Illustrator 101

By guest contributor Melissa Coleman.

Opening Illustrator for the first time can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of tools, effects, windows, and viewing options to choose from. So let's start with the basics. Setting up your file correctly is the most important thing to know before getting to the meat of a project. Follow along with this series, and you'll be an Illustrator wizard in no time.

Step 1: Open Illustrator

Press CTRL+N to open a new file (or File>New). If you're creating something for your blog or the web, size your document using pixels. Set the width of your document to the width of your post area. For example, the post area on my blog is 480 pixels wide. Therefore, I set my document to 480 px. The height is up to your discretion.

Make sure your color mode is set to RBG and your resolution (or raster effects) is set to 72 ppi (pixels per inch). If you are designing something for print, work in inches, CMYK color mode, and 300 ppi. Press OK and pat yourself on the back.

Setting up your file incorrectly can make for unhappy results. If you set your color mode to CMYK and your blog works in RGB, your colors will be off. Or if you size your files too large, your site will compress it to fit in the space, causing blurriness and more unhappy results.

Step 2: Set-up your Workspace

Now that you've made it in, you'll need some basic tools to get started. Go to Window> Workspace> Essentials. This will get you all the basic tools like Color, Swatches, Brushes, Strokes, Gradients, and Transparency. You can find all the tools by clicking Window. Scroll all the way down to Type and select Character (or press CTRL+T). You will need this to edit type.

Once you have all your necessary Windows open, click Window> Workspace> New Workspace…> name your workspace> click OK. Illustrator will save it for you. If you go back in, you'll see your Workspace. You can set up one for web, and one for print. You can pull the windows in and out of the sidebar and arrange them as you desire. It's very user-friendly.

Next time we'll talk about all those icons running down the left side of your workspace. In the meantime, here are a couple keystrokes you can start implementing. They will make designing a much faster process.

  • Undo CTRL+Z 
  • Copy CTRL+C 
  • Paste CTRL+P 
  • Select All CTRL+A 
  • Save CTRL+S 
  • Print CTRL+P 
  • Ruler CTRL+R 
  • Press Space bar to pull your way around the art board

Pro tip: Illustrator is a vector based program, as opposed to Photoshop which is a raster based program. You can blow things up as large as you want, and you'll never lose quality. Not so much in Photoshop. Things become pixilated very quickly in Photoshop.