Posted June 2, 2014
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     Posted June 2, 2014
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I distinctly remember my attempts to teach myself Illustrator. When I was in high school, I installed it on my hand-me-down desktop and tried to play around with it. It looked like Photoshop, so I figured it would be simple enough—it wasn’t. A few hours later, all I wanted to do was punch my screen and ended up uninstalling the program out of frustration. A few days later, I tried again and the same thing happened. That cycle went on about three more times until I finally got it.

I know the frustration of learning this program all too well, so here’s a basic rundown and a few tips and tricks to help get you going.


Illustrator creates vectors, not pixels. This is the main difference between Photoshop and Illustrator. You can scale your designs as big as you want without the quality deteriorating. File sizes are also much smaller, so it’s a better program to work with on bigger projects.

There are two different arrows. The black arrow, or the Selection Tool (A), selects objects as a whole. The white arrow, or the Direct Selection Tool (V), selects points.


The pen tool is your friend. In her Skillshare class, Jessica Hische said, “The pen tool is the most powerful tool in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s the Large Hadron Collider.” Designers will probably agree. The pen tool is the heart and soul of Illustrator, but it takes a long time to master.

Click here for a more comprehensive guide on how to use it, but here are some tips:

  • Start with as little points as possible and keep adding more when you’re smoothing things out.
  • Curves won’t come out perfect when you put either too little or too many points.
  • Get your points down first and correct them later.
  • Try to get your handlebars to have equal lengths. This means they’re sharing the workload.
  • The only way to get better with the pen tool is to practice, practice, practice! Keep tracing photos with curves until you’re comfortable with it.

Always have the pathfinder open. It gives you several options to merge, subtract, and divide objects.


Build your illustrations with shapes. If you can’t draw to save your life (like me), use the different shape tools to start off your illustrations. Move or delete points to turn them into something else.