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Getting Started With Adobe Illustrator

Feb 9, 2008
Adobe Illustrator is a widely used vector drawing application with three main areas of functionality. Firstly, it allows the creation of corporate and other graphic artwork for high quality printing. Secondly, it can be used in the web design process, allowing you to build the overall design as well as individual items like icons and buttons. Illustrator is also a basic page layout program suitable for originating single page documents like CD covers, book jackets and posters.

Illustrator is often the final member of the Adobe Creative Suite that people will get around to learning. Delegates coming on our Adobe Illustrator training courses will often complain that the program seems less inviting and exciting than Photoshop. And, although Photoshop is a complex package, they find themselves using it for all their graphic work, even things which would much easier to create in Illustrator. Part of this difficulty in getting started with Illustrator is the fact that it often appears to new users that the program is hard work: you create a new file and you're presented with a blank page. You have to create your drawing entirely from scratch.

When we run Illustrator training courses, we accept that our job is not just to show delegates how the program works and how to use its various tools and options. We also need to show them how to get past this idea of the stark blank canvas with nothing on it. There are four main antidotes to Blank Canvas Syndrome. The first is to have a very clear idea of the type of artwork you want to produce with Illustrator. The second is to use the excellent Live Trace facility built into the program. The third technique is to make liberal use of scanned and other bitmapped images as points of reference. And, fourthly, reuse elements that you have already created, both within the same drawing and between different illustrations.

The most successful Illustrator training courses that we run are for people who know exactly what they want to use the program for. It could be cartographers, technical illustrators or fabric designers; as long as they have a specific brief, we can show them the best techniques to solve their particular requirement. However, for a lot of delegates, Illustrator is something they feel they could and should be using but they don't really know where to start.

When we are dealing with users who don't have such straightforward uses for Illustrator, we try to emphasise to them that there are ways of avoiding having to draw every single stroke of your artwork from scratch. We show them how bitmaps and scanned artwork can be used as starting points for their own vector drawings, how they can trace images and keep images on background layers as points of reference as they create their own artwork.

Illustrator's Live Trace utility was developed from a standalone program called Adobe Streamline and is extremely powerful. It can be used to convert any scanned or bitmapped image into a vector. Naturally, the nature of the resulting vector image depends on the original. However, it's very fast and the results can be extremely impressive; so it's always worth trying it out if your feel that it may create something you can clean up and use.

As well as tracing, it is also often useful to just keep an image on a background layer and constantly refer to it as you create your artwork. It can also be useful to reduce the opacity of the background image to about 40 or 50 percent so it doesn't become obtrusive. Sometimes you may manually trace around areas of these reference images. Other times, you may just use it for reference, so you can check the dimensions or shape of elements that you create in the foreground.

Another way of getting past Illustrator Blank Canvas Syndrome is to base new elements that you create on elements that already exist within your drawing. The program has a rich range of tools and techniques for doing this. You can create simple copies of an original element and you can also create transformed copies of the original. Illustrator also has the facility of applying multiple attributes to the same object. For example, you can give the same circle, say, five borders rather than creating five overlapping circles.

The fact of the matter is that "Blank Canvas Syndrome" will just disappear once you formulate a clear idea of what you achieve learn to avoid creating all your elements from scratch. Start using the Live Trace facility to generate useable vector artwork. Use background images as guides to help you draw your own artwork and, wherever possible, reuse and modify elements that you have already created.
About the Author
The The writer of this article is a trainer and developer with Macresource Computer Solutions, an independent computer training company offering Adobe Illustrator training courses in London and throughout the UK.
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