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Ten Common Illustrator Mistakes To Avoid

Peter M April 9, 2024 · 5 min read

Illustrator is a mighty powerful piece of software. When it comes to vector-editing, there’s almost nothing it can’t do. But if you’re not using it properly, you won’t be able to use the program to its full potential. No matter if you’re a seasoned user or a first-timer, there are a few mistakes you might have picked up. Here’s a few common ones:

1. Not Using Layers.

A lot of people usually associate layers with Illustrator’s sibling — Photoshop. Layers are synonymous with Photoshop because of all the different adjustments and masks that can be applied. But Illustrator’s layer management can be just as useful. Organise your document and the associated shapes within it by grouping and layering as clearly as possible as you go. This will not only help you in your craft, and will also assist anyone else who happens to need to use your document later on.

2. Not Organizing Your Document.

On a related note, keeping your document disorganized will slow you down. Structure your layers in a meaningful way. Name them appropriately. Keep any embedded/placed images in a folder close to your master document so that it can be packaged up neatly when you’re done. Ensure your artboard is kept as neat and as tidy as your studio desk. It’ll free you up to be more creative in your work.

3. Not Using The Pen Tool Properly.

The pen tool in Illustrator is a bit of a double-edged sword. Used skillfully, there’s no silhouette it can’t trace, no path it can’t forge. But a lot of designers shy away from it thanks to its high degree of difficulty. Do yourself a favor and invest in some quality time getting to know it. A good way to do this is to type out every letter of your favorite font, and then mimic all the shapes with the pen tool. You can also practice your penmanship by playing the Bézier Game online.

4. Using The Wrong File Type.

Illustrator is only good as the files you use with it. No matter how good the resolution, bringing in a gif or jpeg will never work as well as an eps. Similarly, spending all morning on the most finely-crafted logo in design history is of no use if you export your file in the wrong format. Always begin your work with a scalable vector file, and familiarise yourself with the Save for Web options.

5. Using The Wrong Brush.

Illustrator suffers from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to brush options. From scatter brushes to calligraphic brushes to art brushes and more, the possibilities are endless. Depending on the effect you’re looking to create, it’s likely that there’s an Illustrator out there to suit your tastes. Alternatively, you can always custom-create your own. Either way, Adobe has plenty of online help to assist you.

6. Not Using The Pathfinder Tool Properly.

Once again, the Pathfinder tool is one that allows a multitude of options, and it can sometimes be overwhelming. Depending on which box you tick, Pathfinder will let you add, subtract, intersect, exclude or combine shapes and paths to your designer heart’s desire. A great way to get handy with the myriad permutations and combinations of the tool is to try drawing some basic shapes, like fruit for example. With a little trial and error, you’ll soon be a Pathfinder pro.

7. Using Illustrator When Another Program Will Do.

Illustrator can kick the butt of most vectors, but it’s no match for raster (or bitmap) work. For the unfamiliar, vector formats (like eps, pdf and svg) are scalable and made up of shapes and lines. Raster formats (like jpg, gif and png) are made up of pixels and lose resolution when they’re scaled up too much. Illustrator is fantastic for logos, illustrations and typesetting. Photo editing and (most) web work is best left to programs like Photoshop.

8. Using The Wrong Color Type.

This is another common problem that can undo all your hard work. If you’re doing print work and don’t have your document set up with the right color profile, you could be in for a bit of heartache. Print work is best done by creating new documents with a CMYK color profile rather than RGB.

9. Ignoring Swatches.

Illustrator has a vast range of in-built color swatches that are ready and waiting for you to use. This means you can avoid having to create your own since the work has already been done for you in most cases. Not many users know, but there’s a bunch of pre-rolled swatches that come already installed, like skin tones and common food hues. With a bit of clever guesswork, the program can also generate harmonious color schemes for you.

10. Not Playing It Smooth.

Any good illustrator will tell you — the best way to get better at drawing and illustration is to practice, practice, practice. The second best way is to get a little help from Illustrator’s Smooth and Simplify tools. Respectively, Smooth and Simplify will tidy up the appearance and segments of your paths to give your linework that sought after streamlined look. There you have it, ten mistakes to look out for when using Adobe Illustrator. What tips would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Peter M
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