Home / Articles / Adobe Illustrator / The Building Blocks of UI Design with Adobe Illustrator

The Building Blocks of UI Design with Adobe Illustrator

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Adobe Press.
  • Date: Aug 23, 2012.

Chapter Description

This chapter takes a look at the basic features that Illustrator provides for the building blocks of UI design.

Guides Objectified

Every professional design application lets you set guides to help you align objects in your document. Alignment is one of the design principles that make any design just feel right. It brings cohesiveness into the layout. In Illustrator, there are two basic ways to use guides in your documents:

  • Create an ad-hoc guide when you need to align several objects to a certain plane.
  • Pull several guides out to create a layout grid.

By default, guides are “magnetic.” Dragging an object will cause it to snap to a guide once it gets within a certain pixel distance (4.1). This ensures that your objects will line up exactly as you want them. Alternatively, dragging a guide to a selected object will snap the guide to that object.


4.1. The drag cursor changes to white when an object has snapped to a guide.

Guides will be helpful in the mockup for aligning graphic elements. You’ll explore Illustrator’s guides by first creating a new document for the mockup:

  1. Choose File > New. In the dialog box, choose the Web profile.
  2. Select 1024 x 768 as the artboard size and click OK to create the document.

This size represents the target display resolution you’ll use for this mockup.

Creating Guides

Now that you have a document open, it’s time to create some guides. In order to create guides, you’ll need to make sure your rulers are visible. If they aren’t showing at the top and left side of the document window, choose View > Rulers > Show Rulers (cmd.jpgR/Ctrl+R).

  1. Click and drag a guide from the ruler onto the artboard.
  2. If you didn’t get the guide in just the right spot, undo the guide placement by doing one of the following:

    • Press cmd.jpgZ/Ctrl+Z to undo the guide placement and try again.
    • Move the guide into place by selecting it and dragging until you have it positioned correctly. If you are unable to move the guide, it may be locked. Choose View > Guides > Lock Guides (cmd.jpgcmd1.jpg;[semicolon]/Ctrl+Alt+; [semi-colon]) to unlock the guides. Selecting this menu option toggles the lock state on or off.
  3. To remove a guide, simply select it and press Delete (make sure the guide is unlocked).
  4. If you no longer need any guides in your document, or need to start over, remove them all at once by choosing View > Guides > Clear Guides.

Making Guides from Objects

Another awesome feature is the ability to make any vector object on the artboard into a guide. This is really helpful if you need to align objects at strange angles. This feature has a practical use:

  1. Click and drag with the Line tool (\) and draw a line on the artboard.
  2. Select the line and choose View > Guides > Make Guides (cmd.jpg5/Ctrl+5).

    You object is instantly turned into a guide, taking on all current attributes you have set for your guides (such as snapping behavior, visibility, lock state, and color). This is a great way to align objects already on your artboard to an angle without having to measure (4.2).


4.2. Snapping an object to a custom guide

You can also convert any guide—whether you pulled it from a ruler or created it from an object—into an object:

  1. Make sure that guides are unlocked (cmd.jpgcmd1.jpg; [semicolon]/Ctrl+Alt+; [semi-colon]). You won’t be able to select them otherwise.
  2. Select the guide you want to convert and choose View Guides > Release Guides (cmd.jpgcmd1.jpg5/Ctrl+Alt+5).

The guide is now an object, selected and ready for you to work with.

Using Alignment Tools

Besides allowing you to snap and align objects to guides, Illustrator also provides powerful alignment features accessible via the Align panel (Shift-F7). This panel (4.3) helps to align objects to an axis or position as well as distribute them across a distance. A few of the more commonly used alignment features can also be accessed in the Control panel when you have more than one object selected.


4.3. The Align panel

The buttons in the top row of the Align panel align objects by their edges and centers along the horizontal and vertical axes. The buttons provide a graphical representation of how Illustrator will align the selected objects.

The buttons in the bottom row of the panel distribute objects across a distance based on the axis or edge that the user has chosen. This is very different from aligning objects. Instead of lining them up along a single edge or center, Illustrator will equally space the objects from the edge or center you clicked.

You can make a couple of extra options (4.4) visible by choosing Show Options from the Align panel menu. The first of these options, Distribute Spacing, distributes objects across a distance by putting an equal amount of space (which can be user-specified) between them.


4.4. Align Panel extra options

The second button houses the Align To options. These options allow you to choose how objects will align in the following ways:

  • To the selection (the default behavior): The selection in this option represents the area in which all selected objects are contained. For example, if you have four rectangles and you want to align all of their left edges, clicking the align left button would move all but the leftmost rectangle.
  • To the artboard: This option aligns objects to centers or edges of the artboard itself. This alignment method is best used when you want to center a single object or a selection of objects on the artboard.
  • To a key object: This option allows you to select an object to which all other objects in the selection will align. This method is best used when the object you want to align to needs to stay in place.

To designate an object in your selection as the key object, perform the following steps:

  1. Select all objects (including the one that will be the key object) you want to align either by dragging a selection box around them or by Shift-clicking each object.
  2. Set the key object for the selection by clicking it.

    The key object is always indicated by a bold selection outline (4.5).


4.5. The key object is indicated by a bold selection outline.

3. Smart Guides | Next Section Previous Section

Adobe Press Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Adobe Press and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Adobe Press products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email ask@peachpit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.adobepress.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020