I am sure this will sound familiar to you.

You open up Adobe Illustrator, you start creating your shapes but somehow things don’t look like you want them to look like.

What have you missed?

Well, there are small things that can make or break a design and the same goes for Adobe Illustrator.

Today I want to show you some easy to use Illustrator 2020 tips and tricks I have learned along the way.

With this guide, you will be able to improve your skillset and you will start getting better with Adobe Illustrator step by step.

Table of Content

Small Adobe FAQ

What is Adobe Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based software for those who want to create vector-based artwork. It’s available through Adobes creative cloud and it is one of the most popular software from Adobe along with Photoshop.

Why writing down Illustrator tips for 2020?

Illustrator is a really comprehensive tool, there is so much to learn. However, I’ve realized that there are small tips that can improve your illustrator artwork very quickly. Today I want to show you these tips.

What can I create with Illustrator?

Illustrator is mainly being used to create SVG files like icons, logos or illustrations. The main advantage with SVG files is, they look crispy clear on every device. You’re even able to animate them.

Illustrator Tips and Tricks 2020

Why have I started using Illustrator?

One thing that might be interesting for you, why do I even started to use Illustrator in the first place?

Funny story.

I didn’t want to rely on others while creating icons and illustrations.

I thought to myself:

Wouldn’t it be nice to create your own artwork and create websites including your own illustrations and icons? I wouldn’t even have to think about the license.

I even would be able to give out my illustrations away for free.

gift icon for my free illustrations

Actually that is what I did here: Free Illustrations. A small library that I’ve created. Everyone can use my icons and illustrations for free under the MIT license. They don’t even have to credit me.

So as you can see, becoming good in Illustrator is always the right choice.

And now let’s start with my illustrator tip #1

Before anything else, start sketching

Let me tell you what I did in the beginning.

I simply started to create shapes.

Click and drag, a circle here - a rectangle there. It was good to get to know how Illustrator works, but it surely didn’t help me to create better Illustrations.

So I started to sketch things out before creating them.

Here comes another secret: First I did this with pen and paper.

I sketched something, I took a picture of it and then I imported it to Illustrator. Then I could re-do all the shapes and lines.

The problem was, it didn’t look great at all. Not only I felt uncomfortable with the whole process, but it also took me way too long to create something that looks good.

But I wanted to create good Illustrations so badly.

Desperate as I was, I just started to sketch with my mouse.

I didn’t had any special mouse at all, it was some basic thing that you could get everywhere for a few dollars.

To my surprise, things changed very fast. I was way more comfortable to sketch with my mouse and then directly creating the shapes with Illustrator.

sketch made with adobe illustration
Illustration made with Adobe Illustrator.

But there is one important thing to consider when doing so.

Chose the right brush

Do not sketch with a bold black line. Instead, create a light and thin brush. I use a magenta color for this and I then set the opacity to 0.5.

brushes made with adobe illustration
Brushes to sketch within Adobe Illustrator.

This way my sketches look way better.

You can even choose another color and use the second color for your shadows.

So what is the main point here?

I am not saying that the mouse is the only way to start sketching. I think most of the people won’t even like it.

But it surely helped me along the way. For you maybe a drawing tablet is the better option. No matter what you chose in the end, always sketch things out before creating them. This will improve your workflow immediately.

Attached a small video about sketching in Adobe Illustrator. Check it out, it’s only 1:11 min long ;)

Take courses

Taking online courses really helped me to improve my skills. In fact, almost everything that I’ve learned was from online courses.

Don’t get me wrong, I also have used books and forums to get some questions answered, but online courses were playing the biggest part in my learning experience.

Now before you scream at me, I know there are a lot of bad courses out there, but the truth is you still be able to find awesome teachers and tutors.

Adobe Illustrator courses

From what I have learned there are basically two types of Adobe Illustrator courses.

Courses which will help you to understand the software itself and courses which will help you to become better in creating illustrations.

Of course, you’ll also learn something about Adobe Illustrator when watching someone creating illustrations, but I’ve learned that Illustrator is an incredibly powerful application and that there is always something you didn’t know.

A lot depends on your skillset, but I really recommend this course for almost everyone: Learn Illustrator CC: Create a Vector Knight.

It is short, not expensive and you’ll learn a lot.

Don’t believe me? Check the reviews, people really enjoyed taking this course.

Shadows and Highlights

If I would need to pick one thing, which differentiates basic illustrations from premium ones, it’s shadows & highlights.

Let me show you what I mean.

I’ve once created an avatar Illustration for a friend, here is what it looked like without highlights and without shadows.

illustration without shadows and highlights
Pretty boring in my opinion.

And now the exact same illustration, except I’ve applied some lights and some shadows.

illustration wit shadows and highlights
What a difference highlights can make!

Big difference, right?

And it is very easy to apply. You simply need two darker and one lighter version of your base color.

But how to find that color? Very easy, let me show you.

Use the right colors

As a beginner, I just picked random colors. I wasn’t aware that there are colors that can make or break my design. I didn’t even know, that I can find the right colors right here in Illustrator, without using a third-party tool or any other website.

Not only you can find the right colors, but you’re also able to choose from different harmony rules depending on what you want to create.

Today I know and in a minute, so do you.

Open up Illustrator, click on “Window” and then color guides.

color guides in illustrator
color guides in Adobe Illustrator.

This command will open up this tool right here.

harmony rules
harmony rules in Adobe Illustrator.

Now you can select a color as a base color, choose a harmony rule and Illustrator will do the work for you.

Nice, isn’t it?

But what’s up with all the harmony rules, which one should you choose?

There are many different harmony rules. You can choose between complementary colors, Split complementary, Analogous, Triadic and also Monochromatic.

For now, you can stick with complementary colors, these should give you a pretty nice range of colors which you can use for your Illustrations and Icons.

Later along the way, try to get a feeling for the other harmony rules as well. They will surely be of great help to your designs.

Let me show you how this looks like in my Youtube video.

Bonus Tip: Don’t overthink!

This applies to many aspects of life, but it is especially true for creating and designing.

Overthinking makes you slow, it stops you from being creative and it stops you from improving your artwork quickly. Actually, it doesn’t really do any good at all.

Let me tell you how I created an illustration once.

After I was finished, pretty happy with the result, I was ready to close and save the Adobe Illustrator file. But instead, I started to overthink the colors, the shapes and everything else there is to the illustration.

In the end, I absolutely disliked the completed artwork. Even I was happy with it a few hours before.

Sounds crazy?

That is overthinking. You can’t see clear and stuff that actually was pretty good becomes bad.

The next day, I realized the artwork was actually really nice and not only it was nice but I was also really happy with it.

Also, I realized very fast, the one thing I should change was the shadow. I didn’t even see that the day before.

So my advice on what to do in this situation:

Use the shape builder tool

After you have done the sketching, it is time to create your shapes. Like this:

shape builder illustrator

To create something in Illustrator, you have basically two options. You can either use the pen tool and draw the lines or you use shapes to combine them into something you want. I use both methods.

I am not saying that one is better than the other, but if you struggle with your mouse or your graphic tablet, try the shape builder tool.

It is so easy, that this could be a clickbait title and people would still love it.

Let me show you.

Let’s say you want to create a cloud. Now, you can pick a brush and just draw the lines until you’ve got the cloud, but this will surely take longer than using the next method.

Let’s do this instead.

Create a circle, then create three more.

Create a rectangle.

Combine them.

In the end use the shape builder tool.

building shapes with adobe illustrator

That’s it. You’ve got the perfect cloud icon. Try this method, it can save you a lot of time.

Get comfortable using the Pen Tool

There is this one thing that every designer does.

Recreating shapes.

Essentially this is what we do as Illustrators. We see shapes out in the real world and then we start recreating them. We do that since we’re kids.

Most of the time you will use Illustrators pen tool for that. Since you’ll be using it very frequently it might be a good idea to get used to it.

It’s basically an easy tool. You click and drag and then you can create your lines or your shapes. In between these lines, there are anchor points.

But instead of me writing about how the pen tool works, it should be much easier for you to just open up Illustrator and start using it.

But How to start using the pen tool?

Recreating photographs with the pen tool should be a good way to start. Just look for some pictures that you would love to illustrate, put them on a separate layer and start recreating the shapes with the pen tool.

using the illustrators pen tool to recreate a window
Using the pen tool to recreate shapes.

This should speed up the process of learning.

Do the math

A lot of people don’t know this, but Illustrator is actually able to do the math for you.

Yep, you heard that right.

It is not only capable of creating powerful illustrations, Adobe Illustrator is also a math genius.

So let’s say you have created a rectangle which is 229px high and you want to create the exact half of this rectangle. You don’t need to open up the calculator; you simply click the height input box and write 229/2.

using the calculator function with adobe illustrator
Simply say what you want Illustrator to do.

That’s it.

Illustrator will do the math for you and it will create the exact half of this rectangle.

result of illustrators math calculation
Adobe Illustrator will do the rest.

What a wonderful time saver.

So that’s it for now. I hope these tips will be helpful to you.

I will make sure to add other tips on this list, so if you want to stay in touch with me, check it out from time to time.

Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions, please let me know.


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