Adobe Illustrator: 101 (Part 2)

Annnnnnnd, I am back for Part 2 of this article! As you may have read about in the first part, Illustrator is a lot different than Photoshop in how it creates or builds imagery. I explained the difference between vector graphics and raster, and the benefits of each. Maybe you decided to stick to Photoshop due to the style of your strip (that’s ok!), or because it all seems too daunting to make the switch. Well, in Part 2 of this article I hope to show you that although the creation method –all that mathematics and vector talk– is different, Adobe made switching between the two programs easier than you may think! The basic layout, pallets, icons and menu organization are very similar, so if you are used to Photoshop, Illustrator may not feel quite as foreign as you may think. Sure, with vector graphics there’s a learning CURVE (get it? “curve”? a little vector humor for you Adobe geeks. hardy har. okay, moving on)… but with my Comic Creators Cheat Sheet below, hopefully a quick tour will make Illustrator seem more like a home-way-from-home.

The Illustrator Cheat Sheet: a Quick Tour

Comic Creators Illustrator Cheat Sheet- click to enlarge

 1. The Toolbar

Take a look at the items on the main toolbar– a bunch of them look familiar, huh? And they do just about the same things as well. But lets touch on the main tools you’ll be using.

  • The Selection (black arrow) and Direct Selection (white arrow) Tools. Yup, there’s 2 of them now. The black arrow will select an entire object, like a string of connected points, or a group. The DIRECT selection white arrow will select just one point, or 1 object, whether grouped or not. It’s a good idea to get the hang of using the 2 of these.
  • The Pen Tool. Hopefully you have figured out this complicated tool in Photoshop. If so, great.. it’s the same in Illustrator. If not, buck up and master it. You just have to. Learn it, live it, love it. And here’s a good tutorial to break you in.
  • The Text Tool. It’s just like Photoshop. Good news though- the Illustrator character palette is slightly better.
  • Paintbrush Tool. If you are equipped with a wacom tablet, Cintiq or Tablet Laptop, you’ll be using this tool a lot to lay in the inks, or even pencil sketches, if you so choose. See the Brushes palette (8) for more info on this.
  • Gradient and Gradient Mesh Tools. For adding smooth gradients from one color to another. The basic gradient tool works pretty much like the Photoshop tool. The gradient mesh tool allows you to adjust the shading in more detailed ways. Check out this great tutorial here if interested in trying it out.
  • Eyedropper Tool. This guy comes in handy for more than colors in Illustrator. It also selects your type styles (size, leading, kerning, etc) and other things like the appearance of an object (such as a drop shadow).
  • Live Paint Bucket. This one is a crafty little tool for dropping in colors quickly. I did my own tutorial right here on the Alliance of how to use this tool HERE.

2. Character/Paragraph Palette

Essentially the same as what you’re used to in Photoshop. There’s a few improvements, but you should be able to easily adjust. Here’s a great synopsis on the palettes and typography in general to get you started.

3. Swatches Palette

Just like Photoshop, you can collect your favorite colors and save the set for future use. The fun addition is the pattern swatches! You can download free pattern swatch packs online through websites like Vector Portal. You can utilize these for clothing (plaid shirts), or background patterns like grass, brick or stone. Or maybe a halftone effect!

4. Gradient Palette

Again, not much different than Photoshop! Just select a shape you created, and fill with a gradient, adjust as needed within the palette. You can even save the gradient you created as a swatch for future use.

5. Align Palette

Now here’s a new palette that came come in handy. If you want to very consistently line up separate objects, whether it be centered down the middle, or flush right or left, or even spaced exactly the same distance apart, a quick click in the align palette makes life a lot easier.

6. Transparency Palette

Much like the opacity option on the layers palette, you can change the transparency of an object easily with this palette. Also, try out the opacity mask for grouped objects you wish to add a gradient mask– a very handy tactic.

7. Layers and Links Palettes

The layer palette is back again! It’s a bit different however; each layer breaks down into mini-layers that are each individual objects within that main later. Also, and this is one thing I miss, there are no folder groups within the layer palette… however, the way you use the selection tools you don’t need quite as many layers. The links palette is where you can see the “placed” or “embedded” objects. For instance, if you scan your pencil sketches, you can place the PSD or jpeg file into Illustrator. To access the file to re-link to a different file, or embed the image (meaning the file is no longer an outside placed file, but set within Illustrator), use the links. palette.

8. Brushes Palette

For you Wacom, Cintiq or Tablet Laptop users, get acquainted with the brushes palette! Most importantly, develop some calligraphy brushes (with pen pressure turned on) that give you a thickness and thinness to your lineart that you really dig. Also, take a look through all the fun artistic type brushes that come with Illustrator. They may not be able to utilize the pressure sensitivity, but a chalk, paintbrush, pencil or watercolor brushstroke can add some real interest to your comic’s artwork.

9. Stroke Palette

Coinciding with the brushes palette, you can control how thick of a stroke your objects or paths have. Could give your sound effect text that extra “oomph”, or make your panel borders bolder. Also note the added option of dotted lines!

10. Appearance Palette

A relatively new feature for Illustrator, some of the effects options (under “Effects” menu) are much like the layer effects in Photoshop: drop shadow, glow, inner glow, etc. The appearance palette allows you to easily see what effects have been added to a select object– and altered, deleted or duplicated.

11. Pathfinder Palette

This palette gets a little more complicated and is more for the intermediate users. I’ll just give you this little tip however: if you want to combine an object– say, a balloon oval and it’s tail– you can select both objects, click the first icon (add to shape), and then click “expand”. Poof, one joined object. Play around with the other icons to see how they affect selected groups of objects.

12. Control Panel

Lastly, it’s good to keep checking the control panel, as new options appear with every tool you are using. It can come in handy, especially if you don’t keep a ton of palettes open.


I know I didn’t come close to covering everything, but I think these 12 points will help you feel more at home when first diving into Adobe Illustrator. If you have used Illustrator and have found a tool or technique that has been very important in your comic creation, feel free to tell us about it in a comment!

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    • LOL, you would notice that. I may create my comic on my PC tablet, but I have a Mac G5 both at work and at home as well. Tink I took the screen shot from work, where I have CS4, not Cs2.

      I really need to update.

  1. Inkscape is not a fancy as Illustrator – but it is free! If you want to fool around with vector graphics, but don’t want to put down cash (because you’re not sure you’ll like it or, like me, you’re just too cheap) it’s a great option. I use it to put captions on and do final adjustments to my comics (Strange Quark).

  2. I cant stand illustrator! I use FreeHand. It works like its supposed to, where as Illustrator seems unnecessarily complicated. I can create the same project in freehand in half the time. I can work in both applications and have done so for years. It is my opinion. Here is the jacked up part, Adobe bought freehand cancelled it but failed to incorporate its strong points into illustrator.

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