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The A to Z of Adobe Illustrator

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This post is part of a series called A to Z Design Software.
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This post is part of a series called Learn Adobe Illustrator.
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The Adobe Illustrator toolbar is jam-packed with useful tools you may have used a million times or that may be entirely unfamiliar to you. Add to that the numerous panels and effects, and this program can create most any type of artwork. This A–Z list breaks down every tool in the Illustrator toolbar, with a link to a quick tip here on Tuts+ or a description of what each tool can do.



Actions Panel: A panel that allows the user to perform a series of set tasks with the click of a button.

Add Anchor Point Tool (+): This tool adds anchor points to a pre-existing path, allowing for more control over the path's shape, curves, and angles.

Align Panel (Shift-F7): A panel from which to align selected objects with each other in a variety of ways.

Appearance Panel (Shift-F6): A panel that not only keeps track of all attributes an object has, but can also be used to add or edit said attributes.

Arc: A warp effect that controls an object or path's arc.

Arch: A warp effect that controls an object or path's arched shape. Similar to an Arc, the arch warp effect curves the center of the object up or down while keeping the side edges stationary.

Arc Lower: A warp effect that curves the bottom edge of an object and allows for horizontal or vertical distortion throughout.

Arc Tool: Allows the user to make open or closed arcs with the ease of drawing a line segment or polygon. Options including the arc's size and slope are customizable.

Arc Upper: A warp effect that curves the top edge of an object and allows for horizontal or vertical distortion throughout.

Area Graph Tool: A helpful tool in making a graph conform to a certain area size. In rectangular form, users can specify the area's height and width as well as the graph data.

Area Type Tool: Allows the user to type within a closed path, conforming to the object's boundaries rather than being limited to a square, rectangle, or various lines over the artboard.

Artboard: An area defined for your vector work, which can be edited with the Artboard Tool. Viewable area of the Navigator panel.

Artboard Tool (Shift-O): Allows the user to edit their artboard dimensions or create additional artboards.

Attributes (Control-F11): A panel whose options are for the use of overprinting, which prevents color knockout by printing colors on top of each other, causing them to look transparent. Useful for denoting dark colors as ones to overprint in the case you want line work or dark blacks to appear at all times.



Bar Graph Tool: Creates graphs with horizontal bars used to compare input data.

Blend Tool (W): A handy tool that creates a transitional morph between selected objects including color and/or shape.

Bloat Tool: A fun tool that allows the user to quickly expand/bloat an object by moving anchor points away from the cursor. Brush size, bloat dimensions and more can be adjusted in the bloat tool's options.

Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B): A drawing tool that acts like a brush but creates closed filled paths instead of strokes.

Brushes Panel (F5): A commonly used panel to add various styles to stroked paths. You can create new brushes in assorted styles (calligraphic, artistic, etc), edit existing brushes, go through downloaded libraries of brushes, and set up your preset brush gallery so it's on hand whenever you need it.

Bulge: A warp effect that curves an object's top and bottom edges outwards or inwards.



Character Panel: This panel controls the character attributes for text.

Character Styles: The panel that controls the attributes applied to selected text. Create, edit, or delete said styles within the panel.

Color Guide (Shift-3): A panel of color theory and inspiration. It breaks down shades, tints, and color harmonies for your selected color.

Color Panel (F6): Seen above, this panel controls your fill or stroke color through sliders, hexadecimal codes, or RGB/CMYK.

Column Graph Tool (J): A tool to create graphs with vertical columns. Users can manipulate the graph's values and overall size.

Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C): A tool that lets the user change anchor points to corners or round them out, allowing the user greater control over how interaction with anchors occurs.

CSS Properties : Allows users to generate, export, and view CSS codes for selected elements.

Crop: A Pathfinder function used to crop selected elements within a shape (often destructive for vectors).

Crop Marks: Applies crop marks to the selected object(s). Often used as a guideline for printing.

Crystallize Tool: One of the liquify tools, it adds spikes, randomly, to the outline of whatever object over which you're dragging the cursor.



Delete Anchor Point Tool (-): This tool lets the user delete anchor points on a path, open or closed, either so the user can replace the anchor through the path or shape, or to lessen the amount of points within a path, simplifying the component.

Direct Selection Tool (A): A rather useful tool that selects specific anchor points and handles within a given path or object. Especially useful for manipulating a single component of a group or compound shape without affecting the entire shape.

Divide: A Pathfinder function that separates selected and overlapping components of objects into individual objects.

Document Info Panel: A panel that contains your document's information including color mode, ruler units and artboard dimensions. Useful for getting quick information about a document that you may or may not have created.

Drop Shadow: A stylized effect that adds a blurred drop shadow, a raster element, behind your selected vector object.



Ellipse (effect): A shape effect that converts the selected object into an ellipse. The size and overall roundness of the ellipse is determined by the dialogue panel that pops up when this effect is selected.

Ellipse Tool (L): A common shape tool. It creates circles and ellipses.

Eraser Tool (Shift-E): A drawing tool that erases whichever objects you drag the cursor over.

Exclude: A Pathfinder function that deletes the intersecting shape of two overlapping and selected objects.

Extrude & Bevel: A 3D vector effect that converts a flat object into its 3D counterpart.

Eyedropper Tool (I): A fantastic tool that lets the user sample an object's color, appearance attributes, effect, or type, and apply that selection elsewhere.



Feather: A stylization effect that creates a soft blur at the edge of an object. Users can adjust the size of the blur with the available options.

Fish: A warp effect that squishes an object into fish-like shapes determined by the effect's options.

Fisheye: A warp effect that contorts a selected object like a fisheye camera lens.

Flag: A warp effect that gives an object flag-like qualities. Similar to the Wave effect.

Flare Tool: One of the shape tools, with a twist. This tool creates lens-flare effects within your artwork.

Flattener Preview: A panel that allows the user to preview artwork that will be affected by flattening. Useful for saving files to earlier versions of Illustrator or other applications.

Free Distort: A transform effect that allows the user to distort a selected object by freely skewing its anchor points without affecting the others within the object's path.

Free Transform Tool (E): Simple tool to scale, skew, or rotate a selected element.



Glyphs: This panel contains sets of font characters, including alternate glyphs, that can be inserted into your document.

Gradient Panel (Control-F9): The counterpart panel to the Gradient Tool. Lets the user play with gradient options such as gradient type, angle, opacity, and location.

Gradient Tool (B): Often used in conjunction with the Gradient Panel, this tool can edit the shape, size, and blend of the gradient.

Graphic Styles Panel (Shift-F5): A panel that allows the user to create and edit appearance attributes.

Group Selection Tool: One of the selection tools, this tool allows for the selection of multiple objects and groups in groups.



Hand Tool (H): This tool lets the user grab the artboard and move it around the application window. Perfect for when you're zoomed in to your piece but wish to see more of the design or move to another area without zooming out.



Image Trace: Users can trace a bitmap image within the panel's options for later conversion to vector objects.

Inflate: A warp effect that creates bending curves beyond the edges of an object, puffing them outwards (or inwards) according to the effect's selected options.

Info Panel: A panel that gives information on where the cursor is within a document and selected fill colors.

Inner Glow: A raster effect that adds a blurry glow to the inside edge of an object.

Intersect: A Pathfinder function that deletes the non-overlapping components of two or more selected objects.



Join (Control-J): To connect two ends of a path to create a closed path. Especially useful when you find you have objects with open paths.



Knife Tool: A tool used to cut an object either in a curved or straight path, by holding down either the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) button.

Kuler Panel: A nifty panel that connects to Adobe's Kuler application allowing you to store customized palettes.



Layers Panel (F7): The panel that lets you create, edit, and delete layers within your document, and more.

Line Graph Tool: A tool to create graphs with points of value that can be manipulated and line segments that connect them in a given set of values.

Line Segment Tool (\): This tool allows the user to draw straight lines that can be manipulated with stroke attributes, other tools, and other effects.

Links Panel: This panel keeps track of all of the elements linked into your document from other files.

Live Paint Bucket (K): A snazzy tool used to add flat color to selected closed paths. With it you can paint the faces or edges of objects without having to fill the object itself.

Live Paint Selection Tool (Shift-L): You can use this tool to select faces and edges of live painted groups, allowing you to alter the section selected to some degree.



Magic Wand: The panel that controls the settings for the Magic Wand Tool.

Magic Wand Tool (Y): Lets the user select an object, path, etc. with similar attributes. Fantastic tool for when you want to change all of the pink objects to green or a certain stroke style in one go.

Measure Tool: This one's simple. It measures the distance between two points. It's like your "go anywhere, measure anything" virtual ruler.

Merge: A Pathfinder function that merges overlapping objects together, similar to Unite in the Pathfinder panel, but instead of the combined object taking on the attributes of the overlapping object entirely,

Mesh Tool (U): Turns a vector object into a mesh object.

Minus Back: A Pathfinder function that deletes the intersecting portion of an object that is behind its overlapping intersected counterpart.



Navigator Panel: Allows you to see the whole workspace and the area you are zoomed in to within it.



Offset Path: Expands the path outward, at a specified size, in a mitered, rounded, or beveled style without changing the object's paths themselves. Useful for keeping objects smaller, taking up less file space, while expanding their perceived size in a picture plane.

OpenType: This panel makes use of OpenType fonts, which have additional glyphs and attributes within the font file. You can add swashes, change numbers to fractions, add ordinals, etc. within the panel to customize the text within your document.

Outer Glow: A raster effect that adds a blurry glow to the outside edge of an object.

Outline: A Pathfinder effect that creates outlines from overlapping stroked objects.

Outline Object: A Path effect that allows objects to stay editable, such as type paths, while allowing objects to be aligned to the object boundaries versus the type path.

Outline Stroke: A Path effect that treats the stroke of the given path as if it were a fill, rather than a stroke. This is most effectively used when coupled with another effect.



Paintbrush Tool (B): A freehand drawing tool that applies various calligraphic attributes and brush styles to stroked paths.

Paragraphs: This panel controls the paragraph settings for the selected type placed within your document. You can customize your paragraph's alignment, indention, and more in the panel's options.

Paragraph Styles: This panel controls the characteristics of the paragraphs within your document. Similar to the Character Styles panel, you can change attributes that apply to larger bodies of text rather than setting it up individually through the Paragraphs panel.

Path Eraser Tool: A drawing tool that erases paths and points from an object, often leaving it open.

Pathfinder Panel (Shift-Control-F9): A commonly used panel to Unite, Merge, Divide, and Subtract overlapping objects.

Pattern Options: A useful panel for creating and editing patterns.

Pencil Tool (N): A tool for creating and editing freehand lines. Various brush and stroke attributes can be applied to the lines for variety in style. Unlike the brush tool, size and shape variations cannot be configured while drawing with it (such as via tablet pressure).

Pen Tool (P): A drawing tool that creates anchor points and allows the user to draw straight or curved lines.

Perspective Grid Tool (Shift-P): Creates a grid used as a guideline for perspective drawing.

Perspective Selection Tool (Shift-V): A tool that, combined with the use of the Perspective Grid, lets you bring objects and such into perspective and interact with the grid you've created while keeping said objects within that perspective.

Pie Graph Tool: A graphing tool that creates a circular graph from input data.

Polar Grid Tool: A tool that draws circular grids. Features of the grid that can be customized include overall size, dividers (concentric and radial), filled sections, and whether or not circular paths are compound or remain divided objects.

Polygon Tool: A shape tool that creates a polygon of three or more sides of any size.

Print Tiling Tool: A tool that allows the user to adjust where the artwork appears on a printed page.

Pucker & Bloat: A distortion effect that transforms an object by curving its edges towards the center (Pucker) or pushing them away from the center (Bloat) all the while keeping the anchor points in place.

Pucker Tool: A tool that brings the control points of an object inward, toward the cursor, thereby deflating the object. This tool has the opposite effect of the Bloat tool.



Lasso Tool (Q): Selects the anchor points of an object in whatever shape you draw with it.



Radar Graph Tool: A graph tool that displays information (comparing sets of values at given points) in a circular format, also known as a web graph. Not to be confused with a Pie Graph.

Rasterize: An effect that converts vector work into rastered images. Often used to prepare artwork for import into another program.

Rectangle (Effect): A shape effect that converts the selected object into a rectangle. The size of the rectangle is determined by the dialogue panel that opens when this effect is selected.

Rectangular Grid Tool: Makes a grid with input number and size of columns and rows.

Rectangle Tool (M): A shape tool that simply creates rectangles of any size.

Reflect Tool (O): A tool that flips a selected object over a specified axis.

Reshape Tool: This tool allows the user to adjust selected anchor points of an object or path without disturbing the detail of the path(s).

Revolve: A 3D tool that moves the dimensional path in a circular direction.

Rise: A warp effect that brings up one edge of the object depending on the options you choose for the effect.

Rotate Tool (R): A tool that lets the user rotate an object to any degree.

Roughen: A distortion effect that gives an object a rough, sketchy edge.

Round Corners: An effect that curves the corners of the object to which it's applied. The radii of the corners are determined by the options selected in the effect's dialogue box.

Rounded Rectangle (Effect): A shape effect that converts the selected object into a rounded rectangle. The size and corner radius is determined by the options selected in the pop-up dialogue panel when the effect is applied.

Rounded Rectangle Tool: Similar to the Rectangle Tool, this one creates rectangles with rounded corners whose radii are specified by the user.



Scale Tool (S): A tool that resizes an object according to a fixed or specified point. Wonderfully useful whether you're keen on making an object larger or smaller without losing the quality or detail of the vector.

Scallop Tool: A tool that adds curved or pointed details to a selected object at random by curving parts of the object inward and creating points between the new curve. This tool sort of has the opposite effect of the Crystallize tool.

Scatter Graph Tool: A graph style that uses only points to show a collection of data and the relationship of the variables to one another. Useful for showing sets of information relating to individuals (such as a person's age and weight and how these variables compare with others).

Scissors Tool (C): Similar to the Knife tool, this one cuts paths or frames on a line or at a point.

Scribble: Adds a sketchy effect to the face of an object.

Selection Tool (V): Likely one of the most used tools, it allows the user to select an object for customization, manipulation, to be moved around the window, and so on.

Separations Preview: Introduced in Illustrator CS4, this panel that allows the user to preview color proofs before exporting your file for printing. Especially handy for CMYK-only printers, screen printing, and making sure your gradients will look just right when printed by a third-party or exporting your file to an earlier version of the program.

Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M): A tool for merging or separating selected and often overlapping shapes.

Shear Tool: This tool slants or skews an object against a given point. You can specify the axis or angle the object will shear. Fantastically useful if you're creating shadows for another object within your vector.

Shell: A warp effect that contorts the selected object(s) into a shell-like shape according to the options of the effect selected by the user.

Shell Lower: A warp effect that contorts the selected object's lower edge into a shell-like shape. Similar to Shell and Shell Upper.

Shell Upper: A warp effect that contorts the selected object's upper edge into a shell-like shape. Similar to Shell and Shell Lower.

Slice Select Tool: This tool is used to select a slice created previously in order to manipulate or delete it from the illustration.

Slice Tool (Shift-K): This tool lets you cut up an image into web images by dragging it across the area you'd like to slice up. You can use guides to guide the slice or freehand it, depending on your preference. Useful for creating web layouts initially designed in Illustrator.

Smooth Tool: A tool to be dragged along a path to smooth out any choppy lines caused by too many anchor points. You can alter how strongly the tool should affect your lines with the Fidelity and Smoothness controls in the tool's options panel.

Spiral Tool: A drawing tool for the creation of spirals in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.

Squeeze: A warp effect that curves the center of an object's edges inward.

Stacked Bar Graph Tool: A graphing tool that stacks the bars, showing inputted data, horizontally. Useful for comparing and contrasting elements in various categories within the graph.

Stacked Column Graph Tool: A graphing tool that stacks the bars, showing inputted data, vertically. Similar to the Stacked Bar Graph.

Star Tool: A drawing tool that creates stars with three or more points.

Stroke Panel: The panel in which a stroke's options and attributes are set.

Subtract: A Pathfinder effect that deletes overlapping objects in their entirety from the objects beneath them.

SVG Filters: Scalable Graphic Vector effects that you can apply to vector objects that are resolution independent, allowing for them to be easily scaled or edited without a loss of information (as would be the case if these were rasterized effects).

SVG Interactivity: The SVG panel that keeps track of, edits, creates, and deletes the SVG effects implemented within your document.

Swatches Panel: The panel that contains saved color, gradient, and pattern swatches. Often used in conjunction with the Color, Gradient, and Pattern Options panels.

Symbols Panel (Shift-Control-F11): This panel is similar to the swatch panel, but instead of focusing on color and such, it contains symbols you can organize, create, edit, or delete.

Symbol Screener Tool: A tool that allows the user to adjust the transparency to symbol instances within the vector artwork.

Symbol Scruncher Tool: This tool moves selected symbols closer together, scrunching them up.

Symbol Shifter Tool: This tool allows the user to move the symbol instances around or change the stacking order of the symbols within the layers of the artwork.

Symbol Sizer Tool: This tool allows the user to resize the symbols once placed within the artwork.

Symbol Spinner Tool: This tool rotates selected symbols in a given direction.

Symbol Sprayer Tool (Shift-S): This tool places multiple symbol instances wherever you drag your tool around the picture plane.

Symbol Stainer Tool: This tool allows the user to colorize selected instances of a symbol. The more you click the stainer on the symbol, the stronger the colorization becomes.

Symbol Styler Tool: This tool applies the selected style, chosen from the Graphic Style panel, to the selected symbol instance.



Tabs: This panel allows the user to set up, edit, or delete tab stops for the paragraphs within their document.

Transform Effect: An effect which allows you to duplicate, scale, move, mirror, or rotate an object within one panel. Handy when an object needs to be duplicated several times without needing to add extra points/shapes to a document.

Transform Panel (Shift-F8): This panel contains information for transforming objects. You can edit their scale, axis, and angle.

Transparency (Shift-Control-F10): A panel that lets the user select the opacity or blend mode of objects and create or edit opacity masks. Quite useful for layering objects and blending them into one another (or a background) manually.

Trim: A Pathfinder function that deletes the hidden components of overlapping groups and objects so only visible pieces of objects remain.

Tweak: A distortion effect that curves and contorts shapes at random according to the sliders in the effect's options.

Twist: A Warp effect that contorts a selected object according to the effect's options.

Twirl Tool: One of the liquify tools in the tool panel, Twirl distorts the object into itself by swirling it into a specified point.

Type Tool (T): A commonly used tool that creates horizontal type, fully editable, and type rectangular containers.

Type On a Path Tool: This type tool changes a path to a type path, allowing the user to place type onto any path or any shape or size.



Unite: Creates a compound shape from the selected objects and adds to the overall shape area. Not to be confused with Merge, in that Unite takes on the attributes of the overlapping object for the entire compound object. Other Pathfinder panel features include:

  • Minus Front, which deletes the front object and everything it overlaps.
  • Intersect, which deletes non-overlapping components of intersecting objects.
  • Exclude, which deletes the intersected components of overlapping objects.
  • Divide, Trim, Merge, Crop, Outline, and Minus Black, all of which are also features of the Pathfinder effects menu explained throughout this guide.



Variables Panel: A panel that creates data-driven graphics.

Vertical Area Type Tool: A type tool that transforms a closed path or object into a vertical type container.

Vertical Type Tool: A type tool that creates vertical type and type containers. Especially helpful if writing out content within a given space in Japanese or creating signage that needs to be in a vertical format.

Vertical Type On a Path Tool: Like the Type on a Path tool, it changes a path into a type path. In this case, however, the type is written out vertically, rather than horizontally. Especially useful for typing out Japanese or other languages that are often written out in a vertical format.



Wave: A warp effect that bends a selected object in a wave-like shape. The degree to which the wave affects the object is determined by the sliders in the dialogue box that pops up when you select this effect.

Warp Tool (Shift-R): One of the liquify tools found in the toolbar, the Warp tool allows the user to manipulate an object in whichever direction you drag the tool across the object. Doing so creates new anchor points and changes the shape of the object, molding it in whichever way the user wishes.

Width Tool (Shift-W): This tool lets the user create set variations in width within a single stroke, completely controlled by the user. Especially useful for creating thick and thin line work without the use of a pressure sensitive tablet, or with more control over the stroke's width if using one.

Wrinkle Tool: A liquify tool that warps the outline of an object into wrinkled form.



X and Shift-X: Shortcut keys that toggle the fill and stroke colors and switch them respectively. Shortcut keys, which have been labeled throughout this guide, are extremely useful when working in Adobe Illustrator to speed up your workflow and keep focus on creating with vector graphics instead of running through panels and menus.



Preview Mode (Control-Y): Allows the user to toggle between the document's outline and preview mode. In preview mode, the default view of documents in Illustrator, you view your artwork in full color with the effects, attributes and so on that have been applied to objects within it. In outline mode, you get a chance to see what's "under the hood"; linked files are displayed as boxes, and objects are outlined only if they're fully expanded (so effects disappear in this view mode). It's like seeing a wire frame of the design work without the detail of preview mode, causing it to load more quickly.



Zig Zag: A distortion effect that creates sharp or curved ridges along the edge of an object. Especially useful for creating starburst-shaped objects.

Zoom Tool (Z): A commonly used tool for focusing on a certain area of the vector work by increasing the magnification size, or to focus on the larger picture by decreasing the magnification size.

Now You Know Your ABCs...

Above you'll have just a taste of all of Adobe Illustrator's tools, panels, and effects and their various uses when creating scalable vector graphics. For further tool and panel breakdowns, check out this Guide to Illustrator Tools session, which gives details on some of Illustrator's most commonly used tools and panels.

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