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 incredibly easy to use Illustrator 2021 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 in just a few steps.
Table of Content
- Illustrator Tips and Tricks 2021
- Take courses
- Before anything else, start sketching
- Shadows and Highlights
- Use the right colors
- Bonus Tip: Don’t overthink!
- Use the shape builder tool
- Get comfortable using the Pen Tool
- Do the math
- Small Adobe FAQ
Illustrator Tips and Tricks 2021
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?
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.
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.
Although I’m still happy when they do include a link to <a href=”/” target=”blank>my page.</a>
So as you can see, becoming good in Illustrator is always the right choice.
And now let’s start with my illustrator tip #1
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.
The best Adobe Illustrator courses 2021
From what I have learned there are basically two types of Adobe Illustrator courses.
Courses that will help you to understand the software itself and courses that will help you to become better in creating illustrations.
Let’s check the bestselling courses for both purposes.
Mastering Illustrator to the fullest
The amazing thing about illustrator is, you can improve every artwork without any graphic design skills.
But you need to master the software first.
To do that, I really recommend doing a straightforward training course.
For instance this one:
Just look at the stats. 13,924 ratings and the overall rating is 4.8. That’s just incredible.
This course was last updated in December 2020 so it’s an up-to-date course and you will get 9 hours of on-demand-video.
In terms of practicing illustrations itself this one is a really pleasent course: Learn Illustrator CC: Create a Vector Knight.
Let’s check the facts.
This course has 30k students enrolled and from 323 ratings it is rated 4.3/5. Pretty good, right?
It’s an one hour course and you’ll learn how to create a complete character in Illustrator. One of the latest reviews has this to say:
In short, it’s not an expensive course and you’ll learn a lot.
Before anything else, start sketching
Let me tell you what I did in the beginning.
I simply started creating 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.
I desperately needed a simple solution to this.
So I started to sketch out illustrations 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 with this approach was, it didn’t looked 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.
But there is one important thing to consider when doing so.
Choose 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.
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 ;)
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.
And now the exact same illustration, except I’ve applied some lights and some shadows.
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.
This command will open up this tool right here.
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.
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:
- Don’t overthink.
- Move on to a new Illustrator file.
- Come back the next day and check your artwork.
- Take a walk outside.
Use the shape builder tool
After you have done the sketching, it is time to create your shapes. Like this:
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.
In the end use the shape builder tool.
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.
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.
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.
Illustrator will do the math for you and it will create the exact half of this rectangle.
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.
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 2021?
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.
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