Adobe Illustrator is my go-to tool for all graphics for my own brand and when I designed for my clients. I use it about 90% of the time and Adobe Photoshop for the rest (mostly for editing photos).
If you’re new to using Adobe Illustrator* it may feel overwhelming opening up the program and seeing all these crazy looking tools and trying to navigate your way through it.
Here’s what you need to know.
- You don’t need to be a designer to operate Illustrator. Obviously, you have a business to run and if you’re not a designer, you don’t need to be one in order to create beautiful graphics. With Illustrator, you or someone on your team can easily design graphics so you don’t need to depend on a designer at all times.
- Once you understand the fundamentals, you can design your own graphics like a pro. I’ll be honest, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you or someone on your team has the skills you can truly take the reign and empower yourself to create your own graphics. If you join my Masterclass, I can take you step-by-step on it all.
- Other programs are great… but they have their limits! If you want to really take your graphics to a new level you will need to invest in Adobe Illustrator*. There are customizations that you cannot achieve in other programs. The amazing things you can do with custom fonts in Illustrator is not really possible to do elsewhere.
The best part about learning Adobe Illustrator is that it will make it easier for you to also learn Photoshop and InDesign as well. Adobe programs are pretty similar and once you understand one, you can navigate your way through most of them.
In this post, I will show you everything you need to know to get started! If you want to go deeper and learn how to establish your visual brand, streamline your graphics, and learn the ins and outs of AI then I just launched my new e-Course, Adobe Illustrator Masterclass, where I teach you exactly how to navigate through Illustrator like the true lady boss that you are.
Setting up files and artboards
So maybe you’ve opened up Illustrator and got lost setting up a file. No worries, I get it – if you’ve never worked in an Adobe program then setting up a new file or artboard (this is kind of like your digital canvas to create your graphics) can be intimidating. Don’t worry, I am going to walk you through the basics of setting it all up. I go deeper into this in my Masterclass, but this will give you a good start!
You are going to start by going to File -> New in the top menu once you open up Illustrator. Something similar should show up on your screen. I’m going to walk you through what the most important components of this are…
Name – This is what your file name will be. It automatically sets to Untitled. You don’t need to name it right now you can always save this as your filename later.
Number of Artboards – This is where you’ll create different “digital canvases” for your graphics to live. If you are creating a blog post title graphic, I usually set up 3 (one for the actual blog post, another for Facebook/Instagram, and then for Twitter). You can also do this once you start a new file so you’re not locked into how many artboards you are going to use right away.
Orientation – This is a quick way to change whether you want your artboard(s) to be vertical or horizontal after you’ve put in the size.
Color Mode – You can change this automatically by changing the profile. If you want to design something for print it will change to CMYK and if you want to make graphics for web it will change to RGB. I use a custom profile for web graphics because I want them have a high raster effect because I can always change this after according to my needs. If you are going to do this, then choose your color mode accordingly. RGB for web. CMYK for print.
Setting up your workspace
This is something that I have recently become obsessed with as I am into making things more efficient in my business. The most AMAZING part of setting this up is putting your color swatches in your workspace so you don’t have to keep copying and pasting them over and over. It’s pretty AMAZING and super efficient.
Here’s exactly how to do it. Go to upper right-hand corner in Illustrator. If you’ve never customized your workspace then your workspace automatically sets to “Essentials”. To create your own workspace, go to “New Workspace” in the drop down menu here…
I like to keep things minimal here and get rid of the tools I don’t use because I can always access them by going to the top menu -> window and selecting whatever I need. This is how my workspace is laid out.
Here’s how to add your own custom swatches to your workspace (major time-saving action here!). Delete all the swatches you don’t want. Then click “new color group”. Start dragging your swatches onto the right of the folder icon. You can either pull your swatches from a file you have already set up or put in the color codes by double clicking the swatch box and pasting your color code there. Once you have all of your swatches in your new group, click “save swatches” and save it under whatever name you want. To access these colors in another file, click the “swatch libraries menu” and your swatches will be under “user defined”. Follow along the process in my handy diagram below 🙂
Adding color swatches to your workspace
Formatting and customizing text
Now that we have the color down, let’s talk about formatting your text. You always want to align your text accordingly. You can use guides or use the align tool to make sure your text is aligned both vertically and horizontally.
If you open up the character window you are able to format and customize your text. I’ll go over the most important components of this here…
I have to show you something that may make your really, really, really excited! You may not know that some fonts have hidden characters. Not every single font, but some do and here’s how to access them via Illustrator (you can’t do this in Canva).
My accent font I use is called Boho* and there’s tons of hidden characters that you can use to make your text look even more customized. Here’s how to do it…
This is where you can easily change your font and font size. The two setting on the right are to set the letter and line spacing. The first one is for line spacing. You can set this to auto or adjust to your preference. The second setting is for letter spacing. When you set this to 0, it is what the font it set to be at automatically. You can increase this by going into the positive numbers and decrease by negative numbers. Try to keep this consistent in your different font variations (header, subheader, body font).
Finding hidden characters in your fonts
Design Tips for designing your own graphics
Less is more – When you first learn how to utilize Illustrator you may get super excited by all the possibilities. I know I did when I first learned it in college. You may want to and feel the need to implement many things at once, but it’s best to keep things clean to achieve an effective design.
Here’s a good rule to follow when you are designing anything. When you have completed your design – ask yourself “what can be taken away?” Does everything serve a purpose – either functional or works with balancing the design? If not, take it away. In fact, take everything away until everything serves a strong purpose. This is what makes a good design.
Keep space around edges of your design – This is a little trick that will add a higher-end element to your graphics in seconds. I know when you first start designing (I did this too) you want to take up as much space as possible, but adding space around the edges give some visual breathing room. This even helps you digest text better when there is space.
Take a look at these examples below. You can see how clunky the 1st graphic is as opposed to the 2nd graphic that gives it a bit more space around the edges.
So here’s what you can do in Adobe Illustrator to resize your text or design elements. Click on every element you want to resize with the selection tool (shortcut is V). Once you’ve selected them, you are going to hover of a corner where you see a little white box. You are going to click while holding down and also holding down shift. Holding down shift keeps all your proportions right.
If you’d like to get more in depth and follow my step-by-step video tutorials be sure to join my Adobe Illustrator Masterclass so you can become a true DIY Branding Lady Boss! Excited to have you there! xo