Working with Illustrator

by Nick Jensen on July 22, 2014

Hello, everyone. It’s been too long since I posted my last blog entry. But now that I have finished my last semester at Cal. State Long Beach, I suddenly find myself having more free time. It’s a good thing too, because I’ve been wanting to talk about Adobe Illustrator for a while now. I first came across Illustrator when I began my final manual project for school. Unlike my previous manuals, I wanted this one to have illustrations instead of pictures. I’ve heard my father talk about Illustrator in the past; he used it to create blueprints for his machinist (my father creates cinematography equipment).

Before I even began to conceptualize my manual, I created an illustration of a gyro-stabilized camera mount (also called a gimbal). I had never used Illustrator before, yet I managed to create an almost-perfect rendering of the machine. I’ve attached a copy of that image below plus an image of the assembled product. I used Illustrator to trace over a photograph of the gimbal. It took me 15 hours to complete (spread between 3 days), and it was a very educational experience. After I became more familiar with Illustrator’s tools, I created the other illustrations at a quicker pace. Learning keyboard shortcuts is the key to getting things done faster. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to switch between the pen tool and the eraser tool. Ctrl+P, Ctrl+E, Ctrl+P, Ctrl+E, Ctrl+P, Ctrl+E. One shortcut I will never forget is Undo Last Action (Ctrl+Z). If one can count how many stars there are in this galaxy, then that’s how many times I’ve pressed Ctrl+Z. That being said, Illustrator is an extraordinarily easy program to learn.

Most of the tools’ functions are intuitive. The only tools that really gave me grief were the art board and the layers window. If you are tracing over an image as I often did, then make ABSOLUTELY sure the lines you draw are NOT on the same layer as the image. I still haven’t figured out why, but sometimes after I finish drawing a line, Illustrator wants to go back to the first layer (the layer containing the source image). Therefore, I constantly check to make sure that I’m drawing on the correct layer. The art board can be a real pain in the side if you don’t know how to resize it. Let’s say you’re tracing over a large image, but the art board covers only a third of the image. Yup, folks. You guessed it. You can’t draw anything outside the artboard. Therefore you must resize the art board to fit over the entire image. You can accomplish this by pressing Ctrl+Alt+P and then clicking on Edit Artboards. You can then drag the corners of the artboard to fit the image.

You might have to do a bit of google-searching to find out how certain things work, but not too often. If you want to create illustrations for a manual or other document, then Illustrator is an excellent choice. Just save your files often and make copies of them. Illustrator files  get corrupted more often than other files. At least, they do for me. Maybe Illustrator just doesn’t like me or my computer.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jay maechtlen March 3, 2015 at 9:17 am

15 hours – I guess that’s why my manuals tend to have simpler (or crappier) illustrations.


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