Learning how to Learn Adobe Illustrator

Learning the skills of working a new software can be intimidating which is why a lot of new designers and creative entrepreneurs are afraid to use Adobe Illustrator. However, the only way to get rid of the fear of learning something new is to take the leap and do it. I was never taught how to use Illustrator in my first college—Raffles Design International. They believed in teaching Design Thinking and not the software. When I transferred to AUT University, they formally taught the basics of using different design softwares. Personally, I felt that self learning was more beneficial to me since it didn't make me rely on someone else. It made me more self disciplined and allowed me to explore many different ways of doing a given creative task instead of being taught only one way to do it. Moreover, it helped me understand how to learn. I strongly believe that in order to grow, it is important to learn.

People often consider Adobe Illustrator to be a complex software which is what creates a learning block in their mind. They take one look at it and decide to go back to Photoshop. The truth is while Photoshop is good for image manipulation, editing and even digital drawing, its vector based sister program, Adobe Illustrator has it's own benefits and people using just Photoshop are missing out on them. I have been using Adobe Illustrator for 5 years now and there is a lot to the program that you eventually learn organically. Now you're going to wonder, "but hey, where do I even get started?" Don't worry. Below is a list of 7 essential tools and tips that I think all Adobe Illustrator beginners will find useful.

1. Text

Adobe Illustrator is brilliant for editing type. It's great for laying out type as part of an illustration, but better for editing type. Unlike Photoshop, Illustrator is vector based and simply put, if you scale the artwork, it will not pixelate since it doesn't work in a pixel based format—it uses mathematical constructs to create vector graphics. A vector graphic will never lose quality when scaled up or down. As an exercise, type out a font, make it larger using the Character panel or Tool Options bar. Now scale it to the maximum and see the quality for yourself. For the love of scalability, don't use Photoshop for Type.

2. Play with Shapes

Some of the most useful techniques are the simplest. This is one of the first tools I used on Adobe Illustrator. Start by creating a circle and five more around it and soon you'll have a flower. Check out this Adobe Tutorial to help you further.

3. Swatches and Patterns

Fall in love with colors and patterns and explore the Swatch Libraries. You can find ready colour swatches that fit your theme and find default patterns and textures. These will be waiting for you in your Swatches panel under the Open Swatch Libraries option. You can create your own patterns with Pattern Options or download a range of patterns from Free Pik, like this set of free decorative patterns here.


4. Master Clipping Masks

I'm glad I discovered the clipping mask tool during my earlier months of uncovering the program. A clipping mask is a shape that masks any object below it, so only what’s inside of the clipping mask is visible. How cool is that? I think it can be a great way to mix type and image. Check out this guide on How to Make Clipping Masks.

5. Path Finder Tool

This is one of my personal favourites. When it comes to creating shapes made out of other shapes, the Pathfinder panel has a selection of options to help you create the perfect shape. Cheryl Graham has posted a helpful resource to guide you with the Path Finder Tool.

6. Don't Fear the Pen Tool

I can't even begin to stress how important it is to learn how to use this tool. The pen tool can seem intimidating when you first start working on illustrator but once you master it, it can work wonders for you and vastly improve your flexibility in creating graphics that suit your brand instead of spending time finding free vectors online and hoping it fits your brand image. So learn how to create anchor points with the pen tool and play around with creating curves and bends, deleting unwanted points and eventually taming the tool to become one of your most handy weapon. Adobe has some free useful resources on how to Draw with the Pen, Curvature or Pencil tool.

7. Saving your File

This is easy to overlook and may seem unimportant but it is a fundamental function and I want you to take it seriously to save you the embarrassment and time of going to the printers only to find out that the vector art you spent ages on hasn't printed out right or is too heavy when you put it on your website.

Firstly, it is important to know the purpose of your artwork. If it needs to be scalable you may want to save it as a pdf instead of jpg or png in order to retain it's scalability. I mean, you are using a vector based program for a reason ay? Saving as pdf is great for print. If you need to save it as an image that goes into a bigger part of your project for instance, a brochure or a magazine, you could export it as a high quality jpg or png and I would advice you to hold on to the main illustrator file and back it up. If your artwork is meant to go on a website, a lower resolution jpg format is usually the best way to go about it. I usually save it so it is around 5ooKB which is good enough to view online and doesn't make your website too slow. However, don't forget to keep a copy of your main file. I can't stress this enough.


I hope this helps you kick start your journey with Adobe Illustrator. The important thing to remember is to have fun with it and not be afraid to mess up. Accept that it doesn't happen overnight so keep at it and challenge yourself with your own personal projects. I also urge you to not simply stick with the list I've put on here as a starter-kit but but search for things you want to achieve. If you want to draw a horse, Google search "How to Draw a Horse in Illustrator". If you wish to draw a cartoon drawing of a monster then search "How to Draw a Cartoon Monster in Illustrator". You get the general idea. There are many tutorial sites out there like lynda.com which I highly recommend and it might even be free for you if you're a University student and your Uni is associated with the website. I find the best way to learn the program is just to do free tutorials, since you will learn the functions and applications of the tools in the process.