Have you ever wanted to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator? I am starting a new tutorial series to help you learn the ins and outs of the most powerful software for graphic design. I have been using Illustrator to design printables, business logos, announcements and anything else you can think of for 5 years. Photoshop is the software I learned to design in first. While I love Photoshop, when it comes to designing, I prefer Adobe Illustrator for all of the heavy lifting.
Today I am going to share my top 5 tips to understand this software better and get you designing!
Before you get started in graphic design you really need to understand the difference between Photoshop and Illustrator. I am going to spare you all of the technical terms, but will link up any definitions you need to know. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!
Photoshop is a powerful software for pictures. Yes you can design beautiful graphics in Photoshop and several people only use Photoshop. Illustrator, however, is made for design. My workflow is often to create the bones of a design in Illustrator, then bring all of those elements into Photoshop to fine tune and enhance it.
The main differences between Photoshop and Illustrator
Photoshop is pixel based whereas Illustrator is vector based.
“A pixel is represented by a dot or square on a computer monitor display screen. Pixels are the basic building blocks of a digital image or display and are created using geometric coordinates.” from Techopedia.com Pixels are limited in how much they can expand. If you have ever tried to print an image you downloaded off of the web you have probably seen how distorted the image gets if you try to print too big. This is because there is only so much information contained in each pixel.
Bonus tip – if you plan on printing then when you set up your document make sure it is sized to 300 dpi and for web you want 72 dpi
A vector is “a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another.” (Google) So what does this mean? It means that no matter how small you design something like a button, you can enlarge it to any size you want without losing any quality.
Designing in Illustrator is A LOT Easier than in Photoshop
It is a million times easier to change your mind about your design in Illustrator over Photoshop. When you think about Photoshop picture creating a paper collage. You glue all of the elements down and then you decide that you really don’t love how it’s looking. It’s not impossible to change it, but unless it’s frustrating and can be time consuming. The same applies to Photoshop. Unless you remember to create a new layer for each element in Photoshop then it can be pretty tricky to edit.
In Illustrator it is like you are just placing the elements of your collage on the paper without gluing them down yet. You can easily rearrange them and move things around without worrying about remembering to create a new layer. You can also change the colors of your elements quickly and easily in Illustrator.
Illustrator and Photoshop are a powerhouse when you know how to create a great workflow between the two.
Illustrator is not the best with JPEG files because it is not pixel based. It is important that if you plan on using pictures in Illustrator that they are already sized to the size you need them. You cannot resize images in Illustrator without distorting the image. I do this by opening the images in Photoshop and resizing them there, saving, then opening the image in Illustrator.
Photoshop is great for adding the final touches to a design piece after you create the structure of the design in Illustrator. Part of my workflow is to create each design piece and layout in Illustrator then open it in Photoshop to add textures and save as a JPEG.
Typography is a breeze in Illustrator, a challenge in Photoshop
Quite possibly my favorite feature in Illustrator is being able to easily access all features of a font. Photoshop has come a long way in improving it’s typography features. It’s still not nearly as powerful as Illustrator. Have you ever purchased a dingbat font and then literally had to type every letter just to find the cute little flower you wanted? In Illustrator all you have to do is open the glyph window and select the flower. Ok there are a few more steps than that, but not much more than that. Altering fonts is a breeze in Illustrator.
Those are just a few of the major differences between Photoshop and Illustrator. I will be creating more in depth tutorials in the future to help you really understand the power of this incredible software.
If the word art board is foreign to you, don’t fret! In Illustrator the art board is your canvas. The area surrounding your art board is similar to having a bunch of scratch paper surrounding you. Anything you create that is off of the art board will not print. It will however transfer over with any SVG files or AI files that you open in Photoshop.
Why is this important? Remember when I said designing is easier in Illustrator? The art board and it’s surrounding areas are on of those reasons. When you are designing graphics in Illustrator, before you make any permanent changes you can easily make a copy and place that off the art board. Why is that good? It makes undoing a lot easier! If your design takes you in a direction that you end up not loving, you can easily go back to where you loved it and start from that point. This beats completely starting over.
Another great feature of the art board is that you can have as many as you need for your project! If you are working on a 4 page spread just create 4 art boards.
As a designer it is important for you to understand the different types of files you will work with. You are probably very familiar with JPEG and PDF files. You are probably not familiar with these file types:
PSD – a working Photoshop document. When you are creating anything in Photoshop you want to save a WIP (work in progress) file. This is a PSD file and can only be opened in Photoshop.
AI – a working Adobe Illustrator document. Can be opened in both Photoshop and Illustrator. Sometimes the files don’t work as well if you are operating on a later version of Illustrator than it was created in.
EPS – Encapsulated Post Script file that is similar to an AI file but it doesn’t matter if the file was created in newer versions of Illustrator.
PNG – this is where elements are placed on transparent backgrounds and are best for Photoshop
SVG – if you have a Silhouette or other die cut machine this is your go to file. Create your cut files in Illustrator then save as an SVG and open in your die cutting software.
There are more file types but these are the most used.
“Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”
Kay Redfield Jamison
The best way to learn Illustrator is to just play with it! Seriously. That’s it. Definitely watch tutorials and read articles as well. The only way you will truly understand the software though is to just play with it. If you don’t know what something does, play with it. Over the years I have watched hundreds of tutorials. I’ve purchased books. Those all helped, but none have helped me as much as my experimenting.
I have 4 children and as I have watched them learn, I have come to see the importance of slowing down and just playing. You don’t teach a kid who can’t walk how to ride a bike right? You won’t master Illustrator without playing with it. Take one tool at a time and master that, then over the years you will be a pro!
Along with playing comes practice. What is the difference? When I play in a software I am mostly just tinkering around and have no clear direction. I am just playing. When I practice though I have a clear vision of what I am trying to accomplish. Often times I will find a design that inspires me and I will practice by trying to recreate it. If you choose to do that, please make sure you don’t then sell what you recreated because it is a copy and not your original art work.
When I first began using Illustrator nothing was more cumbersome than the pen tool. Trying to understand how to get the right curve and where to place my anchor points was a headache. Now I can use the pen tool with ease after years of focused practice. I still have a ways to go in mastering the software but I am a lot better today than I was 5 years ago.
As a gift for you sticking with me to the end I have designed a reminder for you to frame and place in your work space. Whenever you get discouraged with what you are trying to master I hope this print will remind you to be patient with yourself. Practice Makes Progress!
To download this free print you will need to access my resource library which is full of Free printables! You can access this amazing resource here. I hope you have learned something from this post that will help you! If you have any questions please leave a comment below! I’d love to help you on your journey to mastering this software!