Intro to Illustrator (part 1)

A beginners guide to Adobe Illustrator (part 1)

Welcome to Illustrator. If you’re new to Illustrator, then this tutorial will be a great starting point. You may have questions already, but by using this as a starting point (or as a refresher), it will help to ensure that you are starting your project off correctly, and that when it comes time to put your artwork to use, that it is formatted properly for whatever medium you are going to be using it on.

Adobe Illustrator's New Document Window
Fig. 1 – New Document Window

When you open Illustrator, and create a new project, you are shown this screen:

The good news is that if you use this screen to its full potential, it will do a lot of the work for you, in terms of making the file printer-friendly or web-ready.

So let’s examine each of these options and when you might use them.

The name field is completely optional at this point. I DO recommend that you fill it in, because that is what will get used as the file name when it is time for you to save your work. If you’re anything like me, I tend to procrastinate a lot in saving something, and too often it results in lost work. So, if you give it a name from the get go, it will save time when it comes to saving in the future. That being said – if you decide to omit it, when you do eventually save your work, you will just be promted again at that time to give it a name.

The profile fields are a quick way to specify some quick options, but no matter what profile you select, you will still need to do some customizing. So start by choosing the profile that is most appropriate for your project, but don’t immediately click “OK” assuming that everything is good to go. You will want to make some adjustments, depending on which profile you selected.

Number of Artboards:
Unlike a lot of other graphics applications out there, Illustrator works with what are known as “artboards”. Artboards are basically going to be your canvases, and how many you need ultimately depends on the project that you are creating. For example – if you are working on a 2-sided business card, then I would recommend creating 2 artboards. One for the front of the card, and one for the back of the card. For a website project, if you are, for example, working on a small 5-page website, then you might create 5 artboards. A simple logo project might only require one artboard, or, you may want to create 20 artboards, so you can do various renditions of a logo and see them all at once. Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference. Have peace of mind that if you are working and find that you need more artboards to work with, you can always add more. So even if you miscalculate the number of artboards that you need, it’s an easy fix to make.

This only applies when you have more than one artboard, and it deals with how your artboards are arranged on the screen. This determines how many columns your artboards will occupy. For example, if you have 5 artboards, and you want all of your artboards to appear side by side, then you will want to specify 5 columns. If you want them to appear on top of one another vertically, then you will want to keep it as 1 column. And if you want a specific number of columns and rows, you will first specify how many artboards that you’ll need, and how many columns that you want them to occupy. From there, the column arrangement icons will become active and will allow you to specify how you want your columns to be arranged.

This is just the amount of space between your artboards. Totally a matter of personal preference. I tend to like a bit more space between my artboards, in case artwork spills over.

Depending on the profile that you selected above, you will have different preset options for the size of the document that you want to create. If one of them fits what you need, great. If not, customize to your exact dimensions using the width & height options below.

Pretty self-explanatory; the width of each artboard. If you selected one of the document profiles above but did not select a size preset, then it will put in a default value, which you are going to want to customize. The width you enter is largely based on the project you will be creating. For print work, the size will largely be determined by the type of paper you are going to be printing on. For web work, it is a bit trickier. Typically, for a full-scale website I will start with a 1500px canvas, but then add additional artboards that are of different sizes (one for mobile, one for tablet, etc.).

The height of each artboard.

* A note regarding width & height: for print projects, you will typically know the width & height that you need. For web projects, you may not always know the exact dimensions that you need. In those instances, I suggest just starting bigger than what you need, and resizing the artboards as needed.
This is one of the areas that you will probably want to customize, because the profile defaults never seem to be what I want them to be. If you select the print profile, it defaults to “points”, which is not something that I actively think in. So I always change this to “inches”. If you selected a web profile, it will default to pixels, which you will want to keep.

I almost never use this feature, because Illustrator will automatically determine the orientation of your project depending on the sizes that you’ve entered. The only way these buttons become handy is if you accidentally reverse your width & height values, in which these buttons will provide a handy way to switch them.

The bleed is used exclusively for print projects. The standard bleed size is 0.125 inches, but may need to be more or less depending on the printer specifications. This is used when you have artwork that will contain color that goes to the very edge of the paper. You will want to extend your artwork out to the bleed lines, so that when they cut your project out, it truly goes to the edge. If you don’t do this, then there is a good chance you will see small white lines on the edges of your art when you receive the prints back.

Advanced Options:

Color Mode:
If you selected a profile above, then this value should be set for you. For print projects, you are always going to want this to be CMYK. For web/screen projects, you are always going to want this to be RGB.

Raster Effects:
For print projects, you will typically want this to be 300dpi (for best quality). For web/screen projects, you will want this to always be 72dpi, as that is the maximum DPI that screens can show. Anything higher will only result in larger file sizes, with no noticeable payoff.

Preview Mode:
As a beginner, leaving this as default will be fine.

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32 y/o Christian guy, living in beautiful small-town Pennsylvania with my beautiful wife, and fluffy dog.

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