How to Use Smart Guides in Illustrator CS5
Using Smart Guides
You already know about something inside of Illustrator called guides. Those are lines that you can basically draw inside of Illustrator. They can take on other shapes as well. But they act as these magnets. So that when you're drawing art or when you're positioning artwork, they snap to these guides to ensure that things are aligned correctly. However, Illustrator also has something called Smart Guides. These are guides that just seem to happen automatically. And they let you know when artwork is aligned. In other words, you don't have to draw the guides first. The guides just seem to automatically activate as you're moving artwork around.
Let me give you an example in this document. If I move this piece of art up just a little bit over here and I take this piece of art and I start to move it upwards as well, you can see that guides seem to appear as I move it to let me know where that artwork is currently being aligned to. And that's what Smart Guides are. The reality though is that Smart Guides go beyond just helping you align objects. Let me press Undo a few times to go back to the original artwork here. And we'll take a look at some of the settings that are a part of Smart Guides. For example, when I move my over artwork, you can see that they get highlighted.
Little words also appear. Path, anchor. As I work around, these little gray boxes with X and Y coordinates pop up. All these features are also the part of this Smart Guide feature set. Now granted sometimes, especially with this object highlighting, you may find that it's somewhat confusing or even bothersome to see these on your screen. So before we talk about the settings of Smart Guides itself, let me show you how you can actually toggle Smart Guides on and off. You do so by going to the View menu and choosing the Smart Guides option.
The keyboard shortcut, which I think you should become familiar, with is Command+U on Mac or Ctrl+U on Windows. For example, as I move my mouse over this artwork, it becomes highlighted. But if I press Command+U, now I've turned off Smart Guides. I can move my cursor around without the Smart Guides getting in my way. But one of the really nice things about Smart Guides is that Adobe allowed us to set preferences to control which parts of Smart Guides we want to see. For example, the alignment capabilities might be very valuable to us. But maybe we don't care so much about the highlighting.
Or if you're dealing with very complex artwork, the highlighting may be very important to you but you really don't care about the alignment because maybe you have guides setup or you're using the align palette or some other method to align your artwork. In fact, some artwork you may not want to have aligned at all. If you're creating fine art or free- form drawings, you may not want to have those alignment settings at all. So rather than just having one global setting, turning Smart Guides on or off, let's learn now how to control Smart Guides to do exactly what we want to do. The settings for Smart Guides are found in your Preferences panel.
I'll press Command+K or Ctrl+K to open up Preference panel. And from the popup menu, I'm going to choose Smart Guides. First, you can choose a color for your Smart Guides and a Snapping Tolerance. If you specify a high value for Snapping Tolerance, as long as your cursor is anywhere near in the vicinity of other shapes or aligning to other objects, Smart Guides will kick in. If you use a very low value for Snapping Tolerance that means you'll need to be really, really close to other artwork for these Smart Guides to appear. The default setting in Illustrator is 4 points.
I'll be honest with you, I sometimes find that value to be just a little bit too big for me. Especially, when I'm dealing with very complex art where I have lots of artwork in small areas. I personally prefer a Snapping Tolerance of 2 points. And I find that helps me because I'm usually zoomed in very close to my artwork anyway. But let's focus on some of the settings here in the middle of this panel. First, let's talk about Alignment Guides. These are the guides that appear to let you know whether your artwork is going to be aligned with other art in your document. It will also help you align your artwork to guides and the edges of artworks.
When working in Illustrator, this is probably one of the most valuable parts of Smart Guides. Nine times out of ten, I'm leaving the Alignment Guides setting turned on. Object Highlighting is that we've seen before where when you move your cursor over objects that path becomes highlighted. It can certainly be helpful when you have very complex art and you want to make sure that what you're about to click on is the piece of art that you're trying to select. However, if you don't want that setting turned on, just simply uncheck this box. Transform tools are guides that kick in when using any of the Transform tools inside of Illustrator. That refers to rotating artwork, scaling artwork, sharing or skewing artwork, or reflecting or mirroring artwork.
I find this very useful many times when I'm working, so I like to turn this setting on. Construction Guides refer to when you're actually drawing artwork with say the Rectangle tool or maybe the Line Segment tool. You can specify that guides appear at certain angles. You can either choose from the popup list of different settings or you can specify your own custom values here as well. As you make adjustments to these values, you'll actually see a preview up here in this window. The Anchor/Path Labels are the words that appear when you mouse over anchor points.
Again, when working inside of Illustrator, they may help to identify when objects snap to other paths or anchor points. But again personally, I don't find as much value with that. So I usually turn this setting off. Finally, there are Measurement Labels. I find these extremely helpful. These are those gray boxes that appear with the values inside of them. For example, as you're drawing out a rectangle, you will actually see the size of that rectangle being displayed as you draw it. When you move objects, these labels will also tell you how far you're moving that shape. When you're done, simply click OK to go ahead now and accept those preferences.
Now, whenever you turn Smart Guides on using the Command+U keyboard shortcut, it'll use the settings that you've just specified now in that Preferences dialog box. For example, if I go to my View menu and I turn my Smart Guides on, notice that now when I mouse over my artwork, I don't see the object highlighting that I did it before because I didn't want that specific setting. However, I do see the measurement settings. In this way, I get Smart Guide to do what I want it to do. And rather than get in the way of my experience inside of Illustrator, they do just the opposite.
They help me get my work done faster.
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