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In this installment of the Illustrator Insider Training series, Mordy Golding shows how to draw vector artwork quickly, precisely, and efficiently—without having to think about technical concepts like anchor points or control handles. The course highlights intuitive drawing techniques using the Pathfinder functions, Live Paint groups, Shape Builder tool, and variable-width strokes. It also describes the sketching workflow and features in Illustrator that use pressure-sensitive drawing tablets, allowing designers to focus more on their creativity.
It's time to have a frank talk about two features inside of Illustrator that I find sometimes really annoy people. And usually it's because they either don't understand why it's there or they have no idea on how to control it. So let's talk about something called the bounding box inside of Illustrator and also let's talk about Smart Guides. Now the easiest one to talk about is the bounding box. That's basically where I take your shape, for example an oval here. I'm going to click and can drag. Let's make a nice long shape like this. And when I click on it to select it with the actual Selection tool, I'll see that there is now these handles that appear around the bounding area of the artwork.
Now if I position my cursor just to the edge of any of the corners here, I can actually rotate this and I could also click and drag on these handles to scale. That is of course possible without having to use the dedicated Rotate tool or the Scale tool. Now I know that many professional people who use Illustrator prefer to turn the bounding box off and you can actually do that by going to the View menu and you can choose Hide Bounding Box. The keyboard shortcut to toggle this feature on and off is Command+Shift+B if you're on a Mac, or Ctrl+ Shift+B if you're on a PC.
Now let's talk about though one of the benefits of using this bounding box. First of all, it's important to realize that the bounding box is only visible when you're using the black arrow, the Selection tool. If I have the artwork selected with my Direct Selection tool, I do not see the bounding box. Now I'm going to choose to actually select this piece of artwork right now with the actual Selection tool so I see the bounding box. If I now want to rotate this piece of artwork, so I'm actually going to use a dedicated Rotate tool so I'm going to press R on my keyboard, I'm going to click and drag to rotate this art just like this.
And now if I go back to my Selection tool, you can see that the bounding area rotated along with the actual object itself. The reason why this can be beneficial is because if I'm drawing some basic shapes and I know I need some kind of an oval and I rotate it into a certain position, and now I realize that the oval that I made is too shallow, I need to kind of thicken it up a little bit, I can actually grab one of these handles and drag and you can see how it's only scaling it constrained to this angle. So that means that I'm able to now make a wider oval, but I'm not distorting my artwork.
The bounding box does provide me some really important ways of working and I'll show you by the way, that there is a feature inside of Illustrator that allows you to reset your bounding box. I have my artwork selected right now. I can go to the Object menu, I can go to Transform and choose this option here called Reset Bounding Box. And when I do so, now you can see how the bounding box looks different. Now that I've reset it with this orientation, I no longer have the ability to scale this oval in a non-proportional way. For example, if I click over here and I stretch it, it's kind of getting taller and wider at the same time, so I can't just make it wider in one direction.
We can see that the bounding box does give me some pretty useful functionality if I leave it turned On. And if I always end up using the Direct Selection tool, it never really ends up getting in the way either. In fact, if I press undo a few times to go back to this state here before I reset the bounding box, if I'm using my Direct Selection tool, I don't see the bounding box. If I press the Command key, Illustrator actually toggles to the Selection tool, which now activates the bounding box which allows you to make a change over here like this or even hold down the Option key and kind of stretch it out from its center this way.
And then when I let go the keys, I'm back to my regular Direct Selection tool. So we can see that the bounding box does offer some benefits inside of Illustrator. We just kind of have to understand it a little bit better and find a way to make it work for us inside of our workflow. Now let's focus on another aspect of Illustrator which is something called Smart Guides. I know that a lot of people are sometimes annoyed by Smart Guides, mainly for something called object highlighting. For example, I'm going to go to my View menu right here. I'm going to go down to over here where it says Smart Guides and I'm going to activate it.
The keyboard shortcut for activating Smart Guides is Command+U on the Mac or Ctrl+U on Windows. With this option turned on, any time I mouse over a piece of artwork, even if it's not selected, so I'm just going to deselect the art, as I mouse over this artwork, you can see how it lights up, you see how the word path appears in my screen right about my cursor, a little x appears in the path itself. If I move to the center here, it says center. It gives me the X and Y coordinates. As I'm drawing new shapes for example, maybe I'm drawing a rectangle, it shows me the actual size of the rectangle as I draw it.
And some people find that information helpful, but many people find that when you have lots of objects in your file, as you just simply move around your artwork, things start lighting up. And on top of that as you move artwork, you see these lines kind of appear, which are what we call alignment guides. They help us align objects to each other. Well, what I want to talk about here is a way to understand what the Smart Guides are and more importantly than that, let's find a way to tame this feature so that we can only use the parts of the Smart Guides that are important for us and jettison the parts that are not important to our workflow, specifically in this case for drawing.
I'm going to press Command+A or Ctrl+A and just delete everything on my artboard. I'm going to start by drawing a regular rectangle. A lot of people inside of Illustrator are familiar with this fact that sometimes when you're drawing, you may have two shapes and you want to take one shape and you want to kind of move it so that it's actually close to another object. And sometimes you'll notice that when you have an object that's kind of near it and it feels like it snaps the artwork, but then when you kind of zoom in really close, you see they're not actually touching. People sometimes think that Illustrator is just not precise and the only way for them to align artwork correctly is to zoom in really close and then to try to go ahead now and have those objects snap correctly.
It happens to be not that Illustrator really is not precise at all. In fact, sometimes it's too precise and that can mess this up. Let me actually turn off Smart Guides here for a second. I'm going to go to the View menu, choose Smart Guides to now uncheck that option, and I'm going to grab my path, let's say right from this part right here. I'm not grabbing it from the anchor point. I'm grabbing it just to the right of that. Now we're familiar inside of Illustrator with this concept that whenever you have one object and you want to snap it to another object, that's something called Snap to Point.
It's a great feature inside of Illustrator. And you can always tell when something is snapping because your cursor changes to be hollow. It now has a white center. That's Illustrator's way of letting me know that I'm now snapping to another point. But what's interesting to note here is that if I take the actual point and I kind of line it up with this other shape, it's not snapping at all. It's only when my cursor kind of gets there and it snaps. Now if I'm kind of zoomed down inside of my artwork when I'm doing this, it may appear that I'm actually snapping those two corners together. But the reality is, is that I've been snapping the position of my cursor to the anchor point.
The term Snap to Point doesn't mean snap one anchor point to another anchor point. It means snap my cursor to another anchor point. So the reason why people sometimes get messed up is because if you're not actually selecting and clicking on your object exactly on an anchor point, then Illustrator is going to snap your cursor position to another anchor point. And that's why I get this situation here where I zoom in really close and I'm like "whoa! Why those two objects not align perfectly? I thought I snapped it." The answer is that since you didn't grab the object from the exact point, the point didn't snap to the other object.
Your cursor position snapped to the other object and that's why it's aligned in this way. So people just find it easy when you zoomed in really close and you select the piece of artwork, it's a lot easier to now click on just the anchor point and snap that anchor point here. But again, what I just did that it wasn't the anchor point that was snapping to the other anchor point. It was the actual cursor that was actually snapping to the anchor point. So how do we solve this problem? That's one of the reasons why Smart Guides was added to Illustrator. If I press Command+U or Ctrl+U to activate Smart Guides, notice now I'm going to grab my artwork let's say from this part of the path.
And as I start to move it over here, you can actually see that a little guide pops up and says Intersect. The objects themselves actually snap to each other by that corner. In other words, when Smart Guides are turned on, Illustrator pays attention to the bounds of your artwork and it has the ability to snap those bounds to each other. If I don't have Smart Guides On, I have no way to do that and I need to rely on the previous snapping that we discussed before with those problems. But this is just one part of Smart Guides. The fact that I have artwork that highlights or lights up every time I mouse over it is not a part of this snapping behavior for Smart Guides.
In fact, Smart Guides is really a collection of many different types of guides. Let's actually see how to control that by going over here to Illustrator and choosing Preferences. If you're on a Windows machine, you can find the Preferences submenu underneath the Edit menu. Alternatively, the keyboard shortcut to activate your Preferences is Command+K or Ctrl+K. I'm going to go over here to this pop-up list and jump down to where it says Smart Guides. And we can see that we have all the different checkboxes because there are actually many different types of Smart Guides.
In fact, there are six types of Smart Guides that exist inside of Illustrator. We have something called Alignment Guides. These are those guides that we saw that kind of light up, that tell you when an object is going to snap to another object, meaning it understands the bounds and the anchor points inside of my artwork and it's going to snap those to the object no matter where my cursor position is. That's the valuable part about working with Smart Guides. We have Object Highlighting which just makes your objects light up as you mouse over them. And that's usually the annoying part about what's happening inside of Illustrator.
So what I'm going to do is I'm going to uncheck Object Highlighting. Now there's another setting here called Transform Tools. That allows you to, as you're rotating artwork, it tells you, oh, you're rotating this 22 degrees. So I'm going to leave that checkbox turned off. I'm also going to leave off Construction Guides. Again, that allows you to, as you're drawing, have objects kind of automatically snap to preset angles. This happens to be useful by the way, when you're drawing like isometric drawings that have to be locked to a very specific angle. But for now let's take a look at these two other options. We have Anchor and Path Labels, which when I started using Illustrator I turned off but I'll tell you that I found it more useful and I had to have these turned on.
And we'll see as we're kind of going throughout the title, that it's useful to know whenever you're working inside of Illustrator, are you snapping something to a path or to an actual anchor point? And for Measurement Labels, I'm going to turn that off. Again, Measurement Labels were when I was drawing a rectangle it had a little box that as I was drawing Illustrator would tell me how big that box is and that rectangle is as I'm drawing. So we don't care about a specific size right now. So when I'm using Smart Guides for drawing, I'm only working with these two specific options in Smart Guides, Alignment Guides and Anchor/Path Labels, and of the two, realize that the most important Smart Guide setting is the Alignment Guides.
So I'm going to click OK and now that I have those two settings available to me inside of Illustrator, I will find a much better experience in snapping artwork to each other, working around, moving objects without all that highlighting or other things getting in the way.
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