Illustrator #5: Organize Your Drawings

Illustrator files may become very complex so organizing your objects into shapes and groups is an essential part of an efficient workflow.

Previous Tutorial

Illustrator #4: Combine ShapesThis short tutorial will show you how to create more complex geometric shapes combining two or more shapes into one by adding, subtracting or overlapping them.

Set Up

Download And Open The Prepared Tutorial File

This time we will not start from a new empty file, but we’ll download a file we will work with.
Please click here to download the .ai file and open it in Illustrator.

If you open the file, you’ll see it’s a sort of an unfinished floor plan of a pavilion that has walls and a square patch of floor inside of what appears to be a lawn. You will also see, in the top left corner, a few furniture symbols (sofa, armchair and a coffee table) as well as two symbols of the windows.


What we want to do with this file is to distribute the furniture and windows on a floor plan to finish the “design” of the pavilion. We want to make, for example, something like this:


However, we can already see it’s a fairly complex drawing now, especially if we take a look at Outline Preview, which we can activate in View Menu > Outline (or CTRL+Y or CMD+Y on Mac).


We see hundreds of shapes here, and with a file this complex it’s practically  impossible to work with: for example it’s extremely difficult to accurately snap the windows to walls using Smart Guides (because smart guides may catch one of many shapes in the background).

So we need to find a way to organize drawing in such way that we can turn on only the parts of the drawing we need to work with – we use that by the use of layers.


Using Layers

Most of the software tools that deal with visual content, from Illustrator and Photoshop to AutoCAD or Rhino and 3D Max, use the concept of layers to organize content in more manageable way.

We access layers by clicking the Layers icon in the dock at right hand side of the screen, or by pressing key F7:


We see we have only one layer, called “Layer 1” and if we click on an arrow next to its name we will see the contents of this layer: all the shapes it contains. We can also drag the edges of the Layers panel to change its size in order to view more content. Here’s how we do it:

The idea about using layers is to put similar objects into the same layer so that we can easily select all of them at once, or decide to turn them on or off.

So now we need to decide: how do we want to organize this drawing, and how many layers we need?
It helps analysing the drawing, where we see we have following elements:

So we should create layers for each of these categories of elements, here’s how:

Now we only need to move the objects to their corresponding layer – but how do we do that if we have hundreds of objects to work with?!


Selecting Objects By Properties

Luckily, Illustrator has a range of tools for selecting all objects that share the same properties. You will find all these in the Select Menu > Same .

For a starter, let’s try to select all the grass elements.


If you wonder how come all the grass elements share the same fill color and yet the grass pattern appears to have different shades of green, this is because each object is set to have multiply blending mode, which means that the object will darken the background, as if it was made of colored glass. If you are interested to know more about blending modes in Illustrator, search Google.

Ok, now that we have the objects selected, let’s move them to Grass layer.


Moving The Selection To Another Layer

To move the selected object to another layer:

Here’s an image:


… and the video:

Now let’s try and repeat this process for the shadows:

Now we see we encountered a problem at the beginning of a video: selecting all objects with fill color same as shadows also selected the walls (because both shadows and walls are black, the only difference is that the shadows are half-transparent: google Opacity in Illustrator for details).

So instead of Select > Same > Fill Color, we ended up using much more restrictive Select > Same > Appearance to select only the shadows.

Now if we try repeat the same process for walls, furniture, floor, etc… we see we have another problem: since we have Grass layer on top, we can’t select anything below it (like walls) because instead grass objects get selected.
It would be a good idea to change the order of layers to put the grass in the background, and furniture and windows in the foreground


Changing Order Of Layers

We change the order of layers by clicking on a layer in the Layer Panel and simply dragging it up or down.

Now let’s arrange the order of layers in a more natural way:

We’ve put Layer 1 on top of everything so we can easily select objects to move to another layer.

Now we can try to repeat the process and put objects that belong to wall, floor and furniture into their prospective layers, by using Select > Same >Appearance and Move To Current Layer.

However then we see that window objects (in the top left corner) we can’t select via Select > Same >Appearance because some objects have blue fill color and some don’t. So in order to select these objects, it would be good if we could turn off what’s behind them (grass).


Showing/Hiding and Locking/Unlocking Layers

Using Layers Panel, we can easily hide an entire layer or show it again.
We can also lock the layer, which means that the layer will remain visible, but it’s not going to be selectable.


Please note that you can show/hide and lock/unlock not only entire layers but each individual object inside.

In the following video we’ll do the following:

Great. Now that we have organized the drawing, let’s distribute some furniture and windows around to complete the floor plan.



Grouping Objects

Now if we try to select, for example, a sofa to move it around, we see that it is made of several different objects (4 shapes actually), which makes the manipulation a bit complicated. For this purpose, it would be much easier if entire sofa was one object that we could move, rotate and copy around. We accomplish that by grouping objects.

Here’s how to group objects:

In the following video we will make following groups:

Now it’s much easier to move furniture and windows around.


Putting It All Together

Now let’s try and copy furniture and windows around to finish the floor plan.
If you forgot how to do that, see Adobe Illustrator #2: Manipulating Objects.

In order to make snapping to Smart Guides easier, we will turn all the layers that we don’t need.
Entire process is here:

So we get, for example,  this result:


This is hardly an architectural master piece, especially with the sparse furnishing, but shows opportunities there are to quickly create sketches and compositions in Illustrator that we can later refine in greater detail using CAD programs.

Now let’s try and make your own composition of windows and furniture, we’ll check it out in class next time!


Next Tutorial

Illustrator #6: Using Color PalettesThis tutorial will show you how to choose color palettes for your designs, and how to export them to use with other documents

Any questions?

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