Technical Tricks for Working Faster in Illustrator

August 6, 2019 | by Matt Roman

As a designer, there’s a valuable amount of time that goes into conceptualizing an idea when working on a new brand or project. It’s arguably the most important component of the work we do. Being able to really dig into each aspect during the beginning phases and then expand upon that research is vital to a successful end product and a happy client.

I know for me, this stage of the process can be arduous at times. It’s natural for us to want to make, make, make and be able to see our ideas materialize. But it’s really not worth skimping out on a solid foundation to build from. My advice is to take the time you need here. You’ll thank yourself.


Work Smarter, Not Harder

If you’re trying to balance time invested, I’ve found that there’s room to trim some time off in the actual creation phase, simply by leveling up your technical skills which allow you to work more efficiently. The longer I’ve been away from design school and with the continual Creative Cloud updates, I’m always watching tutorials to keep up with new features. And more often than not, it’s these features that speed up my ability to execute an idea.

Here are just some of my favorite Illustrator efficiencies that allow me to iterate faster.


Key Object Alignment

What it does: 
Allows perfect alignment for any amount of objects without 
disrupting other alignments

Where to find it: 
Align Panel >  Align To: Key Object

Why it’s useful: 
This one is probably my most used, absolute favorite thing in 
Illustrator. It allows for exact precision when centering or 
aligning something to the left or right, without having your 
objects jump around the artboard.

How to: 
1. Select all objects to align
2. Click the object you intend to align to
3. Select how you want to align from the Align Panel
4. Notice how the selected object stays stationary and the other 
objects are the only ones that have moved

Offset Path

What it does: 
Creates an offset copy of a shape

Where to find it: 
Object > Path > Offset Path…

Why it’s useful:
This one is super great for creating borders or layered effects, 
especially for complex objects

How to:
1. Select any path
2. Use the dialog box to dictate how far inward or outward you 
want the path to be offset

TIP: Using a negative value will inset the path. Make sure to 
check “Preview” so you can see it in realtime and modify your 
value accordingly.

Shape Builder

What it does: 
Allows the combination or reduction of overlapping shapes to 
create new or remove unwanted shapes

Where to find it: 
Shift + M / Toolbar

Why it’s useful: 
I find this one really helpful when I’m trying to simplify and 
merge a complex shape that I just expanded. It can also be useful to break overlapping shapes or subtract areas.

How to:
1. Select a complex shape with any amount of overlapping elements
2. Shift + M
3A. To combine, drag the cursor across any sections you want 
to merge
3B. To subtract, do the same, but hold option to delete areas 
or paths


Repeat Transformation

What it does: 
Replicates the most recent transformation performed

Where to find it: 
Command + D / Object > Transform > Transform Again

Why it’s useful: 
This tip is probably most helpful to rapidly duplicate objects 
with exact precision. This is one is particularly helpful for 
creating patterns and grids.

How to:
1. Create the shape you want to repeat
2. Transform the shape. For this example, click Shift + Option + 
Left Arrow Key
3. Repeat transformatoin using Command + D until the desired 
result is achieved

Rotate Around

What it does: 
Allows perfect rotation around a central point

Where to find it: 
R > Option/Alt + Click Center Point

Why it’s useful: 
This trick is helpful for perfectly rotating objects around a 
circle without having to eyeball the angles.

How to:
1. Create the object you want to rotate
2. Create a circle for the object to rotate around
3. Determine how many copies of the object you want around the 
circle to determine the angle in the Rotate dialog box. 
Example: If you want X copies, input 360/X
4. Click “Copy”
5. Use Command + D to repeat the transformation X times

Honorable Mentions

Lastly, here a few keyboard shortcuts that just might also speed up your workflow.

  1. Move Artboard: Command + O
  2. Scale object maintaining fixed center: Shift + Option + Drag handle
  3. Swap Fill and Stroke Color: Shift + X
  4. Toggle Swap and Fill: X
  5. Eye Drop Color Only : Shift + I
  6. Undo: Command + Z (because we all make mistakes…)

Any Illustrator tricks I forgot to mention? Tell us your go-to shortcuts in the comments below!

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