7 More Things You Didn't Know Adobe Illustrator Could Do


After the success of the article we wrote back in 2007 entitled "7 Things You Didn’t Know Adobe Illustrator Could Do" we have now written the sequel - enjoy!

1. Polar Grid

In your tool pallet, click and hold the "line segment tool" and then scroll down and select the "Polar Grid Tool". This is a very handy tool for creating a variety of shapes and getting to grips with it can save you a lot of time in the long run - so have a play!


Click and drag on your artboard and you'll see a circular shape appear with concentric and radial lines. If you hold down shift whilst dragging you'll notice the circle will grow in perfect proportions. If you hold down alt , you'll also see that the circle will grow from the centre of where you initially clicked.


To get extra options simply click once on the artboard -  a window will open allowing you to change the size, the number of concentric dividers and radial dividers. You can also skew the dividers which can achieve some very interesting shapes!

2. Flare Tool

To add that extra sparkle to any illustration the flare tool is invaluable! From the tool pallet, click and hold the "Rectangle Tool" and then scroll down and select the "Flare Tool". Click and drag on your artboard and you'll see the complex flare shape appear.


To add an angle to the lens flare, while the flare is selected and ensuring that you still have the flare tool on, hold down alt and click and drag the curser - you can then manually control the flare.


Additional options can be found by clicking once whilst having the Flare Tool selected.


3. Roughen

Have you ever needed to create a shape which doesn't have smooth edges? To draw one with the pen tool takes alot of time and patience which us designers don't have alot of!


First of all draw a rectangle (Hot key M). While it is selected go up to the top menu, select Filter > Distort > Roughen. A window will open which will allow you to select how much "roughness" you require on your shape - be sure to select "preview" so you can see the effects of your selections.


4. Shear Tool

It may be a simple tool on its own but you can use this tool to create stunning effects. Let's start by drawing a star - select the star tool by clicking and holding the rectangle tool on the Tools menu. Draw your star holding down shift to ensure it is drawn as an equilateral shape.


Now on the Tools pallet - click and hold the over the "Scale Tool", this will show a drop down - select the "Shear Tool".


With the star shape selected click and drag to "shear" it. Only do it subtly as we are now going to use another technique to create a complicated set of shapes. Illustrator will remember the shear equation we have used - if you now copy the star (Hot Keys Command + C), paste it back in place (Hot Keys Command + F) and then  duplicate the shear effect (Command + D) you will get the same shear effect on the newly pasted star. If you do this a few times a very complex set of shapes appear.

To get more options from the Shear tool you can also press return whilst it is selected on the Tool Pallet.


When you have multiple shapes crossing over one another, the ability to play with transparency effects can have some rewarding results. Select the shapes you wish to change and then open the Transparency Pallet (Hot Keys Shift + Option + F10). From here you can obviously change the standard level of the opacity of an object - you can also select different blending options. Have a play to discover different effects. It's worth noting that different colours respond differently to some of these effects.

5. The Gradient Tool

Create a circle (Hot Key O) holding down shift to make it proportional. Whilst the circle is selected open the Gradient Pallet (Hot Keys Command + F9). Drag into the gradient pallet two colours of your choice from your swatches pallet. The two colours will be blended together within the circle shape.


For flexibility you can also select the Gradient Tool from the Tool Pallet. Once selected click and drag across the circle shape - you will see that the gradient will follow the line drawn by the gradient tool - very handy for getting the gradient you need. Alternatively you can enter a gradients angle into the Gradient Pallet manually.


You can also select between a linear gradient (a straight blend from one side to another) to a radial gradient (a gradient which starts from a point and grows like a radio signal).


You can also add other colours to the gradient as well as defining the middle of the gradient with a percentage.


When using these techniques with a few shapes, stunning effects can be achieved!

6. Expanding Gradients

Another very cool thing you can do with illustrator is expand your gradients so that each colour within the gradient becomes a shape. You can use this technique to create some amazing graphics!


Draw a circle (Hot Key O) and apply a radial gradient to it. Then, simply go to the top menu "Object > Expand" - select the "fill" option (or experiment with the others as they are well worth getting to grips with) and hit ok.


Each area of the gradient will now appear as a separate shape - masked within the original circle. To take off the mask, select the shape and hold down "Command + Option + 7" - this will expand the mask and its contents and show them as a group - ungroup them (Hot Key Command + Shift + G)  and you can then delete the mask.


We now have lots of circles getting smaller and smaller - each containing a gradient - to be able to define each "ring" as a shape select them all, then pull up the Pathfinder Pallet (Hot Keys Shift + Command + F9) and select the "Divide" option. Ungroup the shapes again. This will split the shape up allowing you to then go in and delete and change each "ring" as desired.


7. Live Trace

Ever needed an image cut out in a hurry or wanted to produce a photograph as a vector image? Then check out this nifty tool!


First of all go to the top menu "File > Place" and select an image file to place into your illustrator file. With the image selected go to "Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options".


This will bring up a window allowing you to play with the tracing settings. To see the effect your changes are having on the image select "preview". Note: this can take up a lot of processor speed so be sure to save any files you have opened before attempting this! Once you have the look you are after click "Trace".


Your image will have the appearance of being traced but we are not quite through yet! Now go to the top menu "Object > Expand" - this will outline the image as vector shapes.


Un-group the shapes (Hot Keys shift + Command + G) - You can now go in and edit and change the colours of the image or delete areas accordingly...



Wow, really useful tips, I am excited I found Your website, subscribing and bookmarking :)

Maybe it should be "7 More things you MAY not know illustrator could do" - cuz...

I just love Illustrator and Photoshop. I do try new things, but then this was cool.... :)

Ahhh I thought I was going to find some stuff I "Didn't know?" These are all basic tools/features, some that I use on a daily basis.

Awesome thing's! Thank you V much for that. It should really be "7 more bits of magic you can do in illustrator"!

Very helpful, and yes most of these i didn't know!

few things i really didnt know..expanding gradient is pretty good.

I am a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) I appreciate this because I am a new user of illustrator. If you have more for me to learn please send it to my email address. Thank you

Not sure why but I was maybe expecting something a little more. These are kind of basic features.

This is really great I go to Art Institute Online they expect you to already know a lot of this stuff on your own Finally somewhere to go to really teach how to use the tools not just tell to create a project.

Just discovering the joys of Illustrator and found your tips really easy to follow. Cheers.

nice tips.... can post tips about mesh gradient??...i'm a little slow on that..;>

@3icosagon - we'll try and do something on that soon for you ;-)

Great list! Thanks for the tips!

Meh.. mostly basic stuff..

much beautiful tips.

Here's one more thing I bet you don't know Illustrator can do: click on the little "X" in the top right corner of the window to unleash a super-powerful hidden feature.

There are so many things I didn't know that you could do with Adobe Illustrator. When I read all the cool things it can do I think this is a great Multimedia software application.

New Title : 6 Things (remove gradients) you knew about illustrator but never use because they're for scrubs...

Great stuff, keep up the good work. Have bookmarked and will be subscribing.

Tutorial writers are doing a good job, without them learning would be extremely difficult. So my motto is....if you don't have anything good to say then don't say anything at all!

this illustration tutorial is very nice. i simply admired

While useful, these are typically not Illustrator's strongest points - the polar grid tool is actually pretty prone to inaccuracies in angles and spoke lengths in larger grids.

Less pretentious, more correct title: "7 Things You Might Not Know Adobe Illustrator Could Do"

It was a great tutorial. Thanks I wish to know some more things in illustrator like giving shadow to objects.

hey! thanks a ton! this has been immensely useful !