Improve Vector Skills: 10 Adobe Illustrator Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Improve your workflow with shortcuts
  2. How to use the Pen tool effectively
  3. Why utilize layers in your designs?
  4. How to use the Gradient tool
  5. Transform and manipulate shapes
  6. How to create custom brushes
  7. Why use the Pathfinder tool?
  8. How to create patterns in Illustrator
  9. How to use the Blend tool
  10. How to improve your use of color

Are you spending precious time toiling over vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator? Do you want to take your work from good to great in less time? Let's get you there! Here are ten powerful tips that will help you get better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. These tips are not just about mastering tools or memorizing shortcuts, but about understanding the process and cultivating an intuitive sense for making your artwork shine. Read on to up your vector illustration game!

Improve your workflow with shortcuts

Getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator begins with improving your workflow. And one of the best ways to streamline your design process is by mastering keyboard shortcuts. They might seem like a small thing, but over time, they add up to a huge time saver. Let's look at some shortcuts that could make your life a lot easier:

  • Direct Selection Tool (A): This tool lets you select individual anchor points or paths. It's a real lifesaver when you need to make precise adjustments.
  • Pen Tool (P): The Pen tool is at the heart of drawing in Illustrator. Mastering it can significantly speed up your work.
  • Swap Fill and Stroke (X): This shortcut allows you to quickly alternate between modifying the fill color and stroke color of your selected object.
  • Hand Tool (H): The Hand tool lets you move your artwork around without altering anything. It's great for navigating larger pieces.

Working with shortcuts might feel awkward at first, but give yourself some time. The more you use them, the more natural they'll become. Pretty soon, you'll be sailing through your Illustrator projects, and you'll wonder how you ever got along without them!

How to use the Pen tool effectively

Let's talk about the Pen tool. This tool is like the Swiss Army knife for creating vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. But using it effectively? That's a whole different ball game. Here are some simple, yet powerful tips to help you harness the power of the Pen tool:

  • Click, don't drag: If you're drawing straight lines, simply click where you want the line to start and then where you want it to end. No need to drag!
  • Use handles for curves: If you're creating a curve, click and drag to create handles that will shape the curve. Remember, the length and direction of the handles determine the curvature.
  • Close your paths: Always make sure to close your paths when you're done. This will ensure you have a solid shape that can be filled with color.
  • Use Alt/Opt key: Holding down the Alt/Opt key allows you to manipulate one handle at a time, giving you more control over your curves.

Just like with shortcuts, the Pen tool takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find it to be an invaluable asset in getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. So, go ahead and start experimenting with the Pen tool. You'll be amazed by what you can create!

Why utilize layers in your designs?

Imagine trying to paint a masterpiece, but instead of a canvas, you have a single piece of paper. Any mistake could ruin your entire work, right? That's where layers in Adobe Illustrator come in handy. Think of them as multiple transparent pages stacked on top of each other. Each layer can hold different elements of your design, making it easier for you to modify and manage your work. Here are a few reasons why using layers can help in getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator:

  • Control and organization: Layers allow you to organize your design elements. You can easily move, hide, lock, or even change the stacking order of layers to control how your design appears.
  • Isolate elements: Want to work on a specific part of your design without accidentally moving or editing other elements? Just isolate the layer that you want to work on.
  • Non-destructive editing: Layers in Adobe Illustrator allow non-destructive editing. This means you can experiment, change, and tweak without permanently affecting your original design.
  • Flexibility: With layers, you can easily apply effects or transformations to multiple objects at once. Just group them into a layer and apply your changes.

Using layers might seem like an extra step now, but once you get used to it, you'll find it hard to live without. So, why not start today? It's all part of the journey of getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator.

How to use the Gradient tool

Ever looked at a sunset and marveled at how the colors blend smoothly from one to another? That's a gradient! And guess what? You can recreate that magic in your vector illustrations using Adobe Illustrator's Gradient tool.

Here's a simple step-by-step guide for you:

  1. Pick your colors: To get started, you need to choose the colors you want in your gradient. You can select these from the color palette.
  2. Activate the Gradient tool: Once you've chosen your colors, it's time to activate the Gradient tool. It's located in the toolbar, and it looks like a square fading from black to white.
  3. Apply the gradient: Now, select the object you want to apply the gradient to, then click and drag across it. The gradient will flow from your starting point to your end point.

Remember, gradients aren't just for backgrounds. Use them in your drawings, typography, or anything else you can think of. Experiment with different color combinations and gradient styles (like linear or radial) to create unique effects.

So, ready to add some color magic to your vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator? With a bit of practice, you'll be creating gradients that would make any sunset jealous.

Transform and manipulate shapes

Shapes are the building blocks of vector illustrations. Think of them as your Lego bricks. But unlike Lego, in Adobe Illustrator, you're not stuck with the shapes as they come. You can transform and manipulate them to create whatever you want. Sounds cool, right?

Here's how you can do it:

  1. Select a shape: The first step is to choose a shape on your artboard that you want to manipulate.
  2. Use the Selection tool: This tool, which looks like a black arrow in your toolbar, allows you to move, rotate, and resize your shape. It's as simple as clicking and dragging.
  3. Try the Direct Selection tool: This tool (the white arrow in your toolbar) gives you more control over your shape. It lets you manipulate individual anchor points, allowing for more complex transformations.

And there you have it! With these tips, you're well on your way to getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. It's like learning how to reshape your Lego bricks. Imagine the possibilities!

Remember, the key to mastering any new skill is practice, practice, practice. So why not try transforming and manipulating shapes in your next project?

How to create custom brushes

Just like a painter has a variety of brushes to create different textures and effects, Adobe Illustrator has a feature for creating custom brushes. This gives you the freedom to add a personal touch to your vector illustrations. And guess what? It's super easy to do!

  1. Create a shape: This will be the base of your brush. It could be a simple line, a squiggle, or even a more complex shape. Be creative!
  2. Drag the shape into the Brushes Panel: You'll find this panel on the right side of your screen. When you drag your shape into it, a window will pop up.
  3. Choose the type of brush: Illustrator allows you to create different types of brushes: scatter, art, pattern, or bristle. Each type creates a different effect, so choose the one that suits your needs.
  4. Define your brush: This is where you can adjust things like the size, direction, and spacing of your brush. Again, this will depend on the effect you're trying to achieve.

Voila! You just created your first custom brush. Now, you can use it in your artwork just like any other brush. This is another step towards getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. And who doesn't like to add their own personal touch to their work?

I can't wait to see what unique brushes you'll come up with. Happy illustrating!

Why use the Pathfinder tool?

One magic wand that helps in getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, is the Pathfinder tool. This tool might seem like a puzzle at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's like having a secret superpower. Why so? Let's break it down.

  1. Shape Modes: The Pathfinder tool allows you to combine shapes in unique ways. You can unite them into one, subtract one shape from another, intersect them, or exclude the overlapping parts. Imagine creating new shapes without having to draw them from scratch!
  2. Pathfinders: These functions let you divide or trim overlapping objects, merge them, create outlines, or even crop them. This can be a real time-saver when you're dealing with complex illustrations.

Using the Pathfinder tool can turn a tedious task into a fun one, and it's a sure way to level up your Adobe Illustrator skills. Remember, every master was once a beginner. So, don't be afraid to explore and experiment with this tool. Who knows? You might discover a new trick that no one else knows yet!

How to create patterns in Illustrator

Patterns can add depth and texture to your vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. But how do you create them? Let's make this task simpler for you.

  1. Define your pattern: Start by designing the pattern you want to use. This could be anything from a simple geometric shape to a complex motif. Remember, the smaller the pattern, the more frequently it will repeat.
  2. Create a pattern swatch: Once you have your pattern, go to the Swatches panel and click on New Swatch. This will create a new swatch with your pattern. Once it's created, your pattern is ready to use!

While this might seem like a lot to take in, getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator is all about practice. The more you use these features, the more comfortable you'll become. And before you know it, creating patterns will become just another tool in your Illustrator toolkit.

So, what are you waiting for? Start creating your patterns now and watch your vector illustrations come to life!

How to use the Blend tool

Don't let the name fool you. The Blend tool isn't about making smoothies. It's actually one of the most powerful and underutilized tools in Adobe Illustrator, especially when you're getting better at vector illustrations.

Ever wondered how to create a seamless color transition or mix two shapes together? That's where the Blend tool comes in. Here's how you can use it:

  1. Select your objects: Start by selecting the two objects you want to blend. They can be different shapes, colors, or both.
  2. Activate the blend tool: Go to Object > Blend > Make or use the shortcut Alt+Ctrl+B. This will create a smooth transition between the two objects.
  3. Adjust the blend: To modify the steps in the blend, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options. Here, you can choose the number of steps, orientation and more.

Voila! You've just created a blend. Pretty cool, right?

The Blend tool is not only useful for creating gradients but also for making complex shapes and designs. So, next time you're working on a vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator, don't forget to give the Blend tool a whirl. You might be surprised at what you can create!

How to improve your use of color

Color—it's everywhere. But when it comes to getting better at vector illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, color is more than just a visual element. It's a form of communication.

Choosing the right colors can bring your designs to life, set the mood, and even influence perceptions. But how can you improve your use of color in Adobe Illustrator? Here are some tips:

  1. Learn about color theory: Before you start splashing colors all over your vector illustration, take a moment to understand color theory. Knowing how colors interact and affect each other can help you make more informed decisions.
  2. Use the Color Guide Panel: Adobe Illustrator has a fantastic tool called the Color Guide Panel. It's like your personal color advisor, suggesting harmonious colors based on the ones you've chosen.
  3. Try Global Colors: If you're working on a large project, Global Colors can be a real time-saver. When you change a global color, it updates everywhere it's used in your document. Talk about efficiency!
  4. Experiment with Gradients: Gradients aren't just for backgrounds. Use them to add depth and dimension to your illustrations.

Remember, color is subjective. What works for one illustration might not work for another. So, keep experimenting and don't be afraid to break the rules. After all, rules are meant to be broken, right?

So next time you're working on a vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator, give these tips a try. You might find that the world of color is more exciting and versatile than you thought!

If you enjoyed learning about vector skills and want to further improve your Adobe Illustrator proficiency, check out the workshop 'How to Work with Clients: Illustrator Edition' by Grace Helmer. This workshop will not only help enhance your Illustrator skills but also teach you how to communicate effectively with clients, ensuring a successful and fulfilling creative process.