Shortcut Shindig — Illustrator

By LaurenMarie

Key commands or shortcuts are essential for quick and efficient workflow. The Shortcut Shindigs featured here on Photoshop (see Essential Photoshop Shortcuts and Make Your Life Easier with a few Photoshop Functions, too) and InDesign have been very popular, and Esben’s intro to Illustrator series is a great hit! So why not follow up with some of the most-used Illustrator shortcuts?

The Tools Palette

Many of these are very similar to Photoshop, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble if your fingers already know those.

  • Selection tool V=Selection tool (black arrow) is used to select the entire shape or path
  • Direct Selection tool A=Direct Selection tool (white arrow) is used to only select one point at a time.
  • Magic Wand tool Y=Magic Wand tool is essentially the select same function in a tool. If you double click on the tool, it will bring up the Magic Wand Palette and you can set custom options.
  • Lasso too Q=Lasso tool is another selection tool that lets you draw a lasso around points to select them. This is especially helpful when selecting gradient mesh points.
  • Pen tool P=Pen tool is probably the most used tool, besides the arrow selection tools, in Illustrator. Hint: If you are in the Direct Selection Tool (A) before selecting the Pen Tool, you’ll be able to select individual points by pressing and holding Ctrl/Cmd key. This toggles the last selection tool you used (can also be the regular Selection Tool (black arrow), but then you would select the whole shape instead of a single anchor point). Train your fingers to hit A then P so you’ll always have access to the Direct Selection Tool while in the Pen Tool.
  • Convert Anchor Point ToolShift + C=Convert Anchor Point Tool, but you can also toggle the Convert Anchor Point Tool, which allows you to modify the anchor point handle bars, by holding down Alt/Opt while in the Pen Tool.
  • Type toolT=Type tool. If you want to type on a path, you’ll have to use the Type on Path Tools, which are located under the Type Tool in the tools palette.
  • Line Segment tool\ (backslash)=Line Segment tool. This is probably my favorite shortcut because it’s a visual shortcut! It’s not L for Line, it’s actually a line, the backslash!
  • Rectangle tool M=Rectangle tool is the same as the Shape tool in Photoshop. This will create your basic rectangle. Hint: if you need the shape to be an exact size, just click once and a dialog box will pop up asking you the width and height of your box. If you would rather draw it and you need a perfect square, hold down Shift while you drag the cursor to maintain the square. If you want to size the shape from the center instead of the upper left corner, hold down Alt/Opt as you drag.
  • Selection tool L=Ellipse tool and the same rules apply for clicking once to get a dialog box to enter exact sizes, or when creating it “manually,” holding Alt/Opt to resize from the center and Shift to keep a perfect circle.
  • Paintbrush tool B=Paintbrush tool. I have used this tool a grand total of three times in all my experience in Illustrator (which, granted, is not that much). I usually just draw with the Pen Tool.
  • Pencil tool N=Pencil tool, same as the brush tool, never use this guy.
  • Rotate tool R=Rotate tool is different than Free Transform because you can set the object anchor point with the first click so that it rotates from anywhere inside or outside the object instead of around the center.
  • Selection tool O=Reflect tool is very useful when creating a mirrored design. It allows you to set the point from which you want the object reflected and then position it by clicking and dragging on the object (similar to the way the Rotate Tool).
  • Scale tool S=Scale tool. I never use the Scale Tool, I just use Free Transform (E).
  • Warp tool Shift + R=Warp tool can do some pretty crazy stuff to your shapes. Experiment with them (and the tools under it) to see how they work.
  • Free Transform tool E=Free Transform tool. Someone please tell me why the two most used Adobe products have to have a different command for Free Transform??! In Photoshop it’s Ctrl/Cmd+T (which really makes the most sense). Ctrl/Cmd+T will bring up the Type Palette in Illustrator. If you hold down shift while using the Free Transform Tool, it will keep the object in its original proportions.
  • Symbol Sprayer tool Shift + S=Symbol Sprayer tool will do just what it sounds like, spray your symbols on the canvas. The slower you move the cursor (while holding down the left mouse button), the more concentrated the “spray” will be; move it faster to thin out the spacing. There are a ton of other symbol control tools under the Symbol Sprayer in the Tools Palette.
  • Column Graph tool J=Column Graph tool is a pretty cool feature, though I’ve never used it for any projects. I think the pie chart would be especially helpful because you can make a very nice custom graph that looks good (unlike Excel) and is accurate. Separate shapes are created for each percentage, so you can pull out different ones as a way of highlighting them.
  • Mesh tool U=Mesh tool. This is also called Gradient Mesh and it is a difficult concept to learn. Esben has promised me an article on using Mesh :D
  • Gradient tool G=Gradient tool can be a frustrating tool to learn. You have to adjust the colors in the gradient from the Gradient Palette by dragging the colors from the Swatches Palette. To get custom colors on the Swatches Palette you have to double click the Fill Color to get the Color Picker or use the…
  • Eyedropper tool I=Eyedropper tool. It allows you to select colors from the document. Be sure to save colors you’ll be using often to the Swatches Palette! You can do this by clicking the New Swatch icon (looks like the New Layer icon). If you hold Alt/Opt while you do this, you can name the swatch.
  • Live Paint Bucket tool K=Live Paint Bucket tool. Live Paint is a really awesome feature that started with CS2 (I think…). Essentially it gets rid of those annoying times when you create a shape with strokes that intersect it and different colors in each area. Normally these would all be separate objects, but with a Live Paint object, they are considered one. Move the stroke and the areas on either side will readjust to fill in where the stroke was adjusted. Live Paint objects are also all considered on the same plane, so no moving objects up and down the hierarchy to make them show.
  • Live Paint Selection tool Shift + L=Live Paint Selection tool has quite a few options, similar to the Magic Wand tool. Double click on it to get the option palette.
  • Blend tool W=Blend tool will create color and shape blends between two or more objects using the settings in Object>Blend>Blend Options.
  • Slice tool Shift + K=Slice tool works like the slice tool in Photoshop, but I’ve never seen a need for either of them.
  • Scissors tool C=Scissors tool will cut paths at specific points, unlike the Knife Tool (no default shortcut for this one) that will allow you to click and drag to cut objects. Hold Alt/Opt to cut a straight line with the Knife.
  • Hand tool H=Hand tool, but remember, just like in Photoshop, you should never have to select this tool because you can access it when in almost any other tool by holding down the spacebar. The Hand Tool allows you to move the canvas around by clicking and dragging.
  • Zoom tool Z=Zoom tool, and same thing as the Hand Tool, you can toggle this while in other tools by holding down Ctrl/Cmd+Spacebar to zoom in and add Alt/Opt to that to zoom out.

Tear off menusOh, and always remember that you can tear off tool menus when there are multiple tools under one icon. Hold down the left mouse button for a few seconds to get the pop-out menu for the extra tools and grab the little arrow on the end to tear it off from the tools palette. Now it’s its own window and you can place it anywhere in your work space!

More Shortcuts

These are some common functions I find myself performing and it’s very helpful to memorize the key commands.

  • Ctrl/Cmd+Z=Undo, your best friend.
  • Ctrl/Cmd+S=Save. Learn to this shortcut so well that your problem is that you save too often.
  • Ctrl+D=Transform Again, which repeats the last actions. Very helpful when duplicating and then moving objects.
  • X to switch between the Fill and the Stroke being the active color
  • Shift+X to switch the colors between Fill and Stroke
  • Ctrl/Cmd+Alt/Opt+B to create a Blend
  • Ctrl+7 to make a Clipping Mask
  • Ctrl/Cmd+[ or ] will move objects up and down in the stacking order
  • Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+[ or ] will move objects to the bottom (back) or top (front), respectively, within the layer.
  • Ctrl/Cmd+G to group or ungroup objects
  • Ctrl/Cmd+F=Paste in Front, use this to paste a copied object directly on top of itself

Looking for more shortcuts? Check out the Shortcut Shindigs for Photoshop and InDesign.

Do you know what the GIMP is? Find out on Friday as Kristarella guides us through a quick overview of the program. Subscribe to Creative Curio (it’s always free!) now, so you will be notified as soon as the article is up! You can subscribe via email and have it delivered right to your inbox, too!