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One of the first things I do when I open up a new application, is I always completely review the preferences to see if there's anything in there that A, I should be aware of, or B, that I need to change in order to make that application work the way I want it to, and Illustrator is no different. Now I know this probably isn't the most exciting thing in the world, but this is definitely valuable information and something I think more people should explore and get to know. Because if you don't set your preferences up before you get going, how do you know that Illustrator is even doing the stuff that you want it to do? Exploring this panel is going to be a great way to get your workflow started off on the right foot.
So let's go ahead and open up the Preferences panel. Now on the PC, I'm going to go to the Edit menu and go down to Preferences. On a Mac I would go to the Illustrator menu and find Preferences. You can even also hit the keyboard shortcut Command+K or Ctrl+K on your keyboard and that will instantly launch the General section of Preferences. The General Preferences are just that, they're very general. You can see that you have things like Keyboard Increment, Constrain Angle, and Corner Radius as well. Basically this means your Keyboard Increment, when you're nudging things, moving objects with your keyboard, you want them to move, 1 pt, 2 pt, how far? Chances are if you are just getting started with Illustrator, you're not going to know exactly what number should go here, so I would suggest playing with it and see what suits your needs.
The Constrain Angle; the Constrain Angle control allows you to restrict the amount of angle that you're able to rotate an image when you're holding down the Shift key inside of Illustrator. Corner Radius; this is the Corner Radius of things like rounded rectangles and things like that, the default number that it uses. So in this case, it's 12 pt. You may find that you like it to be 20 pts, 30 pts, 5 pts, doesn't matter. You take the time, explore this and you can always come back in and change it later. Now here's some other General options that I always pay attention to.
Stuff like using Precise Cursors. When you're working inside of Illustrator and you have a specific tool selected for making a selection let's say, you might want a really precise looking cursor versus the one that has the Tool icon on it. Let me show you the difference between these once I turn it on. So I'll hit Cancel for just a moment and I'll go ahead and grab, let's say, the Lasso tool. When I have the Lasso tool selected, you'll notice that the Lasso tool has a little arrow and a lasso icon on it. But for me, to make a selection with this, what's the leading edge of my selection? Is it the arrow? Is it the Lasso? I'm not real sure.
So let's go back into the Preferences and go to General. I'll change this to Use Precise Cursors and I'll hit OK. When I come back out, I get a crosshair versus those two icons. The center point of that crosshair is the origin of my selection, making it a lot easier for me to click and draw with my mouse. Let's switch back to my Selection tool now and go back in my Preferences. If you like that preference, you can leave it there. I am going to turn it off just because it's the default to have it turned off.
But if you do want to leave it on, go ahead and check that box and you'd be really happy you did when you start to make selections. Here is another couple of things that I like to turn off. Show Tool Tips, after a while you're going to get familiar with Illustrator and you are not going to need for Tool Tips to be appearing every single time you hover over something. But for the foreseeable future, I'm going to leave this turned on just so you can get a better idea of how the Tool Tips work. If you're not sure what a Tool Tip is, that's when I go out and I hover over something and it automatically brings up a little box, indicating exactly what it is I'm hovering over.
If you want to leave those on, go ahead. If not, go ahead and uncheck that box. Here's another great option that's included inside of Illustrator CS6, Scale Strokes & Effects. When you go to resize artwork inside of Illustrator, in previous versions of Illustrator you were having to rescale the strokes and effects that were applied each and every time. Now you have the ability to turn on Scale Strokes & Effects. Basically that means any object that you have, if it has a stroke or an effect on it, when it's scaled up or down, those effects automatically scale with the artwork making sure it looks the same at 2 inches or at 200 feet.
This is one that I recommend turning on for sure. Now let's move over here and go to the Type Preferences. This is another must see inside of the Preferences dialog box. You get to control the basic setup of your type, and since Illustrator is a vector program and really good at setting type, I always go in and check these out. First of all you are going to notice options for things like Leading, Tracking and Baseline Shift. These are all of the baseline controls that are implemented inside of the Type panel here inside of Illustrator. You can change these to your own defaults or you can leave them the same, totally up to you.
Again, this is going to come down to a personal preference though. So if you think the Leading needs to be 3 pts, Tracking needs to be 25 and Baseline Shift should be 5, you can make that change on your own. But again, it's going to take some time for you to realize that. You can also find things like the Number of Recent Fonts. Inside of Illustrator there is now the ability to track the most recently used fonts inside of the font list. So if you use Arial a lot and Times New Roman a lot, those will automatically be at the top of your font list and you won't have to go dragging through the entire list to find them.
So if you use a lot of fonts, you may want to consider upping this number a little bit. If you don't use that many fonts, you might try reducing a little bit, totally up to you. Font Preview; Font Preview refers to when you actually dropdown the list of fonts, you see a preview of what the font looks like. If you turn this off, it's actually going to load a little bit faster, but having it on also gives you a better idea of what font you're choosing, if you don't know it by name. You can also change the Size; I know this is something a lot of people do. The Size can be changed from Small to Medium to Large.
If you have trouble seeing those small fonts, which I do, it might be a good idea to stick with Medium, or even bump it up to the Large preview. Now let's move on to the Units section, this is another area that I always go to. This is going to set the general unit of measurement for you inside of Illustrator. You have things like the General control, which controls the overall units for your particular setup in Illustrator. So your rulers, grids, guides, et cetera, will all snap to Points or Picas, Inches, Millimeter, Centimeters, or Pixels, totally up to you.
It really depends on the type of workflow that you're doing. If you are more of a web person, you'd probably switch these to Pixels. If you are more of a print person, you might be good with Points; you might be good with Picas or even Inches. Strokes; what unit of measurement do Strokes use by default? By default they use Points, but if you want to change that to be Picas, Inches or Pixels, or even Millimeters and Centimeters, you can do that here. You can also change Type. Now I'd be a little bit careful with Type, because you mostly know type in terms of points or pixels.
You don't generally refer to it in inches or millimeters. But if you prefer it that way, you can certainly make that change here. The next thing on my list to always check out is the User Interface Preference. Inside of the User Interface Preference you are allowed to change the way Illustrator looks and feels. For instance, you can come up here and change the Brightness of Illustrator. By default, Illustrator is set to this Medium Dark. And this is actually new in CS6. But you can change it back to an older version like Medium Light just by clicking a button like so.
If you don't like that, you can easily switch back by changing it like so. You can also change it to a really dark interface or go extremely light with the Light interface. If you're not happy with any of those presets you can actually take this little slider here and drag it to any level of darkness that you want. But for now I'll change that back to Medium Dark. You can also switch the Canvas Color. The canvas is the area surrounding your actual artboard, this area right here, and you can change this to either Match the User Interface Brightness, which is what it's doing right now, you can see it's that dark gray color, or you can set it to White.
When I do that you'll notice the area on the outside of the document automatically changes to white. Now this is going to be a personal choice, so if you like this, matching the user interface brightness, click there. If you like the white, click there. Auto-Collapse Iconic panels; basically this means do you want to automatically collapse the panels on the right-hand side into icon form? If you want that, they'll automatically collapse them like that for you. If you don't, you can leave that unchecked and Illustrator will remember whether or not you had the panels opened or closed. Open Documents As Tabs; I would recommend not turning this off.
Basically this means that each time you open a new document in Illustrator, it's going to open as a tab up here on the top. Much the same way you see tabbed browsing inside of Internet browsers, making it easy to switch between documents. If you don't like that and you want everything to open up in its own window, you can certainly turn that off by unchecking the box and then we'll simply hit OK. Once I hit OK, all of my preferences have now been committed to and are now in effect here inside of Illustrator. There's no need to restart the program, because I didn't make that change that warned me of the restart.
Right now, you might not know exactly what your preferences necessarily are, and that's okay. As you continue to use Illustrator, you'll develop your own style and taste and you can always come back in and make any changes that you want at a later time. That's the beauty of the Preferences dialog box.
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