If you’re new to Illustrator then you need these 5 tools to get started quickly in Illustrator.
When I started out 20+ years ago there was no YouTube. I had to figure it out from books from the library and just try. It took me years to get the hang of it.
One of the things that still surprise me is that a lot of people tell you to start with the pen tool. In my opinion, the pen tool is one of the hardest tools the get familiar with and results in a lot of frustration. A lot of people stopped using and learning Illustrator because of the Pen Tool.
These days there are a lot of tools in Illustrator that help you to get the results you want without even touching the pen tool.
When you just start out quick results are vital keeping motivated and confident that you can do it. I know you can, but we have the tendency to think less of ourselves when something isn’t working out as we wanted.
So to stay motivated and seeing quick results I recommend starting with the following tools:
The Selection Tool
This is a tool you can’t do without. This is the first and last tool you will use when working with Illustrator.
While it does what it says, select the object(s) your working with it has a few extra functions that are great to start with and are easy to learn.
With the selection tool, you can select one or multiple random objects. You can rotate and scale the object(s) you select(ed) keeping proportions or not just by using an extra key on your keyboard.
The Rectangle/ellipse/star Tool
I combined these tools because they work similarly and these hold the basic shapes you need to get started.
Maybe you remember being in nursery/kindergarten or that your children were. When they learned how to draw a car, a bus, or an animal the teacher used the basic shapes they had learned before like a square, rectangle, triangle, and a circle or ellipse.
By combining those basic shapes, children were thought to draw more difficult shapes like a car or a duck.
The same applies to Illustrator. With those basic shapes, you can draw almost anything. Combine a few circles to make a cloud. Make a car out of squares, rectangles, and circles.
Start simple and make your shapes more and more complex by using some of the other tools below.
While these tools also do what they say they also have some extra options. Making the corners of the rectangle or square round is very easy. Adjust the star points to being round is a breeze.
The Shape Builder Tool
This is a pretty awesome tool. While you started making shapes with combining shapes with the previous tools, this tool allows you to combine them into one shape and distract parts that you don’t need.
For example, combining two circles and by distracting you can make a crescent moon. Combine two rounded rectangles and by distracting you have a heart.
By combining AND distracting your options have been multiplied.
The extra feature in this tool is that you can combine/distract and color in one go, as easy as that.
The Curvature Tool
The name of this tool is probably not self-explanatory, so I will explain what it does.
While playing around with the basic shapes, combining and distracting gives you a lot of options to make beautiful things. Some shapes need some extra adjustment.
In the old days, this wouldn’t be possible without using the Direct Selection tool, which I mention below. Because you could only draw and adjust complicated lines and curves with the Pen Tool and adjust them with the Direct Selection Tool.
In October 2014 Adobe released a new tool. In my opinion, this changed the learning curve of Illustrator significantly, because it made the Pen Tool less needed in the beginning.
The curvature tool has 2 drawing modes straight lines and curves. Just by double-clicking, you can switch between them.
It has some limitations if you already know the pen tool you need to get used to, but when you are just starting out in Illustrator it makes the learning process much easier.
While you are drawing and after drawing you can adjust the lines, curves, and anchor points you made with the same tool, which makes it easier to work with.
The Direct Selection Tool
This tool is for even more flexibility in adjusting your lines and curves. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to add it, because with the tools above you can do almost anything.
But I decided to leave it in here because if you get stuck on a specific shape and the above are just not getting the results you like, this would be your next step.
With the direct selecting tool you are getting closer to the pen tool. Because when you select your object with it, it will give you anchor points as with the curvature tool, but those anchor points will be square instead of round and you will have two handles for every anchor point that you can move together, but also independently. These handles give you more control over the curves and while working with them needs a little practice it gives you much more flexibility for adjusting your shape.
When you start working with the pen tool after using this tool to adjust shapes, the learning curve is much lower, because you know already what the handles and anchor points do so drawing with the pen tool is much easier to understand and it just needs some practice.