01 Learn Illustrator Laughing Lion Design

Learn Adobe Illustrator Day 1 – What *IS* A Vector Anyway?

Hello! I’m Jennifer and welcome to this crash course in Adobe Illustrator. I’ve been teaching Illustrator since 2002 and I use it every day for creating my illustration and design work.

This course is for you if you are newbie interested in learning the fundamentals of Adobe Illustrator or if you are an Illustrator old-timer who may not have used the program for a while. Over the past 14 years, I have helped people get over some of the bumps in the road that we all face when learning this vector drawing software. Illustrator is not just for professional artists and designers, but for anyone who has an interest and wants to create beautiful graphics and design, at any level of expertise.

Everyday, for the next twenty days (except weekends – we all need a rest) I will post a short, bite-sized, step by step lesson with lots of images, which I hope you will find useful. Please feel free to leave comments and to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Let’s get started on Day 1 of Learn Adobe Illustrator!

So what is this Adobe Illustrator software you speak of?

Illustrator is the best known and most used vector drawing program on Earth, and possibly other planets we’re not yet aware of. It’s used to create logos, packaging, print work, web graphics, maps, signage, and really any type of graphic art that you can think of. Vector based art is recognisable by its smooth, clean, crisp lines which can be scaled up or down without any loss of quality. (Of course, we may not always want the super-clean look, so you can add texture to rough it up a bit too).

The first version of Illustrator was shipped out in 1987 and was initially only available for the Mac. Over the next (nearly) 30 years, Adobe has steadily added new features. For this introductory course, I am using Illustrator CC but you will find that many of the tools and techniques we look at are still applicable on recent versions of Illustrator. If you don’t already have a copy of the software you can download a 4 week trial version for FREE here – http://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator.html


One of the most important concepts that separates Illustrator from a program like Photoshop is that of creating vector artwork as opposed to pixel-based artwork. Let’s take a brief look at how they differ.

Vectors Vs Pixels

All computer images are either pixel-based – as in photos from your camera or pictures that you work with in Photoshop, or vector-based. Pixel-based images are made of tiny blocks of color (pixels), created at a certain resolution (a specific number of pixels per inch).

The resolution for an image that’s destined for professional printing is usually set to 300 pixels per inch (300 ppi). The resolution for an image created for the screen is usually set to 72 ppi, a much lower resolution than for print. When you enlarge a raster image, those tiny blocks of colour start to look jagged around the edges and you lose the nice smooth edges. This results in what designers refer to as a pixelated image. If you enlarge a pixel-based image too much, the image quality degrades noticeably.

A vector image is a mathematical description of shapes, fill, colors, strokes, gradients, and blends. And while that might sound a bit scary if you’re not into maths, you don’t have to worry about that stuff at all, it simply means a vector image can be resized any amount without degrading the quality at all.

Even though Illustrator is primarily a vector application, you can combine both vector and raster elements in your projects if necessary.  You could, for example, bring in an image from Photoshop or another program and add it to the design or artwork that you’re creating in Illustrator.

Lesson 1 - Mickey Mouse


Mickey Mouse copyright Disney

The image on the left is vector artwork, the image on the right is a rasterized (pixel-based) image. Both have been magnified, notice how the raster file looks very jagged (or pixelated) around the edges.

Now that you have an understanding of the difference between vector and pixel based artwork, let’s have a look at how to create a new document in Illustrator.

How To Set Up A New Document, Destined For Print, In Illustrator

When you open Illustrator, the first screen you see will look something like this:


1. If you’ve already been using Illustrator, you’ll see a list of files you’ve worked on most recently.  If you haven’t used Illustrator before, this area will be blank. To create a new document you can either click on File > New or you can click on the New button on the left side of the page. Either way you will see the same New Document dialog box.

2. In the “New Document” dialog box shown below, make the following settings (most of the settings suggested here are not critical at this point and can be modified later – nothing is set in stone).


    • You can name the document, but note this does not save the file! Some people will leave this as Untitled as a reminder to Save later.Choose the “New Document Profile” called “Print.”
    • This automatically sets the options shown below, with a letter-sized board, CMYK color mode, and high-resolution raster effects (300ppi). The letter-size is a standard American size, but you can change yours to A4 which is the near-equivalent size used by countries using the metric system.
    • Set the “Number of Artboards” to 1.
      Artboards are like drawing boards. A single document can have multiple artboards (up to 100, depending on size). We’ll talk about them in more detail later.
    • You can can choose Portrait or Landscape by clicking on the small icons beside the Orientation label.
    • You can add a bleed to your document (if it’s required) by typing in a value in the Bleed fields. By default they are set to be whatever value you type into the first field (Top) – so when you type in a number in the Top, the others will fill in automatically.
    • Click OK. A blank document window opens, ready for you to work your creative magic and start hurling vector paths and shapes around.

      TIP: After you’ve made a new file You can change the document color mode at any time from RGB to CMYK and vice versa by choosing File > Document Color Mode > RGB Color.


Ok, so now you have a document open you can start to play. I suggest trying out the Paintbrush Tool Illustrator-Paintbrush-Tool and the Pencil Tool Illustrator-Pencil-Tool. They are probably the easiest ones to get going with and we’ll discuss them in more detail farther down the road.In the next lesson we’ll look at the Illustrator Interface and Workspace and some preferences you can set up to make your life easier when using Adobe Illustrator.

All comments and questions are welcome below in the comments section! If you know other people who might find this useful, please share this post. Thank you very much.

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