Adobe Illustrator is a powerful and dynamic piece of software for any designer or illustrator. It can help create mind-blowing vector illustrations to eye-catching designs, like some of my examples within my portfolio (wink-wink nudge-nudge).
However as this software is so powerful and sometimes complex for some, this can lead to certain tools been unused or even forgotten.
Within this blog post you will discover my top 5 underrated tools in Adobe Illustrator that can drastically help your creations. These tools and shortcuts are often overlooked, which you can use to your advantage! This blog post is perfect for beginners as these tools are easy to use, but can also be revealing for the most experienced Adobe Illustrator users.
As a side note, if you’re new to my blog, do check out my other articles on how to help you with creativity, freelancing to the world of illustration.
The blend tool is brilliant to help you create neat-looking gradients and shapes in Adobe Illustrator.
Most simply, create 2 shapes (like the images below) and choose the Blend tool in the toolbar (or W on the keyboard). Click on the first shape, and then click on the other shape.
Then hay presto, a nice gradient is made!
You can dictate how smooth or how many ‘steps’ are between the two shapes whilst having the shape still selected, and double-clicking on the Blend tool within the toolbar. From here you can input ‘Smooth Color’, ‘Specified Steps’ to ‘Specified Distance’, according to your preferences.
*Bonus* Changing the colour of your blended shape
If you don’t like the colour of your blended shape, you can change the colour by clicking the colour wheel at the top right of the horizontal toolbar.
Click on this palette icon and double click the colour below ‘New’. You can see that once you select a new colour, your ‘blended shape’ will change too. Neat!
Shape Builder Tool
I only just came across this brilliant tool, but what magic it is! If you haven’t heard of this one you’ll love it.
To use, create a few overlapping shapes (circles, rectangles and any paths of your choosing). With the shapes selected, choose the ‘Shape Builder Tool’ (or Shift+W), and hover over your selected shapes.
You can then click and drag from one shape to another, which combines your shapes together. This is an ideal tool if you’re creating complex illustrations which overlap and combine.
Live Paint Bucket
Much like the shape builder tool, you can colour a shape (or multiple shapes) with the live paint bucket tool.
Select your shapes that you want to change the colour, click on the ‘Live Paint Bucket’ tool (or K on your keyboard), and when you hover over a shape the outline turns red. You can then click into each shape and change the colour.
With the tool still selected, you can flick between different colours by using your left and right arrows.
Have you ever wanted to see the paths in your Adobe Illustrator file?
Well you can, by holding CMD + Y (Mac) or Control + Y (Windows).
Within this view you can see all of your different paths like you can in normal viewing mode. However it’s a lot easier to see all of your paths without the distraction of colours and vectors.
Clipping masks are certainly overlooked and underrated to those who are Adobe Illustrator beginners (and if you are a beginner, I highly recommend Adobe’s tutorials). It can save a heap of time and make your creations look brilliant.
For example, lets say you have a shape you want to mask within another shape. Select both of your shapes and press and hold CMD + 7 (or Control + 7 on Windows). Your shape has now been masked within that shape.
You can move this shape around (and also the mask around), by selecting the layer within the ‘’ layer.
This is the most time-saving and useful tools within this blog post, so make sure you practice this one!
Have you ever wanted to draw inside a shape or path? Well you can!
Much like the clipping mask technique above, draw inside works as a mask too (and it’s super simple!).
Select some shapes or paths and click ‘Draw Inside’, most often located at the bottom of your side bar in Adobe Illustrator. In this example, click on the ‘Paintbrush Tool’ (B), and draw something within this shape.
You can see that your paint brush marks are only visible within this shape.
You can change these paint brush marks (or anything you draw within the shape), by selecting the layer within your <Clip Group> by clicking the blue circle on the right of the layers panel.
Share Your Underrated Adobe Illustrator Tools!
I use Adobe Illustrator daily, it’s such a powerful tool that a lot of other creatives swear by too. Even though this is the case, most of these tools are sometimes overlooked (and I was guilty of this too!)
It’s crucial that you practice and get to know these tools so they also become a part of your design armory.
Here’s what we covered within this article:
Blend tool (W)
Shape builder tool (Shift+W)
Live paint bucker (K)
View Outlines (CMD / Control + Y)
Clipping mask (CMD / Control + 7)
Draw inside (Shift +D)
I’ll love to get your feedback on this article, so be sure to comment below with any tips or Adobe Illustrator tools that you love that you can share with others!
If you’re new to myself and my work, I’m a illustrator, designer and artist from Hampshire, with an online portfolio. I specialise in editorial, publishing illustration to advertising illustration, commonly using gouache and digital to create my work.
You can also see my previous blog post showcasing my current sketchbook, featuring portraits, landscapes to everything in-between!
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