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15 Shortcuts and Hacks for Adobe Illustrator That Will Change Your Life

Adobe Illustrator is a powerful design tool. Whether you’re just learning Adobe Illustrator, or you’ve been a user for years, there’s always something left to learn within the program! Read on for shortcuts and hacks for everyone from beginners to experts.

For Illustrator Beginners

HACK:

If you’ve played around a little in Illustrator but don’t know where to start, a great place is the pen tool. Being able to use the pen tool quickly and effectively will enhance your work in ways that the blob brush or pencil tool could never. Not only can you click along a path to create a line, but you can also hold and pull your cursor to create curved lines with handled anchor points. Perfecting the bezier, or curved line, takes time and practice. If you want to get a feel for proper usage (with a free tutorial!) bezier.method.ac is an awesome tool.

SHORTCUT:

You might know how to copy and paste in Illustrator, but you can simplify the steps to layering your artwork by utilizing the Ctrl + F and Ctrl + B shortcuts. 


While Ctrl + V pastes your artwork in an arbitrary point on the artboard, Ctrl + F will paste your artwork in front of the existing artwork. Similarly, Ctrl + B will paste your artwork behind the existing artwork. Additionally, using the shortcut Ctrl + Shift + B will place your artwork in place, rather than on a random point on your artboard.

Scroll to the end of the article for a breakdown of the shortcuts highlighted in this post.

For Intermediate Users

HACK:

Want to vectorize your artwork without the hassle of tracing with the pen tool? Image Trace is about to be your new best friend! There are a few ways to access Image Trace:

  • 𝗢𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝟭: 𝗢𝗯𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁 𝘁𝗮𝗯 > 𝗜𝗺𝗮𝗴𝗲 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲 > 𝗠𝗮𝗸𝗲
  • 𝗢𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝟮: 𝗪𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗼𝘄𝘀 𝘁𝗮𝗯 > 𝗜𝗺𝗮𝗴𝗲 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲 >  𝗠𝗮𝗸𝗲 (This window also pops open when you select Make, and is where you can define whether your vector will be full-color, black and white, silhouettes, etc.)
  • 𝗢𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝟯: When you select an image, a little button with Image Trace will appear at the top of your workspace in the control panel.

Choosing Make and Expand will expand the artwork automatically using the default Image Trace setting while clicking Make within one of the panels (as listed above) will enable you to define the parameters. 

I mostly use Image Trace to vectorize linework, which means I typically use the silhouette setting, but there are a variety of presets to choose from. From there you can adjust the threshold, number of points, noise, and so on. Once you expand the image, the artwork will be converted into vector points which you can further simplify and adjust to create your final graphic.

SHORTCUT:

Hate switching between the cursor and the direct selection tool in the toolbar? Simply click V for the selection tool and A for the direct selection tool. Looking to join two unconnected anchor points? Ctrl + J will do the trick! Lastly, forgo the cumbersome File > Place route and try Ctrl + Shift + P instead. These shortcuts will instantly shave seconds off your design time.

For Illustrator Experts

HACK:

As an expert, I’m sure you know all the hacks by now. Instead, I will impart some wisdom to you: simplify your workflow. As a designer, it’s important to learn how to work smarter, not harder; there are so many tools at your disposal that can simplify the design process! Adobe in particular has a great range of options available if you have a subscription to the Creative Suite (though some are free!).

  • If you’re having trouble generating ideas on color schemes, browse color.adobe.com
  • If you don’t know where to start on a design, pull inspiration from the thousands of templates available through Adobe Express
  • And lastly, my favorite, Adobe Capture. I mostly use it to simplify the Image Trace process highlighted above, but it has a ton of functionality. With a few clicks in the app, you can vectorize hand-drawn artwork, pull color palettes from the world around you, use your phone camera to create fresh 3-d materials, and more!

SHORTCUT:

Quickly set up and hide guides, adjust document parameters, and select all items on a layer with these shortcuts: Ctrl + ; will hide and show guides, while Ctrl + Alt + ; will lock and unlock them. To adjust document units, bleed, artboards and more, type Ctrl + Alt + P. To select all items within a single layer of artwork, click on the specific layer within the layer panel while holding Alt (Alt + Click).


We hope these tips were helpful! Have a favorite shortcut or hack that we didn’t cover? DM us on Instagram @meganflynnmarketing and we’ll include it (with attribution!) in our next round-up of Illustrator tips and tricks.

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Addie Steinbacher is the Graphic Designer & Artist here at Megan Flynn Marketing. When she’s not baking or drawing, you’ll most likely find her chowing down with her husband at their favorite neighborhood restaurants or wandering around one of DC’s incredible art museums.

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