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Sometimes one of the most difficult things about working with text is getting it to align up exactly the way that you want it to. The good news is is that you can use tabs to help you create perfect alignment inside of any kind of text object. So for example, I'm working in this file here called tabs.ai, and I want to provide you maybe with a few examples of how you can use tabs inside of Illustrator to make your life a little bit more easy. So I am actually going to focus here just on the top part of this page. I'll press Command+Spacebar and just kind of zoom in right here on this text.
Let's move the Paragraph panel over to the side. In fact, we don't really even need the Paragraph panel right now. I am going to close that, and let's focus on just the text itself. Now, if I use my Regular Selection tool here to click this Text object, you'll see that it's now an Area Text object. So I am simply going to take my Type tool and click right here after the word NAME, so now I have a little insertion point over here. And I want there to be a line after each of these words so that, for example, I am creating some kind of a form where people can fill this out. So I want there to be a line that extends all the way after the word NAME to the end of the paragraph. Same thing with ADDRESS, ZIP, E-MAIL, and OCCASION.
Now, I don't want to actually draw any lines using my Pen tool or my Line tool inside of Illustrator, because then there is no connection between the text and those lines. This way, if I ever move my text or adjust things, I want those lines to update automatically. It will just be that much more easier for me to work with. So I am actually going to go ahead now and after the word NAME, I am going to type in a space, and then I am going to type the Tab character on my keyboard that appears on the left side of your keyboard, and that's a special character called the Tab character. I am also going to drop down here to where it says ADDRESS. I already have a space here, so I am just going to put my cursor right here and hit the Tab key again.
I am going to jump down to where it says ZIP and again, I am going to hit a space over here and hit a Tab. And I am going to jump to where it says E-MAIL, again, space, and then a Tab, and then I'll come down to where it says OCCASION, space, and then a Tab. So now I've put these characters here inside of my text, these Tab characters, and the Tab is simply a special character that I can now go ahead and define the meaning for that. So I am going to start over here by taking my Type cursor. I am going to click over here right before it says NAME, and I am simply going to drag down to select all these different lines.
Next, I want to bring up my Tabs panel, so I am going to go to the Window menu, scroll down to where it says Type, and then I'll choose Tabs. The keyboard shortcut for that is Command+ Shift+T on Mac or Ctrl+Shift+T on Windows. So now you can see that I have my Tabs panel right here, and it automatically aligns itself to my text here, because I already have a Text object selected. Illustrator is under the assumption that, hey, if I have some text selected and I now go ahead and open up my Tabs panel, I probably want to assign the Tab settings for that particular paragraph.
But I will share with you a nice little secret here. If you look on the far-right corner here of this Tabs panel, there's a little magnet here. What does that magnet do? Well, let's say I move my panel around somewhere else, and now I decide I want to work on the Tabs here for this setting. I can click on that little magnet and Illustrator will automatically reposition the Tabs panel to snap to the area where my selected text is. And this is helpful many times if I am just resizing my text, or I am resizing the view in my document, or maybe I am working on one text frame and now I want to switch to a different text frame.
This will automatically reposition the Tabs panel to work with that particular text that I want to work on. So now, let's focus on the different types of tabs that I can create. We have something here called a Left Align Tab, a Center Tab, a Right-Align Tab, and then we have a Decimal Tab. So let's deal with the Decimal ones a little bit later, but for now I am just going to stick with the Left-justified Tab. That's probably the one you are going to use most often. I am just going to click anywhere on the ruler, over here on the right side. I am just going to click, let's say, right about over here. Notice that when you click and drag-- I am not letting go of the mouse yet-- you can see a line appear in my document inside of my frame that gives me a better idea of exactly where that Tab is going to go.
You'll see in a minute why I really don't care too much about exactly where this Tab is. I don't really bother putting it all the way on the far right side over here, even though that's where I want the lines to line up with. But moving forward I may decide to resize this frame. So I just know that I want to have it somewhere, let's say, right about over here. Near the end, but not all the way there. Now, notice over here that right now this Tab is selected. It kind of has this black highlight around it. And while it's still selected, I can adjust some settings for it.
First of all, if I knew an exact place where this tab needed to go, I could type in the value right here. Right now it says too 252 point, and that's exactly where it's set to right now. But if I knew I wanted it to be 250, for example, I could just type in that value. It will automatically change the position of that tab. But there is also a setting here called Leader. Now, I want there to be a line that appears after the word NAME and ADDRESS, CITY, STATE, and ZIP, so on and so forth, so a Leader is simply a way from me to define a character that simply repeats itself over and over and over again until it gets up to that Tab.
So if I type in Shift+Underscore, and then I hit the Tab key to accept that, you can now see that there are underscore characters that simply themselves over and over again till it gets to the Tab point. So if I come here and I just go ahead now and I select this so that I now have an insertion point, I can now see all those lines. Instead of me having to sit and manually add all those underscore characters, I am having a Tab do it for me. And the most important aspect here is that everything always lines up on the right side. Now, the thing though is that it doesn't stretch all the way to the end. The way that I like to solve that problem is I simply take this text and I highlight it, and I set it to Align Right. Again, the keyboard shortcut is Command+Shift+R. By setting it to Align Right, I can now see that the lines all stretch to the far right. Because I am setting my paragraph now to align to the right, the Tab kind of automatically moves all the way to the right as well.
The beautiful thing about working this way is that if I now take my Regular Selection tool and I decide to resize my frame, no matter how I choose to resize that frame, as long as I am resizing it so that it does not go inside of where this Tab character is set, Illustrator will just automatically shorten the line to that 1 point. If I go really wide, because I'd set it to Align Right, the lines all go to the end of this paragraph line. So this is a way for me to easily create lines that will automatically extend as I am working inside of Illustrator.
Now, there are other kinds of tabs that I can set as well. Let me scroll here down to the bottom. I am just going to hold down the spacebar so I get the Hand Grabber tool. I am just going to scroll down here to the bottom part of the document, and you can see that I have a list. I basically have different products and their prices, and I want to have this line up nicely. Now, I can do this in one of many different ways. Let me give you a few examples of how I might line this up here inside of Illustrator. The first thing that I want to point out is that what I am dealing with here is not an Area Type object. You can see if I press the Command key or the Ctrl key on my keyboard, I have one anchor point right here.
This is my Point Text object. It has just multiple paragraphs inside of it, and because I have my bounding box on, I see the handles. But this is a Point Type object and not an Area Type object. I am doing this because I want you to realize that you can use tabs regardless, whether or not your text is Area Type or Point Type. Now, in this case here, when I type this in Illustrator, I inserted a Tab character instead of a space right after the word bouquet and before the dollar sign. So again, now I can hit this little Magnet button and it's going to automatically align the Tabs panel to be working with my selected text.
If I want a longer Tabs panel, of course I can just simply go ahead now and extend this here so I can see more of the values here. So let's explore various ways that I might want to go ahead and set this up. I am going to start by selecting actually the Right-justified Tab. And if I go ahead now and, let's say, click right about over here to set it, you can see that 19.99 all aligns here on the right side. But I don't want Tab Leaders here; I just want there to be spaces, so I am simply going to come to where it says Leader, highlight that underscore character that I had there before, and I am simply going to delete that.
I'll hit the Tab key to accept it, and now I don't see anything at all. It's just simply a space that extends all the way here. The beautiful thing about working with the Right Align tabs is that I want everything to align to the right side so it's kind of nice and flush on this right side here, and then of course if I have some values that are larger, it will simply kind of push those here towards the inside. Now, I may decide that I want to have little dots that lead from the end of the word to where the price begins so that it's easier for the eye to connect from one space to another, and this is especially important if this text actually stretches along far distances.
So I can choose where it says Leader to put a little period there and hit the Tab key, and now I'll see these little dots here. It's important to realize that Leaders can contain multiple characters. So if I wanted to have the dots spaced out a little bit more, I could simply have a period here by the Leader, and then also insert a space, and then hit the Tab key. And now you can see that basically what I am getting is a period, space, period, space, so it looks more further spaced out. And I can add as many as I want here. I can add another space here, and now I have those dots spaced out even more.
I can use a variety of different characters. I can set my Leader here to be greater than signs. Now you can see that I have those characters that now go between my text and to where the Tab goes until. But you'll also notice that there is a different type of Tab here called the Decimal-justified Tab. Let's understand exactly what that is, because especially when working with prices or numbers, it can be very valuable. I am actually going to set my Leader set to nothing at all. I am just going to hit Delete and hit the Tab key to accept that value. And here in this case I have a Right- Align Tab and it's set to 19.99 here, 29.99, but all the prices end in 99 cents.
Well, let's say all these prices are not exactly the same, but yet I want them to all look as if they're aligned. So what I can do is I can have Illustrator automatically align these by their decimals and not by numbers that appear either before or after that decimal. So let me explain. With this Tab currently selected right now--see, it's highlighted in black?-- I am now going to switch the kind of Tab that is to a Decimal-justified Tab, and you could see that right now Illustrator has this Tab and the decimals are aligned to that. Now, you can see over here where it says Align On.
Align right now is set to Decimal. That's the default value. In a minute we'll actually see that we can actually change this to anything we want. But for now, let's come back here to the text for a minute and I am going to add maybe 129 over here. And maybe instead of 99 here, I'll make this one 919. Do you see now how this is not aligned to the right? Everything is aligned by the decimals here in the middle. So when I am looking at all these numbers, they are all aligned by the decimals, and Illustrator either puts numbers on the left and the right and pushes them in either direction according to that one line.
So you can almost say that this text is kind of being centered on this decimal point. Now, it's important to realize that I don't need to use decimals. So, for example, I am creating some kind of text where I have maybe 129 and then I have a semicolon, or I have a colon. I could change the Align On to be set to a colon or a semicolon, and then Illustrator will simply push text to the left and to the right of that semicolon or that colon. And I could really do that for almost any kind of character. So, for example, maybe you have a list of a whole bunch of email addresses.
Now, obviously what appears before the at symbol could be any arrangement of characters, and the same thing applies to whatever can appear after the at symbol. But maybe you want all those to look uniform, so you want them all to be aligned by the at symbol. So you can use a Decimal Tab, but set the Align On value to be the at symbol. And again, you might think outside the box and use this for many, many different tasks inside of Illustrator. The most important thing to realize though is that when it comes to aligning text perfectly inside of Illustrator, the first place you should always look is at Tabs.
- Understanding the three type objects in Illustrator
- Importing text from Microsoft Word
- Using the Glyphs panel
- Converting text into editable vector paths
- Kerning and scaling characters
- Setting indents and spacing
- Threading text across multiple objects
- Sharing styles across multiple documents
- Understanding style overrides
- Changing text with Find and Replace
- Wrapping text
- Setting type along a path
- Updating legacy text