What is Adobe Illustrator and What is it Used for?
Adobe Illustrator is a popular software application used by artists and graphic designers to create vector graphics. Adobe released the first version of Illustrator in 1987, and the application has gone through many iterations since then, establishing itself as a staple in graphic design.
It offers sophisticated digital drawing tools for creating vector-based illustrations, icons, typography, logos, and other artwork. Adobe Illustrator is one of the software applications included in Adobe Creative Cloud. It is popular for personal art and entertainment, as well as business branding and design.
What are Adobe Illustrator’s primary features?
Adobe Illustrator is a robust application with a wide array of features and tools for designers. Some of Illustrator’s core capabilities include:
- The ability to draw freehand with a variety of digital brushes, pencils, and pens.
- Advanced color options for creating color palettes, filling shapes, using gradient color schemes, and mixing different color effects.
- A “Layers” feature that allows you to split the components of your design across different layers, making it easy to edit one layer without impacting the others.
- A grid feature with anchor points and “snapping” capabilities, allowing you to easily align shapes and lines with accuracy.
- Cloud libraries where you can gather and store all of your design assets for a project — such as colors, brushes, graphics, text, and character styles — in one accessible place, making it easy to pick up in the middle of a project.
- A library of available fonts with a search capability so you can find the perfect font types to use for your projects.
- Tools to quickly create geometric shapes, adjust curvatures, and manipulate lines.
Last Updated November 2022
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Illustrator offers many more advanced features for users who have mastered the basics. These features make it easier or faster for the user to do specific design tasks and manipulate assets.
What is Adobe Illustrator used for?
Adobe Illustrator is commonly used to create logos, promotional or branded content, icons, website graphics, digital artwork, and more. It is popular in the business world for graphic design projects related to marketing, advertising, and branding, as well as with artists who create digital artwork personally and professionally.
Graphic designers often prefer Adobe Illustrator over Adobe Photoshop and other photo editing software because it produces vector-based images as opposed to raster-based images.
What is a vector image?
There are two primary file types for graphics designed on a computer: vector images and raster images.
Adobe Illustrator produces scalable vector graphics (or vector images). These graphics are files that use vectors — mathematically defined lines and curves — as their building blocks. Unlike gif, jpeg, and tiff file types (all raster-based), vector images are not made up of a grid of pixels. Instead, they are created by paths, which include a starting point and an ending point with a combination of shapes, angles, and lines in-between. All vector images, no matter how complex the design, can be broken down into a set of geometric lines and shapes (vectors) placed purposefully in relation to each other. The paths relate to each other by mathematical formulas. This allows them to be scaled and rescaled infinitely.
Vector graphics are resolution-independent — they can be scaled to any size without losing detail or quality. A vector image made using Adobe Illustrator will remain crisp with clean lines even when you resize it, change elements or colors, or print it on any medium. Creating vector graphics allows you to create clean, beautiful works of art that can be scaled up and down infinitely without ever losing quality.
Most designers prefer to use vector images for graphic design projects for this reason. They are particularly useful for company logos, typography, and branding artwork as these materials are often resized for both print and digital uses (such as banners, posters, print brochures, websites, social media, and more).
Thus, Adobe Illustrator is a more ideal program for companies than Adobe Photoshop since designers can use Illustrator to create logos and images that can be small enough to be a tiny icon or large enough to appear on a billboard.
In addition to being resolution independent, vector images have other key benefits that make them popular for graphic design and branding uses.
Vector graphics allow you to freely edit your design
Since vector images are made up of different lines, curves, shapes, and points, they offer virtually unlimited editing opportunities.
Let’s say you draw a heart icon in Adobe Photoshop, and you decide that the bottom of the heart is a bit too narrow. You’ll either have to live with it or start over entirely to redraw the shape.
Now, let’s say you draw the same heart icon in Adobe Illustrator. Since your heart is composed of many different points, you can go back and adjust the bottom of the heart so that it becomes fuller. You can edit the individual lines and points to make the heart shape smaller or larger without worrying about ruining the quality. This allows you to easily make changes throughout your creative process and doesn’t restrict you to the images you have already created.
Vector graphics have a transparent background
Unless you create a background for your vector image, it will default to a transparent background. This is helpful in many different situations, such as when you want to place a logo on top of an existing webpage or design or add a small illustration into a larger picture.
If you’re working with purely raster images, you’ll need to separate the image from its background before moving forward with combining it with another piece.
Programs such as Adobe Photoshop make it fairly easy to select your subject and separate it from its background in simple images. So you’ll be thankful that you’re using vector images when you begin to create more complicated designs. Adobe Illustrator allows you to create artwork, icons, and typography with transparent backgrounds. This makes it easy to add them to an existing design or material of any color.
Vector graphics can be easily converted for versatile uses
Vector images are an extremely versatile file type to convert to other types. If you decide you no longer want it to be a vector-based graphic, you can easily convert your file into a bitmap or jpeg image. Adobe Illustrator can directly export files you’ve created into over a dozen file formats.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in the other direction. Illustrations that are created as a raster image cannot be converted to vector images after the fact. If you’re unsure whether you’ll need to resize your image later on, you should create a vector image to begin with — especially if it is an image that may be widely used around the company or the office. This way, it can be easily available in both vector and raster file types, depending on its use.
Another perk is that vector files are smaller in file size than their raster counterparts.
Adobe Illustrator can save files in the following formats:
- Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
- Portable Document Format (PDF)
- Encapsulated PostScript (EPS)
- Windows Metafile (WMF)
- Vector Markup Language (VML)
Adobe Illustrator can export files into the following formats:
- AutoCAD Drawing (.dwg)
- AutoCAD Interchange (.dxf)
- BMP (.bmp)
- Enhanced Metafile (.emf)
- Flash (.swf)
- JPEG (.jpg, .jpe, .jpeg)
- GIF (.gif)
- Macintosh PICT (.pct)
- Photoshop (.psd)
- PNG (.png)
- Targa (.tga)
- Text Format (.txt)
- TIFF (.tif)
Who can learn how to use Adobe Illustrator?
Many people are intimidated by Adobe Illustrator, especially if they believe they have no artistic skill. People commonly assume that if they can’t draw a flower on paper, they certainly won’t be able to draw one on the computer.
In reality, Adobe Illustrator doesn’t require any prior knowledge or skill in drawing or painting. You can use Illustrator to create freehand drawings if you want. But you don’t need to be experienced in hand-sketching or other forms of art to learn how to use Illustrator to create excellent graphics.
Adobe Illustrator allows you to import a photograph or other image and use that image as a guide to trace and recolor a particular subject. This will turn it into a work of art that looks digitally drawn. With the Illustrator software, you can take existing icons, graphics, photos, and shapes and manipulate them as you wish. You can also move them around, resizing or rearranging them to create the look you want.
Illustrator is not only useful to artists and graphic designers. Individuals making a website can create a mockup through Illustrator, which they can use to create vector images for a wide variety of platforms. Marketers and content creators can use Illustrator to efficiently create digital marketing materials, graphics for email newsletters, social media images, and more. You can use Illustrator to easily create sleek, aesthetically pleasing company logos and promotional materials. Do you want to add a circle around a particular image or logo? Not a problem! Do you want to type a word inside the shape of the CEO’s head? You can do that as well. It’s not as complicated as you may think.
How difficult is it to learn to use Adobe Illustrator?
If you have ever used another Adobe program such as Photoshop, InDesign, or PageMaker, it will be fairly easy to pick up Illustrator as well. These companion products all feature a very similar user interface, so you’ll simply need to learn the specific tools and features of the Illustrator software.
If you have never used any Adobe design software or any graphic design tool before, you may find a steeper learning curve in picking up Illustrator. If you are pursuing a career in graphic design or digital art, it will be worth the time and effort to become skilled in Adobe Illustrator. It can make your job much more efficient.
Many colleges and universities offer courses in using Adobe Illustrator. Some of these are offered as electives or single classes, while others are part of a broader graphic design or art program. If you prefer to learn from home and on your own time, you can find many online courses that teach Adobe Illustrator techniques, graphic design concepts, and advanced Illustrator skills. You may also opt to sign up for a free trial of Illustrator and explore the features on your own. Plenty of free tutorials and videos on YouTube show you how to do specific tasks or actions within the Illustrator program.
Which career paths use Adobe Illustrator?
Adobe Illustrator is a highly valuable tool for anyone pursuing a career in graphic design, web design, illustration, or a path in digital art. Most professional graphic designers become proficient in Adobe Illustrator. While it’s not required for digital designers and artists, Illustrator is one of the most widely used and popular design applications available.
Basic Adobe Illustrator skills can also come in very handy for those working in web development, marketing, advertising, or branding. The ability to create a quick mock-up of an idea or produce an aesthetic content piece aligned with the brand style can make your job easier and help you stand out from other candidates in these fields.
Adobe Illustrator and companion products in Adobe Creative Cloud
Since it is an Adobe product, Illustrator works seamlessly with other Adobe programs in the Creative Cloud Suite, including:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe InDesign
- Adobe After Effects
- Adobe Animate
- Adobe Stock
- and many more
After creating your initial image in Illustrator, you can transfer it over into Adobe Photoshop to further edit it and apply filters. Or you can easily pull it to InDesign for flawless printing and digital booklets or magazines.
Want to turn your illustration into a game or animation? Import it into Flash and watch it come to life! You can even add your logo and illustrations to videos or animate them through Adobe After Effects.
All of Adobe’s companion products are part of the Adobe Creative Cloud libraries, a cloud-based environment that allows you to access and sync your Adobe software applications from anywhere, on any device. This means you can easily organize, manage, and work on your Illustrator projects from a desktop, laptop, or tablet.
What’s the difference between Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop?
Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are both software applications for creating, manipulating, and editing images and graphics.
While Illustrator is excellent for creating logos, icons, illustrations, and other digital artwork, Photoshop is more often used for editing photographs and existing images.
Photoshop’s tools are primarily developed for editing photographs with filters, special effects, adjusters for light and color, cropping tools, and other capabilities. The designer has a high level of control over editing an image, down to the pixel level, when using Photoshop.
One of the main differences between the two applications is that Illustrator produces vector-based images, while Photoshop produces raster-based images. As mentioned above, vector graphics are able to retain their quality and sharp resolution when scaled to any size. On the other hand, Raster graphics are made up of pixels, meaning that as they are scaled up, they will lose some amount of detail and clarity each time.
A vector file from Illustrator can be converted into a raster file and used in Photoshop, while a raster file produced in Photoshop cannot be converted into a vector file.
If you want to edit and enhance photographs and other already-existing images, Photoshop is the better choice. If you want to create or modify digital illustrations, art, and graphics, Illustrator is the better option.
Is Adobe Illustrator right for you?
Adobe Illustrator is an expensive program, as are all programs within the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. It is truly created for professionals who are going to utilize it to its fullest capacity. If you are unsure whether this program is for you, Adobe offers a free 30-day trial that will give you time to dip your toes in and complete a couple of self-guided tutorials. If you decide you want to continue learning, check to see if you qualify for a business or student discount.
Adobe Illustrator is often the program of choice for professional graphic designers and digital artists. Its sophisticated tools and features allow you to efficiently create and edit high-quality designs for a wide variety of uses.
If you’re looking for a place to build your skill set when working within Illustrator, look no further. Udemy offers many courses on Adobe Illustrator, from beginner’s courses to more in-depth lessons. You’ll learn how to go beyond the basics to use the versatile tools and features of Adobe Illustrator to create outstanding works of graphic design and digital art.
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