Did you know that Adobe Illustrator lets you automate tedious tasks? For example, do you need to round the corners of a set of twenty-five buttons you have created? If you think that you need to stylize each button with a corner radii manually, you might want to read the manual!
However, we know that reading a manual takes time. So we've prepared a summary of it for you, along with other Illustrator shortcuts and tricks that will speed up your work.
Quickly make bulk changes with the Actions panel
Action is a great tool to automate tasks that would otherwise be tedious. You can use this tool to automate tool actions and menu commands. For example, you can record and save a set of steps in an Action to resize an image, apply an effect to it, and then save it in your preferred file format.
To record an Action:
1. Open the Actions Panel (Windows Actions).
2. Click the New Actions icon.
3. Give it a name, assign a keyboard shortcut (if you want), and set any other options that are to your liking.
4. Click Begin Recording. Any actions that you perform next will be recorded. Steps that are non-recordable – like using the Pen tool or the Eyedropper, for instance – can be added later with the help of Commands.
To apply an Action you have saved, open the file or select the object on which you wish to apply an Action. In the Actions panel, press the Play button. You can apply a single action, a set of actions, a part of an action, and even a single command.
Use Global Swatches for quick color changes
This trick is handy if you are working on a design with several areas using one swatch of color, that you may want to change later on. The Global Swatch option will create a link between all the areas of the design with a particular color. So, if in the future you want to change a single color that is depicted throughout the entire image, change it using Global Swatch and it will make all of those changes for you. This tool is really useful for when you're quickly wanting to test the different tones and hues within your image.
Use the Eyedropper to pick any color on your screen
This trick is so nifty, we wish every other graphic software adopted it (although Photoshop does have it too)! You can use the Eyedropper tool to select the color of any object on your screen – like something on your browser window, for instance – and apply it to your image.
To do this:
1. Select the object you want to color in your document.
2. Hit ‘i’ to quickly arm the Eyedropper tool.
3. Click on the document window, drag without releasing to the area you want to pick a color from. Then release.
If you’ve got the Color Panel open, you’ll see the sample color highlighted.
Switch between color modes
Switching between color modes (RGB, CMYK, and others) is easy when you've got the Color Panel open. Just hold down the SHIFT key and click on the Color Spectrum Bar. Note that when you switch color modes mid-stream, the items in the Library — like brushes and swatches — remain the same.
Quickly copy all style attributes between two objects
The Eyedropper tool also lets you quickly copy all the applied attributes of one object onto another. This includes fill color, stroke color, etc. For example, if you have objects A and B, select object A. If you want to place the attributes of B on A, simply hit ‘i’ to quickly select the Eyedropper tool. Then click the Eyedropper on B.
To give the properties of A to B with A selected, select the Eyedropper, hold down the Alt key and click on B. This will place the attributes of A on B.
If you are on Mac, you can complete this by selecting B and using the CMD + SHIFT + E key to repeat the last effect.
Note that with the Eyedropper, you cannot isolate and copy one single attribute. The only way to do that would be to create a Graphics Style of the attribute you want to copy and then apply it to your chosen object.
Save effects as Graphics Styles to reuse
Graphics Styles allows you to save effects that you want to use on multiple objects. If you are going to use a particular effect –e.g., stroke, fill, or opacity – here’s what you need to do:
1. Go to Window > Graphic Styles.
2. To save an appearance you’ve created as a graphics style, simply drag the object to the panel and drop. You’ll see it added as a swatch in the panel.
3. To reuse this style on a new object, group or layer, select the style, drag and then drop on your target.
It is a simple and super-efficient tool to prevent you having to painstakingly apply the same effects to multiple object. And the beauty of the Graphics Style feature is that once it’s been saved, you’ll still be able to see the set appearances, layers and attributes. You can always edit these elements later.
Quickly Swap Fill and Stroke
Sometimes, you may create an object only to realize that you want to swap their stroke and fill colors. This shortcut will speed up your work by quickly making that change for you:
1. Select the object, and you will see the highlighted Fill and Stroke colors in the left panel.
2. Press SHIFT + X and Illustrator will do the swap for you.
If you decide to just press X, then only the Fill and Stroke tabs are swapped, whilst the object remains unaffected.
Create Symbols for reusing icons or drawings
If there are drawings or icons that you're using over and over again in a project, we suggest you turn them into symbols for quick access.
1. Go to Windows and then Symbol to see the Symbol panel.
To save a shape as a symbol, you can do one of these two things.
1. Drag and drop the shape into a particular location within the Symbol panel. In the Symbol Options box that pops up, give it a name. If you're only working with the symbol on Illustrator, then you don't need to bother with any of the other elements in the box.
2. Select the object, and go to the icon at the bottom of the Symbol panel that says ‘New Symbol'. This will throw up the same Symbol Options window. The new symbol will be appended at the end of the list of existing symbols.
Shortcut to repeat the last Transformation
This shortcut is great for repeating the last transformation action that you’ve performed. It can be useful, for example, when you want to repeat a shape several times within the same interval. Another use for this shortcut is if you want to create a Spirograph.
To do this you'll be using the Transform Again shortcut: CTRL + D in Windows and CMD + D in Mac.
For example, say you've got a circle that you want to create an equidistant array of:
1. Select the shape.
2. Press ALT
3. Drag and release to make a copy of the object.
4. Use the Transform Again shortcut as many times as you need to repeat this transformation.
For a Spirograph, you need to create the primary element which would then need to be repeated.
1. Select it.
2. Hold ALT to copy.
3. Right click and go to Transform, then Rotate.
4. Input the angle of rotation.
5. Use the Transform Again shortcut as many times as you require.
There are tons of other shortcuts that you'll discover as you continue to dive into Adobe Illustrator. This cheat sheet will show you the shortcuts that have already been defined.
You might also have keyboard areas that you find easier to work with. In that case, you can always customize existing shortcuts or create your own.
Is there any other trick that help you work faster, or is there any tip you would like to give to your fellow Freelancers? Feel free to leave a comment below!