Adobe Illustrator
Education

Alright, y’all – today begins the first of our two-part series where I give you an overview of EVERY SINGLE Adobe Illustrator tool. Whether you’re a total newbie to Illustrator or you’ve used it millions of times, you’ll find this guide to be super helpful! Even I learned of a few new tools while putting this post together.

The thing about Adobe Illustrator is that there’s typically more than one way to accomplish the same task. Just because you know how to do something one way, doesn’t mean it’s the easiest or most straightforward way of going about it. With that being said, some of these tools offer super short cuts to processes you may already have a system for, while others will probably yield a similar amount of time and effort to accomplish the same end goal. Either way, this guide is a quick and easy overview of what each Adobe Illustrator tool does and its general uses.

Also, note that not every Adobe Illustrator tool is super relevant or useful (at least in my mind). So understand that mastering every single one of these tools is totally not necessary. There are several Illustrator tools that you will probably never touch once in your whole graphic designer life. So if at any point while you’re going through this list, it seems like an Illustrator tool is extremely specific and realistically something you’ll never use – you’re probably right. But just in case, I’ve laid them all out for you anyway!

Because there are SO many Adobe Illustrator tools, I’ve split this post into two parts, starting with the top half of the Illustrator toolbar, ending with the bottom. So below are the top half of the Adobe Illustrator tools (which you can find in the toolbar on the left-hand side of your workspace):

Adobe Illustrator Tool – Selection Tool

Selection Tool (V)

The selection tool is the black arrow icon that you use all the time. It functions as a typical cursor, allowing you to select, click and drag objects and text around your screen.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Direct Selection Tool and Group Selection Tool

Direct Selection Tool (A)

The direct selection tool allows you to individually select and edit specific anchor points of vector shapes or lines.

Where the regular selection tool would select the entire shape, the Direct Selection Tool enables you to edit one angle, side, point or curve at a time.

– Group Selection Tool

This tool allows you to easily select a specific object within a group in order to move, edit, or resize it individually.

I actually didn’t even realize this was a real tool until today, but I’m super glad it exists because this will save me a lot of time and eliminate the need for a million double clicks (which accomplishes the same thing but takes a lot longer)!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Magic Wand Tool

Magic Wand Tool (Y)

This tool allows you to click on a single object in order to automatically select everything in your workspace with that same fill color.

This would come in handy if you ever needed to adjust the same color on a bajillion different shapes. By using the magic wand tool you only have to click once to do so, instead of clicking on every object individually!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Lasso Tool

Lasso Tool (Q)

The lasso tool works similarly to the Direct Selection Tool in that it allows you to select individual anchor points within a shape or object. However, the Lasso Tool allows you to draw around an area of points you want selected so that you’re able to easily select several at a time.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Pen Tool, Add Anchor Point Tool, Delete Anchor Point Tool, Anchor Point Tool

Pen Tool (P)

The pen tool is probably the most important tool of the entire program. This Illustrator tool allows you to click in your workspace to create anchor points. By clicking and dragging these anchor points, you can maneuver their “handles”, which give your paths curvature and shape. By connecting several anchor points with this tool, you can create unique, hand drawn vector shapes.

This tool takes some practice, but once you have it down, you will be able to draw freaking awesome vector illustrations. I use the pen tool every single time I open Illustrator, so if there is any tool to master, it’s definitely this one!

– Add Anchor Point Tool (+)

The add actor point tool allows you to click in the middle of an existing path to add an extra anchor point to your shape or line.

You would use this tool if you needed to add an extra curve or angle to your shape, without having to fully redraw it. Once you’ve added the new anchor point to your path, use the direct selection tool and/or the anchor point tool to manipulate it into the curve or angle you want to create.

– Delete Anchor Point Tool (-)

The delete anchor point tool deletes anchor points from paths (pretty self-explanatory, I know).

– Anchor Point Tool

This tool allows you to add or maneuver handles of existing anchor points in order to add curvature to shapes you’ve already created.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Curvature Tool

Curvature Tool (Shift+)

The curvature tool is another great way to create vector shapes, especially if your shape has mostly curved edges.

It’s harder to have perfect control over your curves using this tool than is with the pen tool, BUT the curves of this tool are also more perfectly round than the curves you would create using the pen tool. I suggest using this tool in combination with the pen tool to create the perfect shape – best of both worlds!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Type Tools

Type Tool (T)

This tool allows you to add text to your Illustrator document.

To use this tool, either click on your artboard and begin typing – which allows you to type without any boundaries; or you can click and drag to create a text box and THEN begin typing – which will restrict your text to stay within that text box.

– Area Type Tool

The area type tool allows you to convert an existing shape into a text box and type within it.

– Type on a Path Tool

This tool allows you to use an existing line or shape as a path to type on.

– Vertical Type Tool

The vertical type tool allows you to type your text vertically instead of horizontally.

– Vertical Area Type Tool

This is exactly like the area type tool, but this tool allows you to type vertically instead of horizontally.

– Vertical Type on a Path Tool

This tool is exactly like the type on a path tool, but allows you to type vertically instead of horizontally.

– Touch Type Tool

This it allows you to select individual letters of existing text and move them around.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Line Segment Tool, Arc Tool, Spiral Tool, Rectangular Grid Tool, Polar Grid Tool

Line Segment Tool (\)

This tool does exactly what you think it does – draws lines! Unlike the pen tool however, you cannot make connected lines, only individual ones.

For this tool and the ones nested under it, you can either click and drag to create your lines, or you can click one single time on the artboard and specify it’s dimensions first. If you hold down the shift key you can create a line at a 0, 45, or 90 degree angles.

– Arch Tool

This tool makes arches – imagine that! However, I personally don’t find it the easiest to control and would recommend using the curvature tool instead – but try them both out and see which you prefer!

– Spiral Tool

Another obvious one – this tool makes spirals! This is actually a super fun tool, however I don’t know that I’ve actually ever used it for a real project before. But if you can find a practical use for this – kudos!

– Rectangular Grid Tool

This tool is actually be super helpful because it allows you to create create tables or anything else you’d need a grid with rows and columns for.

Once the tool is selected, you can click one time on your artboard, which will bring up a window where you can specify the size and amount of rows and columns you want. Hit okay and your grid will appear!

– Polar Grid Tool

This tool makes a polar grid, which apparently is a circular target looking thing, with perpendicular lines that meet in the middle. I have no idea what you would ever use this for, but it’s there if you need it I guess?!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Rectangle Tool, Ellipse Tool, Polygon Tool, Star Tool

Rectangle Tool (M)

This tool makes squares and rectangles.

If you want a perfect square you can hold down the shift key as you click and drag. Otherwise just click and drag normally to make a rectangle. If you need your shape to be an exact size, just click one time and specify the size you want your shape to be in the box that will pop up.

– Rounded Rectangle Tool

This tool works exactly the same as the rectangle tool, but the corners are rounded instead of squared.

If you want to adjust the roundness of the corners, use the direct selection tool and click and drag on the little circular points that show up on the insides part of the corners and adjust them accordingly.

– Ellipse Tool (L)

Fun fact: an ellipse is a circle. So any time you want a circle or an oval, this is the tool you’ll need.

To create a circle, hold down the shift key. If you want an oval, just click and drag. Like the rectangle tool(s), if you want a specific sized circle, just click once on the artboard and adjust your settings accordingly.

– Polygon Tool

The polygon tool makes any number of sided shapes – from triangles to hexagons to octagons and beyond.

With the tool selected, all you need to do is click once on your artboard and define how many sides you want your shape to have.

– Star Tool

This tool obviously makes stars. With this tool, you can choose how many points you want your star to have, as well as how far in the inner points go towards the center.

The star tool is super fun to play around with, given how many different variations you can come up with. Again, just click in your workspace with the tool selected to define the number of points you want your star to have, as well as the distance you want between them.

-Flare Tool

This is another random tool that I have never actually used and I don’t totally understand who does. It makes this weird multi-circular shape with some weird gradient flares. Play around with it because I don’t even really know how to describe what this tool does. You’ll see how weird it is for yourself.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Paintbrush Tool

Paint Brush Tool (B)

The paint brush tool makes thicker, paint-like strokes that you can change the width, shape and texture of.

This tool creates brush strokes that are made up of actual lines, so after you’ve “painted” them, you can use the direct select tool to can move around the points and smooth out any curves that aren’t quite perfect. You can also change the width of the stroke after it’s already been drawn by changing the line weight.

– Blob Brush Tool

The blob brush tool is the same as the paint brush tool, but instead of creating lines down the middle of your brushstrokes, it creates a vector shape AROUND the brushstroke. So instead of creating a single path, it creates an entire an area instead.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Shaper Tool

Shaper Tool (Shift+N)

The shaper tool allows you to draw general shapes by hand, but then will automatically clean them up and create the shape you intended. So if you used this tool to draw a super crappy rectangle, the moment you release your finger from the mouse pad, it will automatically create a non-crappy rectangle for you.

– Pencil Tool

The pencil tool is similar to the brush tool in that you can draw lines by hand without using the pen or line tools. I don’t use it often because it can be difficult to handle precisely, but occasionally it comes in handy!

– Smooth Tool

This tool smooths out lines, making them less rigid and bumpy.

By clicking and dragging the smooth tool over top of a line you’ve drawn, it will automatically change around the anchor points to create a smoother transition between them. I personally don’t find this tool to work super well, but it’s always worth a shot!

– Path Eraser Tool

With a line selected, you can use the path eraser tool to draw along segments of the line you want to be erased.

– Join Tool

The join tool allows you to take two paths and join them together to create one single path. With the join tool selected, just click and drag a circle around the two end points of the path you want to be connected, and Illustrator will join them together for you.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Eraser Tool

Eraser Tool (Shift+E)

The eraser tool… erases. I know, shocking, right? This tool really does come in handy if you want to get rid of a section of a vector object or path.

Unlike the path eraser tool, this tool can erase entire sections of shapes, causing your vector shape to redraw its outside bounding lines.

– Scissors Tool

The scissors tool can be used to cut apart a vector object or path.

If you want to slice apart an object, use the scissors tool to click on one side and then click on the other. Now your shape is cut into two pieces which you can move around individually. You can also use this tool on a path by clicking once on the section of the path you want to be separated.

– Knife Tool

The knife tool allows you to do the same thing as the scissors tool, but instead of only cutting straight lines, the knife tool can cut in any jigsaw manner you want! Just click and drag the knife through the shape and voila!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Rotate Tool, Reflect Tool

Rotate Tool (R)

The rotate tool allows you to rotate shapes in a circular manner.

To use it, select the tool and click once in the middle of the shape, defining your axis point (that blue dot) of which you want your shape to rotate around. Then click and drag outside of the shape to rotate it around!

– Reflect Tool (O)

The reflect tool works similarly to the rotate tool, but instead reflects the image or object instead of just rotating it.

Again, you need to select an axis point, then click and drag outside of the shape to reflect it.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Scale Tool, Shear Tool, Reshape Tool

Scale Tool (S)

This tool works similarly to the reflect and rotate tools, in that you have to define an axis point, then resize by clicking and dragging outside the shape. I find it easier to forgo using this tool by just resizing the shape as normal while holding down option and shift (which resizes it proportionately and centered to where the object already resides).. But to each it’s own!

– Shear Tool

The shear tool angles and skews your objects to look like they are going back into space. This tool works the same as the previous, where you select and axis point, then click and drag outside of the shape to shear it.

– Reshape Tool

The reshape tool allows you to select multiple anchor points on a line or shape, and move them all in the same direction.

It’s essentially the same as the direct selection tool but is easier in maneuvering several points at the same time, especially if you want them all to move in the same direction.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Width Tool, Warp Tool, Twirl Tool, Pucker Tool, Bloat Tool, Scallop Tool, Crystallize Tool, Wrinkle Tool

Width Tool (Shift+W)

This tool only works on lines, not shapes. It allows you to click on areas of a line and make the stroke thicker or thinner.

– Warp Tool (Shift+R)

The warp tool works on both shapes and lines and creates warped indents into your vector drawings.

The amount you click, hold and drag will adjust the strength or depth of the indents.

– Twirl Tool

The twirl tool distorts shapes by creating a swirl within them. This tool only works on shapes and not lines, and the shape you want to twirl must be selected before you select the actual tool itself.

To use, just click and hold on the shape you want twirled – and voila!

– Pucker Tool

The pucker tool creates weird, pointed divots in your shape.

Again, the longer you hold down the tool on the shape and the more you click and drag the tool over the shape, the more prominent these features become. This tool works on both shapes and lines.

– Bloat Tool

This tool also works on both shapes and lines, and in contrast to the pucker tool, it bloats the shape, adding extra bumps to the outside of your shapes or lines.

– Scallop Tool

The scallop tool works on both shapes and lines, and it makes both indents and outward bumps, depending on which area of the shape you place the tool. This tool adds 3 little peaks and valleys to your shape or line every time you click. The intensity of these bumps increases the more you click and drag.

– Crystalize Tool

The crystalize tool looks similar to the scallop tool, but with stronger peaks and shallower valleys. It also works on both shapes and lines and can be increased by clicking and dragging.

– Wrinkle Tool

This tool makes your shape or line wavy, adding uneven bumps and squiggles into your paths.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Free Transform Tool

Free Transform Tool (E)

This tool essentially lets you resize your shape in all ways possible.

When you select a shape to transform, a second little toolbar will appear in the upper left hand corner, floating next to your main toolbar. Here you can select Constrain, Free Transform, Perspective Distort, or Free distort. They all are obviously ways to transform your object but are best understood by just playing around with them to see how they work.  

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Shape Builder Tool, Live Paint Bucket, Live Paint Selection Tool

Shape Builder Tool (Shift+M)

The shape builder tool allows you to easily combine multiple, overlapping shapes in order to create one large, combined shape.

Once all of the shapes selected, select the shape builder tool and click and drag a line between every shape you want to combine. Once you release your mouse, your new shape will be created!

– Live Paint Bucket (K)

The live paint bucket allows you to fill shapes quickly and easily with color or patterns. The one important step to this process, however, is to make sure that the object(s) you want to be filled is selected first.

The cool thing about this tool is that you can fill sections of shapes that are separated by individual lines. For example, if you had a circle with a big line going through the middle of it, you could fill each side of that circle, even though that line isn’t actually connected to the shape itself. Cool huh?!

– Live Paint Selection Tool (Shift+L)

This tool allows you to select individual segments from your live paint area, and change their attributes (color, line weight, etc.).

This tool makes more sense when you play around with it, or here’s a video tutorial for you to watch and get a better understand of both the live paint bucket and live paint selection tool.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Perspective Grid Tool, Perspective Selection Tool

Perspective Grid Tool (Shift+P)

This tool is sort of confusing to use at first, but it can be really helpful in making perspective drawings. The perspective grid allows you to make your drawing look 3D by giving them depth and spatial awareness.

To use this tool, first select the tool itself, which will make a grid appear on your artboard.

Using the cube in the upper left-hand corner, select which side of your grid you want an object to snap to. Then, select that object and drag it onto the grid, anywhere you want. Continue this step until all of your objects are on the perspective grid and look as if they are going back into space.

– Perspective Selection Tool (Shift+V)

The perspective selection tool allows you to edit and change around the perspective grid that appears on your artboard. Select the three points that appear on the bottom of the grid, and slide them around to adjust the grid.

To get out of the perspective grid altogether, click on the x in the corner of the cube pop-up using this tool.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Mesh Tool

Mesh Tool (U)

This is another highly advanced tool in Illustrator that can be extremely powerful if used correctly. This tool allows you to select certain points within a specific section of your shape to add another color.

The two colors will create a gradient in-between them, acting as highlights, shading, and natural color progression. This is how extremely advanced digital artists make realistic digital drawings. They have a bajillion of these points with a bajillion different colors.

Use this tool by clicking on different parts of your shape, which then creates a point in the middle of your shape with a line connecting it to each side, horizontally and vertically. Use the direct selection tool to select this point and then change the color by changing the color swatch. Continue with this process until you have the desired gradient shading throughout your shape.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Gradient Tool

Gradient Tool (G)

The gradient tool creates either linear or radial gradients within a shape or line. The actual tool allows you to click and drag within your shape to specify where you want your gradient to start and end, and how large the spread in-between is. It also allows you to choose the angle by hand, rather than by choosing specific degrees.

In order to change the colors and edit these variables more specifically, however, you need to open the gradient window in the workspace panel on the right-hand side of your workspace. Here you can choose which colors to start and end with, add colors in between, adjust the spread, decide whether it’s a radial or linear gradient and what angle and direction it goes in.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Eyedropper Tool, Measure Tool

Eyedropper Tool (I)

The eyedropper tool allows you to pick colors from other shapes, lines, objects or images so you can use that same color in other parts of your design. All you have to do is click the eyedropper tool on the areas of your artboard with the particular color you want to be selected.

– Measure Tool

The measure tool allows you to click and drag between two different areas of your workspace in order to measure the distance between the two points. This distance will then show up in the pop-up window for you to reference. This can actually be a super useful tool, so don’t forget about it!

Adobe Illustrator Tool – Blend Tool

Blend Tool (W)

This tool allows you to take two different colored objects and create a gradient in-between them by blending the two objects together.

Use this tool by first selecting both objects and then selecting the blend tool. Once the tool is selected click on the first object and then the second which will create your blend!

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Symbol Sprayer Tools

Symbol Sprayer Tool (Shift+S)

To use the symbol sprayer tool, you have to first open the symbol panel and select what symbol you want to be sprayed. You can do this by either clicking on the spade shape in the toolbar on the right, or by going to Window > Symbols. Now, with the symbol sprayer selected, click and drag it around on your workspace to spray the symbols onto your artboard.

– Symbol Shifter Tool

This tool allows you to move around symbols that have already been sprayed, by clicking and dragging the shifter around.

– Symbol Scruncher Tool

The scruncher tool scrunches the symbols in towards the center (essentially doing the opposite of the shifter tool).

– Symbol Sizer Tool

This tool allows you to resize individual symbols after they have already been sprayed.

– Symbol Spinner Tool

The symbol spinner allows you to rotate individual or multiple symbols at once.

– Symbol Stainer Tool

This tool allows you to recolor individual symbols. Make sure you select a fill color first, otherwise this tool won’t actually do anything.

– Symbol Screener Tool

This tool changes the opacity of individual symbols, making them lighter and lighter each time you click on them.

– Symbol Styler Tool

This tool allows you to style your symbols more specifically by first using the Graphic Styles panel. Open this panel by going to Window > Graphic Styles. Here you can select a graphic style or create your own. Once you’ve selected a style, use the symbol styler and click on individual symbols or areas of symbols to change their appearance.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Graph Tools

Column Graph Tool (J)

This tool, along with all of the other graphing tools nested beneath it, allows you to easily make graphs within Illustrator. I actually can’t tell you how many times I’ve hand drawn graphs from scratch in Illustrator before I realized this was an actual tool. But once I found it, it became a lifesaver! You have the opportunity to build it within Illustrator OR you can import data from an excel spreadsheet. Awesome right?

The column graph is your typical lineup of columns which correspond to values indicated by the Y axis.

This tool can be somewhat in-depth and could probably take up its own entire blog post (which I may write one of these days!). Until then, here is someone else’s blog post, explaining how to use this tool fully.

– Stacked Column Graph Tool

This graph looks similar to the column graph, but the columns are segmented within itself, outlining more data from within that particular segment.

– Bar Graph Tool

A bar graph is a column graph flipped horizontally instead of vertically, with the values of the bars aligning with the x-axis instead of the y-axis.

– Stacked Bar Graph Tool

This is a bar graph but includes segmented versions of each individual bar, to indicate more data than a typical bar graph otherwise would.

– Line Graph Tool

A line graph uses points on the graph which are connected by a line.

– Area Graph Tool

An area graph is similar in structure to a line graph but instead has shaded areas to include broader values of information.

– Scatter Graph Tool

A scatter graph is made up of several points, scattered across the graph.

– Pie Graph Tool

This is a classic pie chart where a circle is divided up into sections to a complete 100%.

– Radar Graph Tool

A radar graph is similar to an area graph, but instead is round and can, therefore, have more variables than just two or four.

Adobe Illustrator Tool – Artboard Tool

Artboard Tool (Shift+O)

One of my favorite features of Illustrator is that you can have multiple artboards within one document. By using the artboard tool, you can add a new artboard or resize your current arboards. You can also copy existing artboards by clicking and dragging it, while holding down the command key.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Slice Tool, Slice Selection Tool

Slice Tool (Shift+K)

The slice tool allows you to separate your artboard into squared off sections for you to save out individually. That way, if you have a large image that you need to piece down into sections, you can click and drag the slice tool to divide up the area(s) you want as individual files.

– Slice Selection Tool

The slice selection tool allows you to change, move, edit and resize the slices you’ve already made with the slice tool.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Hand Tool, Print Tiling Tool

Hand Tool (H)

The hand tool gives you another option to move around the screen. Just click and drag with the hand tool selected, and you will be able to view different areas of your workspace.

– Print Tiling Tool

This tool is to help you print full images that are larger than the paper you’re printing on. In order to print your entire image, you may need tile your printing onto multiple sheets of paper. This tool allows you to specify more accurately where the first page in the tiling process starts.

Otherwise, Illustrator will set this up for you automatically when you turn on tile printing in the print window. Either way, you can adjust the tiling further within the print window by dragging your artwork between multiple sheets of paper.

If you’re using this tool and you feel like nothing is happening on your artboard, make sure you go to View > Show Print Tiling.

In order for this feature to actually work when you try printing it, make sure “File Full Pages” is selected from the Scaling drop down menu underneath Options.

Adobe Illustrator Tools – Zoom Tool

Zoom Tool (Z)

The zoom tool zooms in and out of your workspace. You can zoom in by either clicking or clicking and dragging, and zoom out by either clicking and dragging the magnifying glass to the upper left-hand corner, or by holding down the Option key while you click or click and drag.

You can also zoom in and out by holding down Cmd + (zoom in) or Cmd – (zoom out) for Mac users.

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