In this tutorial, Ben guides you through some of his favourite tools in Illustrator. These include the relatively new – and very smooth – Variable Stroke-Width tool, the tidied-up dashed-line functions, the improved shape-building tools, and most excitingly of all, the new perspective tools.
Taken together, it’s a powerful set of new features that will come in handy in all sorts of projects and graphics tasks.
Time to complete
Adobe Illustrator CS5 or later
We’ll start off in a fairly standard way for an Illustrator image: draw your landscape picture on paper, scan it and took import it into Illustrator (File > Place).
Then start tracing it: here, I’ve created the basic landscape using the Pen tool, with various planes on different layers. I’ve worked from the horizon (on the lowest layer) to the foreground (on the top layer) of the image.
Now move onto the detail: I drew all the houses using the Pen tool. If you’re creating a residential landscape then four different designs of house will usually give the scene enough variety to look natural without having to illustrate each one individually.
You’ll notice a lot of copying and pasting; if you’re quickly repeating elements with the Selection tool, hold Alt and drag a copy away from the original – this creates a duplicate. With these basic elements created, we’re ready to move on.
One of the most useful new tools that was added in Illustrator CS5 is Variable Stroke Width. To get started, draw some simple curved lines using the Pen tool, leaving the stroke weight at 1pt. You can experiment with more complex Pen tool lines or sketchy Pencil tool lines later.
Select the Width tool from the toolbar. In much the same as you would usually drag a Bézier point or an object to resize it, click at any point on a drawn line and drag away from the line. You can narrow or widen a line as much as you want.
If you want to only widen one edge of the line, hold Alt when you click and drag. If you want to apply a stroke width effect to multiple lines, create it once, with that line selected, open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke), open the Profiles menu and click the Add to Profiles button at the bottom left.
The new Perspective Grid tool puts your flat artwork into perspective – as if pasted onto the side of a block. Create an element to use – here, I’ve made some mock billboards.
Ensure your piece of artwork is grouped (select the artwork then hit Cmd/Ctrl + G). To open the grid, click the Perspective Grid tool in the toolbar.
To define which side of the block you want to be pasting your artwork onto, select the corresponding side from the icon in the top left corner of your window.
Switch to the Perspective Selection tool (it’s next to Perspective Grid) and select your piece of artwork.
As you drag your artwork onto the grid you’ll see the grid affect its perspective. You can place your artwork anywhere on the grid, and resize it to gain the exact perspective required.
When your artwork is in perspective as you need it, drag it away from the grid using the Selection tool – this will prevent the perspective from changing. You can still resize the artwork outside of the grid, or drag it back into the grid to alter the perspective.
Dashed lines have always been a simple tool in Illustrator – now they’ll intelligently understand the shape you’ve created, making them tidier. To practise, create a basic shape – a square or star will work well. In the Stroke panel select the Dashed Line option and set a dash and gap size.
You’ll see that the dashes don’t meet well in corners at first. To the right of the Dashed Line option are two new buttons: the left button is the traditional setting. Click the button on the right to shift your dashed line to handle points and bends much more neatly.
One new tool that can make certain tasks more efficient is the Shape Building tool, which can merge shapes incredibly simply. To start, create two shapes, position them so that they overlap, and select both with the Selection tool. Don’t group the shapes.
Choose the Shape Builder tool from the toolbar. Use the tool to drag a line across the two selected shapes – instantly they will become one perfect shape.
You can also cut one shape out of another. Create a new shape and overlap it with your newly merged shape. Click inside an area you want to delete and drag away into open space – this will separate the shapes and delete any overlapping lines.
Looking in the Layers panel, you can see how each time the shapes are being separated or merged into new paths or Compound Paths.
Newly shaped paths cannot be undone, but compound paths can always be undone by selecting the object and clicking Object > Compound Path > Release. Try different overlapping objects and objects on top of each other with this great new tool.