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Learning Adobe Illustrator

Jul 24, 2008
New users to Adobe Illustrator often complain that they find the program "fiddly" and frustrating. When we run Adobe training courses, we recognise that part of our job is rid people of this perception of Illustrator as a difficult program to use. We have identified three main elements to making people aware that Illustrator is no more difficult or frustrating than any other program.

Firstly, we point out to people that they must be on the right tool in order to carry out a given operation. Secondly, we teach them to observe and interpret the rich visual feedback provided by the program as you carry out various operations. Thirdly, we always remind new users of the ease with which you can revert your drawing back to a state prior to the point where something has gone wrong.

New users to Illustrator will often attempt to manipulate elements within their drawing without first activating the Selection tool. For example, they will create a shape with, say, the Ellipse tool and then, while the Ellipse tool is still active, they try to move or resize the shape they have just drawn or click on the page to attempt to deselect the shape. They then get puzzled and annoyed when little ellipses keep appearing in their drawing or Illustrator's shape dimension dialogue box keeps on appearing.

The key factor in avoiding these types of errors is to keep looking at the various signals that the program provides, in particular those signals relating to the cursor appearance. For example, if you are attempting to resize a rectangle, you can only do this when your cursor changes to a slanted line with an arrow at each end (This indicates that your cursor is now in the correct position).

Another thing that new users find is that they are unable to carry out a certain operation because it is not permissible under the current circumstances or at that point in time. For example, you want to resize an object and you end up rotating or moving it instead.

Avoiding this problem is not hard. You just have to make sure that you have the right tool selected. So, if you want to manipulate an existing object, you just ensure that you have the Selection tool highlighted. One of the first shortcuts that we teach people who come on our Illustrator training courses is that you can temporarily activate the Selection tool by just pressing the Control key (or Command for Mac users).

If you have just started using a program like Illustrator, it is to be expected that you will make mistakes: things may go a little wrong or even get completely screwed up. The main thing is develop the "Undo reflex". For example, if you move an object by accident, don't try to manually put it back where it was, just choose Undo from the Edit menu or use the keyboard shortcut Control-Z (Command-Z on a Macintosh). If you Undo too much, you can use the Redo command to take you forward again. (The keyboard shortcut for the Redo command is Control-Shift-Z.)

If your effort to create a drawing has gone horribly wrong, the best thing to do is to bite the bullet and choose Revert from the File menu. This is a way of saying "OK, this isn't working. I give up!" The Revert command discards all of the changes you have made to the document since it was last saved and can be another useful way of avoiding unnecessary frustration.
About the Author
The author is a training consultant with TrainingCompany.Com, an independent computer training company offering Adobe Illustrator training courses at their central London training centre.
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