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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of the Illustrator drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
One of the most important attributes of vector graphics is precision. In other words, your ability to create artwork to a very specific size or position, to have artwork lineup with each other perfectly, or to create things in scale. For example, the layout of a room or architectural drawings. Illustrator has many tools and functions to help us create perfect graphics, but at the very core of that are rulers and guides. As you can see in my document right now, I have rulers visible. They appear across the top and left of my screen and you can toggle these rulers on and off by pressing Command+ R on Mac or Ctrl+R on Windows.
The rulers in this document are currently set to use inches, but we can really change them to use different measurement systems. You can find that setting inside of your Preferences panel. I will press Command+K or Ctrl+K on Windows to open up my Preferences dialog box and from the popup here I'll switch to Units. The General setting could be set to Inches, Picas, Points, Millimeter, Centimeters or Pixels. But it's important to realize that the setting here is simply the basic generic setting of how measurements are displayed inside of Illustrator. But you can really specify values in any way that you want later on.
For example, even if I am using Inches now, I could type in a value of 3p4, which stands for 3 Picas and 4 Points, and Illustrator will automatically convert that to inches as necessary. But for this document, I am going to set it to Inches and click OK. If you want to change just the rulers itself, you can actually right-click on the ruler and change the settings for that ruler right here as well. But let's take a moment here to focus on the actual rulers inside of the document page. I am going to zoom in just a little bit here and I am actually going to go to reposition this artwork so it comes kind of on the upper left-hand corner of my screen, so that you can see that right now the upper left-hand corner of my page is where my rulers begin from.
That's where the 0 point of my ruler appears. Wherever the X and Y axis or the 00 point of my ruler meets, we refer to that in Illustrator as my origin point for that artboard. This is actually important and new to Illustrator CS5 because in previous versions, the origin point of an artboard was always in the lower left-hand corner. Now in CS5 Adobe moved to 00 point to be in the upper left-hand corner which really matches other applications, for example, like InDesign. But you'll notice right now that my ruler starts at 0 and just keeps going.
Well right now, this is my active artboard. So Illustrator shows me the rulers for this artboard. Another thing that's new to Illustrator CS5 is that each artboard maintains its own ruler system. Or you can say every artboard has its own origin point. Take a look at this. When I go ahead now and I move to this artboard and I click on any piece of artwork on this artboard, which will now turn this artboard into the active artboard, my ruler now resets itself to 0 at this point. This is valuable because every single object that you create inside of Illustrator is positioned precisely by coordinates.
You can view these coordinates by opening up your Transform panel. I will go to the Window menu and I'll choose to open up Transform and you can see that right now this piece of art has coordinates of X and Y at these values. This little icon here called the reference point proxy allows you to specify which part of the object is identified by those X, Y coordinates. Right now because the upper left-hand corner of this proxy selected, I am seeing the coordinate values of this part of my graphic. If I move back to this artboard though and I click on this flower right here, the coordinates that are represented here are specific to this artboard.
While 99% of the time you will probably want rulers to work in this way where each artboard gets its own ruler system, there may be times when you want to have one overall ruler for your entire canvas even if there are multiple artboards inside of it. If that's the case you will go to the View menu down to where it says rulers and you'll choose this option here, Change to Global Rulers. Let me close the Transform panel here for a moment and let's focus on another aspect of working with precision inside of Illustrator. And that's guides. Guides work together with rulers to help you position artwork precisely on your page.
To create a guide you would simply move your cursor into the ruler itself, click and then drag to pull out that guide. I have my mouse button held down and I'll continue to hold it down until I am ready to position my guide in place. If you hold down the Shift key while you are dragging out the guide, it will snap the tick marks in your ruler. At my current view each tick mark in my ruler represents an eighth of an inch. Once I release my mouse, I have now created a guide inside of Illustrator. Even after you have created a guide, you are still able to select it and move it and you do have the ability to lock your guides if you don't want that to happen.
The easiest way to adjust that setting is to simply right-click anywhere on your artboard and you will see an option here for Lock Guides. By selecting that right now I can actually work with this guide and not worry about selecting it and removing it. It is currently locked. If I want to adjust or move the guide, I can right-click, uncheck that option, and now I can select that guide and move it around. Guides are kind of like magnets and as you have other objects selected-- We'll talk more about selections itself in the next chapter. But here if I take this piece of artwork and I start to move it, I can feel that it will actually snap to that guide.
In this way I am assured that I am lining objects up exactly to those areas. You can create horizontal guides by pulling out a guide from the horizontal ruler. What I find extremely helpful inside of Illustrator is that if you have any artwork selected, for example, I will select this piece of art right here, guides will actually snap to the artwork when you are drawing it. So if I wanted to create a guide right here along the edge of this graphic, I can click over here, drag, and as my guide touched that that object, it will snap to it automatically. Perhaps one of the most powerful things about guides inside of Illustrator and really what makes guide so unique inside of Illustrator is that a guide is really just a special type of an object.
In other words, you can draw any artwork inside of Illustrator and turn it into a guide. Say you had to create some artwork that had to fit into an area of a specific dimension. Rather than struggle with getting your ruler setup and your guides drawn just in the right place, you could draw a shape to exact specifications. For example, I will select my Rectangle tool and I will click once on my artboard. I will type in an exact width, maybe 3.5 inches, and the height should be 2 inches, the size of a business card, and I'll click OK. Now that I have the shape created I can go to the View menu, go down to where it says Guides, and then turn this setting on called Make Guides.
What I've now done is I have changed that shape into a guide. If my guides are actually locked you'll see that I can't select it, but other pieces of art that I actually click on and move will snap to that guide. Guides don't even need to be rectangular. You could take any shape. For example, I'll use my Ellipse tool to just click and drag to draw a circle and I will press the keyboard shortcut Command+5 or Ctrl+5 on Windows to now turn that into a guide. If your guides are unlocked and I will right-click here to unlock my guides, you have the ability to select any of these guides and then go back to the View menu, choose Guides, and choose to release that guide to return it back to a regular shape inside of Illustrator.
If I can pass on some helpful advice, don't worry so much about getting all your guides set up inside of your document before you start drawing. It is perfectly okay to just jump in and start creating and then worry about the precision later. It is easy to add guides at anytime or to change any of the settings inside of your rulers and more likely than not, you'll end up changing things anyway. So jump in, have fun, and everything else will fall right in the place.
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