Ten Common Illustrator Mistakes To Avoid

By on May 2, 2016 in Tutorials
Ten Common Illustrator Mistakes To Avoid

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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  1. edinpasovic

    "No matter if you’re a seasoned user or a first-timer, there’s a few mistakes you might have picked up" - actually yes, it does matter. These are all basic mistakes (except maybe for being completely unorganized). If somebody keeps making them and still calls themselves "seasoned", maybe the first mistake they should try to correct is seriously doing something about their inflated ego.

  2. mskocko

    "Print work is best done by creating new documents with a CMYK color profile rather than RGB."

    True for process printing; untrue for inkjet printing. An Epson Print Master confirmed that best results are achieved with RGB files. When an inkjet encounters a CMYK file it converts it to RGB then back again to CMYK. The printer's algorithm is optimized for RGB files. Strange but true.

    Adobe could address this confusion if only they'd add an RGB Inkjet Print preset—at 180 and 360 ppi for those of us who print in-house. Brenda Sutherland, Illustrator's product manager, is aware of this issue. Perhaps if others clamored for resolution—pun intended—we could put this behind us. She's sick of my voice. (I've raised the issue each of the past three summers at Adobe—and will again in 2016.)

  3. matjenn

    Illustrators 'secret' power tool is the gradient mesh, however Adobe only did a half a job, check out the totally free and very helpful Mesh Tormentor - this makes the gradient mesh tool complete and once you master this photo realistic vectors become a reality! http://www.meshtormentor.com

  4. ariananicoledesigns

    These are some great tips for designers just getting started in Adobe Illustrator. I really like that you included a link to the Bezier Game! It's quite entertaining and really helps you improve your skills with the Pen Tool. Thanks a lot!

  5. khaled.saifullah.31

    Funny thing is I don't find layers in illustrator to be useful. If you can handle elements wisely, you will never need layers. I have convinced fellow designers who used to use layers to not use them at all.

  6. tracymillerdesigns

    I agree with Khaled. Layers makes things too fussy. Instead I Group things, and/or lock out elements as needed.

  7. Saqiba

    I loved these points! Agree that working with proper layers is all you need. If you want to give quality graphics your product must be layered so, It can be easily changeable.

  8. jsperl

    Mike Skocko good point. We recently switched vendors for our poster printing because we learned that, among other rookie mistakes, they were actually converting my RGB files to CMYK prior to running them through their 9880!

  9. ConnieDunn

    It can be a mistake in not using the outline view more often. I found it to be very useful, I find it as helpful as a doctor might find a x-ray to find out what the problem is. There are times when you just need to see more, beyond the color and shape, you need to see the piece's bones to see what is 'broken'.

  10. Dlimageworks

    Using layers is totally dependent on the project. If I have a ton of overlapping artwork or pre-press elements that need to be "turned on and off” then I used layers. otherwise for more simple work, no layers are needed. it comes to using the right tool for the job, not “you must use or you are wrong!”

  11. zanshin

    Not understanding the clockwork method of drawing curves. Not simplifying paths to reduce unnecessary points. Not discovering Astute Graphics plugins.

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