Discover: A Handful of Overlooked Illustrator Features

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Quick as (a | the) Flash

In this article I’d like to share a handful of often overlooked Illustrator features (depending on how you started learning/working with the program) that can save you a lot of time and sometimes frustration, with selection, navigation and export.

Selection

Both Photoshop and Illustrator have ways to help you make selections, but as clever as the algorithms behind the selection tools are in Photoshop,  Illustrator’s tools are object/attribute based, and there’s a lot more the application can do to help you.

Same

Hidden away in the Select menu you’ll find the Same submenu.

Select Same Menu

When you have an object selected, you can use this menu to instantly select other objects that share the characteristic you choose here:

  • Appearance (the combined appearance of an object, selects all that share the same combination)
  • Appearance Attribute (target any appearance attribute from a selected object and this command selects all with that attribute)
  • Blending Mode
  • Fill & Stroke
  • Fill Colour
  • Opacity
  • Stroke Colour
  • Stroke Weight
  • Graphic Style
  • Shape (selects all available live rectangles and rounded-rectangles in CC2014 onwards)
  • Symbol Instance (super-useful when you want to swap out one range of instances for another, as you can make the selection with this command, and then use the swap button in the control strip)
  • Link Block Series (selects a range of threaded text boxes)

The Control Strip also has an icon that can be clicked (it’ll appear on the right-hand-side when you have an object selected) and a drop-down menu to the right of the icon that allows you to filter the selection criteria.

Select Same in Control Strip

Object

Select Object Menu

The Object submenu provides even more possibilities that do not necessarily require anything to be selected first:

  • All on Same Layers (selects everything on the same layer as your current selected object)
  • Direction Handles (select an object and any points with handles will become selected)
  • Not Aligned to Pixel Grid (great for web/UI work where you don’t want anything off the grid)
  • Bristle Brush Strokes
  • Brush Strokes
  • Clipping masks
  • Stray Points (very, very useful if you’ve been doing a lot of pathfinder operations on complex shapes)
  • All text Objects
  • Point Type Objects
  • Area Type Objects

Wand

Yep, Illustrator has a Wand Tool, too—accessed from the keyboard with the Y key—and to access options for the tool, simply double-click on the tool icon in the toolbox and the Magic Wand Panel will appear.

Illustrator Wand Tool

This tool has tolerance options for common attributes, making it indispensable when you have a range of line weights or fill colours, for example, and only want to select some from within that range. You can also combine attributes to filter your selection.

Save Selection

There’s a simple rule for selections in Photoshop and Illustrator: If it takes more than a couple of clicks to achieve it, save the selection, so you don’t have to repeat the process. In Photoshop, you can save selections as Alpha Channels that are basically a map of which pixels are selected, and to what degree; Illustrator handles things slightly differently as it uses the unique ID of each object it creates to keep track of where things are. If I drew a range of shapes, selected them and saved them as a selection (Select > Save Selection…) I could move them around in the document and I’d still be able to pick them up by choosing the selection <name> from the Select menu; Photoshop can’t do that.

Saved Views

If you’re working on a large complex illustration, or even presenting views from different artboards or sections of the document to a client, perhaps then this is where saved views comes in really useful. All you need to do to create a new view is to establish your view in the window—perhaps zoomed in on an object that you keep returning to, to work on—and then go to View > New View… and give the view a name. That view can then be recalled at any time from the View menu. It saves som much fiddling around with zooming and panning, and looks really slick to the client, too.

Artboards

If you’re working with a range of artboards, and want some content to be on every artboard, simply cut it to the clipboard (don’t copy, or you’ll end up with two on the original artboard—unless that’s what you were after) then choose Edit > Paste on All Artboards (CMD SHIFTALTV, Windows use CTRL instead of CMD). The artwork will be placed at the same location on each artboard, relative to the top-left-corner of each artboard.

Naming Artboards

This is an essential technique for UI artists who are creating buttons on individual artboards (as you probably should). Use the Artboard Panel to name each artboard, as that name will be used when you choose File > Export and select the Use Artboards option in the export dialog. So much quicker to do that in the long run—especially if you find yourself iterating—than it is to use a renaming tool or worse, rename manually. You can still append the filenames in the dialog, so if you’re using layers to present different states of an icon, exporting should take moments.

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