before moving on to the next tutorial!
For the visual types among you, here is a video of everything:



Next Tutorial:

Illustrator #2: Manipulating ObjectsIn this tutorial you will learn how to manipulate objects in Illustrator.


Any questions?

2 responses to “Illustrator #1: Getting Started”

  1. Gonzalo Coronado Maceda says:

    So helpful and easy to understand! Thanks!

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