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How to Create a Set of Annotations in Adobe Illustrator

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

I previously showed you how to create your own annotation style in Adobe Photoshop. In the following steps you will learn how to create a simple set of annotations in Adobe Illustrator. 

For starters you will learn how to create the color boxes using basic tools and effects, the Appearance panel and a free, monospaced font along with basic typing techniques. Next, you will learn how to save a simple graphic style, how to easily use it and how to create the numbered boxes. 

Using simple tools and effects along with some basic vector shape building techniques you will learn how to create the groups of shapes that make up your arrows and how to save them as patterns. Using these pattern you will learn how to create for pattern brushes and how to easily use them. 

Finally, you will learn how to create another two graphic styles that will be used as highlighters and frame for the zoomed areas.

1. Create a New Document, Set Up a Grid and Pick the Main Colors

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, enter 600 in the width and height boxes then click on the Advanced button. Select RGB, Screen (72ppi) and make sure that the Align New Objects to Pixel Grid box is unchecked before you click OK

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). You will need a grid every 1px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, enter 1 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. Try not to get discouraged by all that grid, it will ease your work and keep in mind that you can easily enable or disable it using the Control-" keyboard shortcut. You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Do not forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units > General. All these options will significantly increase your work speed.

Step 2

For starters you need to pick your main color. For this tutorial the main color will be R=0 G=112 B=190. If you wish to choose a different color make sure that it's one that doesn't hurt the eye and that it works on both dark and light backgrounds. 

Focus on the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), click the New Swatch button (pointed in the following image), enter the color code mentioned a few moments ago, name it "mainColor" and click OK. Next, you need to add to variations of your main color. Return to the Swatches panel and simply save the R=30 G=142 B=220 (name it "colorOne") and the R=128 G=184 B=223 (name it "colorTwo") colors.

2. Create the Color Boxes

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and focus on your Toolbar. Remove the color from the stroke then set your "mainColor" for the fill. Move to your artboard and simply create a 77 x 75px rectangle, the Snap to Grid should ease your work.

Step 2

Make sure that your blue rectangle stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance). Select the stroke, add your "colorOne" color then simply click on that "Stroke" piece of text to open the Stroke fly-out panel. Make sure that the Weight is set at 1px then check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

Step 3

Reselect your blue rectangle, focus on the Appearance panel, make sure that the entire path is selected (simply click on that "Path" piece of text from the top of the Appearance panel) and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 5px Radius, click OK and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that your blue rectangle is still selected, open the Graphic Styles panel (Window > Graphic Styles) and simply click the New Graphic Style button to save a new graphic style. Double-click on your graphic style and simply rename it "blue".

Step 4

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a set of rectangles as shown in the following image. Make sure that all these new shapes are selected and simply add your "blue" graphic style.

Step 5

Focus on your 77 x 75px rectangle. Pick the Type Tool (T), simply click on your artboard and add the three piece of text shown in the following image. Set the color at white and use the Inconsolata font with the size 20px.

Step 6

Make sure that the Type Tool (T) is still active and add another three pieces of text as shown in the following image. Set the same color and font attributes utilized for the existing pieces of text.

Step 7

Make sure that the Type Tool (T) is still active and add a bunch of new text as shown in the following image. The Inconsolata font is a monospaced font, which means that your characters will occupy the same amount of horizontal space. This simply means that you won't have to worry about the length of your text when you will need to change the colors codes.

Step 8

Select one of your pieces of text and simply go to Select > Same > Appearance to select the rest of the text. Make sure that it's all selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK.

Step 9

Select the pieces of text and the blue rectangle that make up your top, left color box and simply hit Control-G to Group them. This will make it easier for you to select, move or duplicate your color box. Focus on the rest of the color boxes and Group them as you did with the first one.

3. Create the Numbered Boxes

Step 1

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 30px circle and make sure that it stays selected. First, add the "blue" graphic style. 

Next, move to the Appearance panel, select the existing Rounded Corners effect and simply click the Delete Selected Item button to get rid of it.

Step 2

Keep focusing on your blue circle, pick the Type Tool (T) and add a simple "1" as shown below. Make it white and use that same Inconsolata font with the size set at 20px then go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Reselect this fresh piece of text along with your blue circle and Group them (Control-G).

Step 3

Duplicate your group with the blue circle (Control-C > Control-F), select the copy and drag it several pixels to the right. Focus on the copy, select the existing piece of text and simply replace the "1" with a "2". Repeat this technique and add another eight group copies as shown in the second image. Don't forget to replace the text.

4. Create and Save a Set of Patterns

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 15 x 3px shape, fill it with your "mainColor" and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 1.5px Radius, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Make sure that the Rectangle Tool (M) is still active, create a 13px square and place it exactly as shown in the second image. Focus on the right side of this new shape and switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the top anchor point and drag it 5px down then select the bottom anchor point and drag it 5px up.

Step 2

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create two, 2 x 5px shapes and place them as shown in the first image. Make sure that both shapes are selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 1px Radius, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Using the the same tool, create three, 4 x 3px shapes and place them as shown in the second image. Make sure that all three shapes are selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 1.5px Radius, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 3

Make sure that all the shapes that make up your arrow are selected, open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click the Unite button.

Step 4

Disable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid) then go to Edit > Preferences > General and make sure that the Keyboard Increment is set at 1px

Reselect your blue arrow shape and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1px down using the down arrow button from your keyboard. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and simply hit Control-8 to turn it into a simple Compound Path. Select it and set "colorTwo" as the fill color.

Step 5

Reselect your arrow shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 1px Offset and click OK. Select the resulting shape and replace the existing fill color with "colorOne". Make sure that the shape made in this step is selected and make a copy in back (Control-C > Control-B). Select this copy, move it 2px down and focus on the Appearance panel. 

Replace the existing fill color with "mainColor" the simply click on that "Opacity" piece of text to open the Transparency fly-out panel. Simply lower the Opacity to 25% and things should look like in the second image. 

Return to your artboard, reselect the shape made in the beginning of this step and make a new copy in back (Control-C > Control-B). Select this copy, move it 1px up, focus on the Appearance panel and simply remove the color from the fill.

Step 6

Reselect all the shapes that make up your arrow and Group them (Control-G). Make a copy of this new group (Control-C > Control-F), select it and drag it several pixels down as shown in the second image.

Step 7

Enable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 1 x 18px shape, set the fill color at red and place it as shown in the first image.

Step 8

Reselect your arrow group along with the red rectangle and pick the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M). Holding the Alt and the Shift buttons from your keyboard drag two simple selection around the left side and the right side of your red rectangle as shown in the following image. Remove the red shape and you will end up with a group of simple rectangles as shown in the second image. Select it and simply drag it in the Swatches panel to save it as a pattern. Keep focusing on the Swatches panel, double-click on your pattern and rename it "sideTile".

Step 9

Focus on your other arrow group. Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 3 x 18px shape and a 20 x 18px shape and place them as shown in the second image. Make sure that both rectangles are selected, set the fill color at red and turn them into a simple Compound Path (Control-8).

Step 10

Reselect your red compound path along with the arrow group and hit the Crop button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and simply hit Shift-Control-G to Ungroup it.

Step 11

Select the shapes highlighted in the first image and Group them (Control-G). Turn this new group into a pattern and name it "endTileArrow". Select the shapes highlighted in the second image and Group them (Control-G). Turn this new group into a pattern and name it "roundTile".

Step 12

Reselect the group that makes up the arrow and simply go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Check the Vertical box and click the Copy button. Select the resulting group, turn it into a new pattern and name it "startTileArrow".

Step 13

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 15 x 3px shape, fill it with your "mainColor" and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 1.5px Radius, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Switch to the Ellipse Tool (L), create an 11px circle, place it as shown in the first image and make sure that it stays selected. 

Focus on the Appearance panel, remove the color from the fill and select the stroke. Add your "mainColor", set the Weight at 3px and check the Align Stroke to Inside button from the Stroke fly-out menu. Make sure that your circle is still selected and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke.

Step 14

Reselect the two shapes that make up your pointer and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel.

Step 15

Disable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Reselect your blue pointer shape and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1px down using the down arrow button from your keyboard. 

Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected, turn it into a Compound Path (Control-8) and set "colorTwo" as the fill color.

Step 16

Reselect your pointer shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 1px Offset and click OK

Select the resulting shape and replace the existing fill color with "colorOne". Make sure that the shape made in this step is still selected and make a copy in back (Control-C > Control-B). Select this copy, move it 2px down and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with "mainColor", lower its Opacity to 25% and things should look like in the second image. 

Return to your artboard, reselect the shape made in the beginning of this step and make a new copy in back (Control-C > Control-B). Select this copy, move it 1px up, focus on the Appearance panel and simply remove the color from the fill.

Step 17

Reselect all the shapes that make up your pointer and Group them (Control-G). Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 13 x 16px shape, set the fill color at red and place it exactly as shown in the second image.

Step 18

Reselect your red rectangle along with the pointer group and hit the Crop button from the Pathfinder panel. Turn the resulting group of shapes into a pattern and name it "pointeEnd".

5. Create Three Pattern Brushes

Step 1

Open the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes), click the New Brush button, check the Pattern Brush box and click OK. Enter "arrowBrush" in the Name box then focus on to the Tile boxes. Open the Side Tile window and add your "sideTile" pattern, open the Start Tile and add your "roundTile" pattern then open the End Tile and add your "endTileArrow" pattern. Once you're done, click the  OK button and you should find your new pattern brush inside the Brushes panel.

Make sure that your "arrowBrush" pattern brush is selected, pick the Paintbrush Tool (B) or the Pen Tool (P) and simply draw your path.

Step 2

Return to the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes), click the New Brush button, check the Pattern Brush box and click OK. Enter "doubleArrowBrush" in the Name box then focus on to the Tile boxes. Open the Side Tile window and add your "sideTile" pattern, open the Start Tile and add your "startTileArrow" pattern then open the End Tile and add your "endTileArrow" pattern. Once you're done, click the  OK button and you should find your new pattern brush inside the Brushes panel.

Make sure that your "doubleArrowBrush" pattern brush is selected, pick the Paintbrush Tool (B) or the Pen Tool (P) and simply draw your path.

Step 3

Return to the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes), click the New Brush button, check the Pattern Brush box and click OK. Enter "pointerBrush" in the Name box then focus on to the Tile boxes. Open the Side Tile window and add your "sideTile" pattern, open the Start Tile and add your "roundEnd" pattern then open the End Tile and add your "pointerEnd" pattern. Once you're done, click the  OK button and you should find your new pattern brush inside the Brushes panel.

Make sure that your "pointer" pattern brush is selected, pick the Brush Tool (B) or the Pen Tool (P) and simply draw your path.

6. Create the Highlighter

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a simple square and make sure that it stays selected. Focus on the Appearance panel, remove the color from the fill and select the stroke. Add your "colorTwo", set the Weight at 3px and check the Align Stroke to Outside button from the Stroke fly-out menu.

Step 2

Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second stroke using the Add New Stroke button. Select the new stroke, replace the existing color with "mainColor" and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Focus on the Move section, drag the Vertical slider at 1px and click OK.

Step 3

Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add another two strokes using that same Add New Stroke button. Focus on these new strokes and select the bottom one. Replace the existing color with "colorOne", decrease its Weight to 1px and check the Align Stroke to Inside button. Select the other stroke added in this step, replace the existing color with "colorOne", decrease its Weight to 1px, make sure that Align Stroke to Outside button is checked and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 3px Offset and click OK.

Step 4

Reselect your square, make sure that the entire path is selected (simply click on that "Path" piece of text from the top of the Appearance panel) and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 2px Radius, click OK and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Graphic Styles panel, save a new graphic style and rename it "highlighter".

Step 5

Using the Rectangle Tool (M) or the Ellipse Tool (L), simply create a shape around the area that you wish to highlight, make sure that it stays selected and simply add your "highligter" graphic style.

7. Create the Frame for a Zoomed Area

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a simple square and make sure that it stays selected. Focus on the Appearance panel, remove the color from the fill and select the stroke. Set the color at white (R=255 G=255 B=255) and the Weight at 6px, check the Align Stroke to Outside and lower its Opacity to 20% then go to Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK.

Step 2

Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second stroke using that same Add New Stroke button. Select this new stroke, lower its Opacity to 10%, make sure that the Align Stroke to Outside button is checked and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK.

Step 3

Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a third stroke. Select it, set the color at black (R=0 G=0 B=0) and the Weight at 3px then lower its Opacity to 3% and check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

Step 4

Make sure that your square is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel, select the black stroke and simply duplicate it using the Duplicate Selected Item button. Select the new stroke, increase the Weight to 6px and lower its Opacity to 2%. Make sure that the stroke added in this step is still selected and duplicate it using that same Duplicate Selected Item button. Select the new stroke, increase the Weight to 9px and lower its Opacity to 1%.

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

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