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Using Shapes to Create Artwork for a Postcard

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from Adobe Illustrator Classroom in a Book (2020 release), author Brian Wood will teach you how to use shapes to create artwork. You'll learn the tools and commands needed to create a variety of shapes, understand live shapes, and work with drawing modes.

Working with basic shapes

f0087-01.jpg

In the first part of this lesson, you’ll create a series of basic shapes, such as rectangles, ellipses, rounded rectangles, polygons, and more. Shapes you create are composed of anchor points with paths connecting the anchor points. A basic square, for instance, is composed of four anchor points on the corners with paths connecting those anchor points (see the upper figure at right). A shape is referred to as a closed path because the ends of the path are connected.

A path can also be open with distinct anchor points on each end, called end points (see the lower figure at right). Both open and closed paths can be filled with color, gradients, and patterns.

Creating rectangles

You’ll start this lesson by creating a bowl from a few rectangles that will contain some fruit. You’ll explore creating rectangles using two distinct methods.

  1. Select the Rectangle tool (sp_rectangletool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar on the left.

    f0087-02.jpg
  2. Move the pointer into the artboard. Press the mouse button and drag down and to the right to create a rectangle that is taller than it is wider. Release the mouse button. Don’t worry about the size right now. You’ll adjust it shortly.

    As you drag to create shapes, the tool tip that appears next to the pointer is called the measurement label and is part of Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides). It shows the width and height of the shape as you draw.

  3. Move the pointer over the small blue dot in the center of the rectangle (called the center point widget). When the pointer changes (pointer-new.jpg), drag the shape into the bottom half of the artboard, roughly centered horizontally.

    f0088-01.jpg
  4. With the Rectangle tool still selected, click anywhere in the document to open the Rectangle dialog box. Change the Width to 1 inch and the Height to 0.1 inches. Click OK to create a new rectangle.

    Creating a rectangle by clicking is useful when you know the size of the shape you need. For most of the drawing tools, you can either draw with the tool or click to create a shape of a specific size.

  5. Move the pointer over the center point widget and drag the rectangle below the first rectangle.

    You’ll move both shapes into their final positions shortly.

Editing the rectangles

All of the shape tools, except for the Star tool and Flare tool, create Live Shapes. Live Shapes have attributes such as width, height, rotation, and corner radius that are editable later, without having to switch from the drawing tool you are using, and are retained even if you scale or rotate the shape.

With two rectangles created, you’ll make some changes to the first.

  1. Select the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar.

    f0088-03.jpg
  2. Click in the first rectangle you created to select it. Move the pointer over the middle point on the top of the rectangle. Drag up to make it taller. As you drag, press the Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) key to resize the top and bottom together. When you see a height of approximately 3 inches in the measurement label (the gray tool tip next to the pointer), release the mouse button and then the key.

  3. To rotate the rectangle, move the pointer just off of a corner on the shape. When you see rotate arrows (rotate_arrow_text.jpg), drag clockwise to rotate the shape. As you drag, press the Shift key to constrain the rotation to increments of 45 degrees. When an angle of 270 shows in the measurement label, release the mouse button and then the key. Leave the shape selected.

  4. In the Transform section of the Properties panel on the right, make sure Constrain Width And Height Proportions to the right of Width (W:) and Height (H:) is deselected (it looks like this: unlink.jpg). Select the Height (H:) value and type 0.75. Press Return or Enter to accept the change.

    The Constrain Width And Height Proportions setting is useful when you change either the height or the width and you want the other value to change proportionally. The options in the Transform section of the Properties panel are useful for transforming selected shapes and other artwork in precise ways. You’ll learn more about those options in Lesson 5.

    By default, shapes are filled with a white color and have a black stroke (border). Next, you’ll change the color of the larger rectangle.

  5. Click the Fill color box in the Properties panel on the right. In the panel that opens, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected at the top. Select a brown color to fill the rectangle. I chose a brown with a tool tip that shows “C=50, M=50, Y=60, K=25” when you hover the pointer over the color.

  6. Press the Escape key to hide the Swatches panel before moving on.

  7. Click the Stroke color box in the Properties panel, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected, and select None to remove the stroke from the rectangle. Press the Escape key to hide the Swatches panel before moving on.

  8. Choose Select > Deselect and then choose File > Save to save the file.

Rounding corners

You can round all of the corners of a rectangle or individual corners, using several methods. In this section, you’ll round all the corners of the smaller rectangle.

  1. Click the smaller rectangle to select it.

  2. Choose View > Zoom In as many times as necessary until you see the Live Corners widgets (corner_widget.jpg) in each corner of the rectangle.

    If you are zoomed out far enough, the Live Corners widgets are hidden on the shape.

    f0090-02.jpg
  3. Drag any of the Live Corners widgets (corner_widget.jpg) in the rectangle toward the center to round the corners a little.

    The more you drag toward the center, the more rounded the corners become. If you drag a Live Corners widget far enough, a red arc appears on the shape, indicating you’ve reached the maximum corner radius.

    f0090-03.jpg
  4. In the Properties panel to the right, click More Options (more_options_ellipse.jpg) in the Transform section to show more options. Ensure that Link Corner Radius Values is on (link-corner-radius-values.jpg) (an arrow is pointing to it in the figure), and click the up arrow for any of the Radius values as many times as you can until the value no longer increases (the maximum radius value is achieved). If necessary, click in another field or press the Tab key to see the change to all corners.

    Aside from changing the corner radius values, you can also change the corner type. You can choose between Round (default), Inverted Round, and Chamfer.

  5. With the options still showing in the Properties panel, click the corner type for each of the bottom corners and choose Chamfer.

  6. Press the Escape key to close the options panel.

  7. Click the Fill color box in the Properties panel on the right. In the panel that opens, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected at the top. Select a darker brown color to fill the rectangle.

  8. Click the Stroke color box in the Properties panel, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected, and select None to remove the stroke from the rectangle.

  9. Choose Select > Deselect.

Rounding individual corners

Next, you’ll explore rounding the individual corners of a rectangle.

  1. Choose View > Fit Artboard In Window.

  2. Click the larger rectangle to select it and show the Live Corners widgets (corner_widget.jpg) in the corners of the shape.

    f0091-02.jpg
  3. Select the Direct Selection tool (sp_directselectiontool_lg_n.jpg). With the shape still selected, double-click the lower-left Live Corners widget (corner_widget.jpg). In the Corners dialog box, click the up arrow for the Radius value until the value stops changing (the maximum value is reached). Click OK.

    Notice that only that one corner changed. The Corners dialog box allows you to also set an extra option called Rounding for setting absolute versus relative rounding (see the previous figure). Absolute (absolute.jpg) means the rounded corner is exactly the radius value. Relative (relative.jpg) makes the radius value based on the angle of the corner point.

  4. Click the lower-right Live Corners widget (corner_widget.jpg) to select just that one Live Corners widget. See the first part of the following figure.

  5. Drag that widget (corner_widget.jpg) to round the corner until you see the red color on the path, indicating that the corner is as round as it can get.

  6. Select the Selection tool in the toolbar and drag the larger rectangle so that it touches the smaller rectangle and is aligned horizontally with the smaller rectangle. A magenta line will appear in the center of both shapes when they are aligned.

    f0092-02.jpg
  7. Choose Select > Deselect and then choose File > Save.

Creating and editing ellipses

Next, you’ll create a few ellipses with the Ellipse tool (sp_ellipsetool_lg_n.jpg) to create a pear. The Ellipse tool can be used to create ellipses and circles.

  1. Press and hold the mouse button on the Rectangle tool (sp_rectangletool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar, and select the Ellipse tool (sp_ellipsetool_lg_n.jpg).

    f0093-01.jpg
  2. Move the pointer above the bowl, on the left side of the artboard. Drag to make an ellipse that has an approximate width of 0.6 inches and height of 0.75 inches.

    After creating an ellipse, with the Ellipse tool still selected, you can move the shape by dragging from the center widget, transform the shape, and also drag the pie widget to create a pie shape.

  3. With the Ellipse tool still selected, move the pointer just below the edge of the ellipse, aligned with the center of it. A magenta guide will appear when the pointer is aligned with the horizontal center (see the first part of the following figure). To draw the shape from the center, press the Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) key and drag to create a circle that has an approximate width and height of 1 inch. As you drag the pointer, you can tell it’s a perfect circle when a magenta crosshairs appears.

  4. To keep the shapes together, select the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) and drag across both shapes to select them. Click the Group button in the Quick Actions section of the Properties panel to the right.

    Grouping treats content like a single object, which makes it easier to move the currently selected artwork. You’ll group other content you create going forward for the same reason.

  5. Click the Fill color box in the Properties panel on the right. In the panel that opens, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected at the top. Select a green color to fill the shapes in the group.

  6. Choose Select > Deselect and then choose File > Save.

Creating and editing circles

Next, you’ll create three perfect circles with the Ellipse tool (sp_ellipsetool_lg_n.jpg) to create an apple. For one of those circles, you’ll explore the Live Shapes feature that allows you to create a pie shape.

  1. Select the Ellipse tool (sp_ellipsetool_lg_n.jpg), and, to the right of the pear, press and drag to begin drawing an ellipse. As you drag, press the Shift key to create a perfect circle. When the width and height are both roughly 0.7 inches, release the mouse button and then the Shift key.

    Without switching to the Selection tool, you can reposition and modify an ellipse with the Ellipse tool, which is what you’ll do next.

    f0094-02.jpg
  2. With the Ellipse tool selected, move the pointer over the center point of the circle. To make a copy of the circle, press Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) and drag to the right a little. Release the mouse button and then the key when the circles overlap a bit.

    You’ll create one more circle by drawing it. This new circle needs to be as wide as the two circles you already have, so you’ll align the circle with them as you draw it.

    f0094-03.jpg
  3. Move the pointer over the left edge of the left-most circle. When you see “anchor” next to the pointer, press and drag to the right to draw a circle. As you drag, press the Shift key. When it’s as wide as the two circles, a magenta Smart Guide appears on the right edge. Release the mouse button and then the key.

  4. With the ellipse selected, drag the pie widget (pie-widget.jpg) off the right side of the ellipse, counterclockwise around the top of the ellipse—don’t worry about how far.

    Dragging the pie widget allows you to create a pie shape. After dragging the widget initially and releasing the mouse button, you will then see a second widget. The widget you dragged controls the start angle. The widget that now appears on the right side of the ellipse controls the end angle.

  5. In the Properties panel to the right, click More Options (more_options_ellipse.jpg) in the Transform section to show more options. Choose 180° from the Pie Start Angle menu. Press the Escape key to hide the panel.

  6. Move the pointer over what was the center of the ellipse, and drag the ellipse up over the two smaller circles. When it’s aligned horizontally and vertically centered with the two circles, magenta alignment guides and the word “intersect” will most likely appear next to the pointer.

    f0096-01.jpg
  7. Select the Selection tool in the toolbar. Drag across all three circles to select them. Click the Fill color in the Properties panel, and make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected in the panel that appears. Select a red color with a tool tip of “C=15 M=100 Y=90 K=10.”

    Later in this lesson, you’ll create an orange. You’ll create a copy of the half circle from the apple as a starting point.

    f0096-03.jpg
  8. Click in an empty area of the artboard to deselect. To make a copy of the half circle, press Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) and drag it into an empty area of the artboard. Release the mouse button and then the key.

Changing stroke width and alignment

So far in this lesson, you have mostly edited the fill of shapes but haven’t done too much with the strokes aside from remove them. Strokes are visible outlines or borders of an object or path. You can easily change the color of a stroke or the weight of a stroke to make it thinner or thicker. You’ll do that next.

  1. With the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) selected, click the smaller rectangle that is the bottom of the bowl.

  2. Choose View > Zoom In a few times.

  3. Click the word “Stroke” in the Properties panel to open the Stroke panel. In the Stroke panel, change the stroke weight of the selected rectangle to 2. Click the Align Stroke To Inside button (align_stroke_to_in.jpg) to align the stroke to the inside edge of the rectangle.

    Aligning a stroke to the inside of a shape can be a great way to ensure that the stroke doesn’t overlap the shape above.

    f0097-02.jpg
  4. Click the Stroke color box in the Properties panel, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected, and select a lighter brown color.

  5. Choose Select > Deselect.

Creating a polygon

Using the Polygon tool (sp_polygon_lg_n.jpg), you can create shapes with multiple straight sides. By default, the Polygon tool draws hexagons (a six-sided shape), and all shapes are drawn from the center. Polygons are also Live Shapes, which means attributes such as size, rotation, number of sides, and more remain editable after you create them. Now you’ll create a polygon to make a series of leaves using the Polygon tool (sp_polygon_lg_n.jpg).

  1. Choose View > Fit Artboard In Window to fit the artboard in the Document window.

  2. Press and hold down the mouse button on the Ellipse tool (sp_ellipsetool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar, and select the Polygon tool (sp_polygon_lg_n.jpg).

  3. Choose View > Smart Guides to turn them off.

  4. Move the pointer in a blank area of the artboard. Drag to the right to begin drawing a polygon, but don’t release the mouse button yet. Press the Down Arrow key once to reduce the number of sides on the polygon to five, and don’t release the mouse button yet. Hold down the Shift key to straighten the shape. Release the mouse button and then the key. Leave the shape selected.

    Notice that you didn’t see the gray measurement label (the tool tip) since it’s part of the Smart Guides that you turned off. The magenta alignment guides are also not showing, since the shape is not snapping to other content on the artboard. Smart Guides can be useful in certain situations, such as when more precision is necessary—maybe you want to know how large the shape is—and can be toggled on and off when needed.

  5. To change the fill color, click the Fill color box in the Properties panel, and make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected in the panel that appears. Select a green color with a tool tip of “C=85 M=10 Y=100 K=10.”

  6. Click the Stroke color box in the Properties panel, make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected, and select None to remove the stroke from the shape.

  7. Choose View > Smart Guides to turn them back on.

    f0098-01.jpg
  8. With the Polygon tool still selected, drag the side widget (polygon-widget.jpg) on the right side of the bounding box down to change the number of sides to 6.

    This widget is a feature of “live” shapes. You can still edit certain properties after the shape has been created.

Editing the polygon

Now you’ll edit the polygon and create a leaf from it.

  1. To rotate the polygon, move the pointer just off a corner of the bounding box around the shape. When the pointer changes to a rotate arrow (rotate_arrow.jpg), press and drag counter-clockwise. As you drag, press the Shift key to constrain the rotation to 45 degrees. When you see an angle of 90 in the measurement label next to the pointer, release the mouse button and then the key.

  2. To change the size of the polygon, move the pointer over a corner and drag. As you drag, press the Shift key to change the width and height proportionally (together).

    f0098-03.jpg

    When the measurement label shows a height of approximately 0.65 inches, release the mouse button and then the key. Depending on how big your polygon was to start, you will make it either larger or smaller in this step to match the width we suggest.

    f0099-01.jpg
  3. In the Transform section of the Properties panel on the right, make sure Constrain Width And Height Proportions to the right of Width (W:) and Height (H:) is deselected (it looks like this: unlink.jpg), so you can change the values independently. Select the Width (W:) value and type 0.35. Press Return or Enter to accept the change.

    With the leaf shape (polygon) now created, you’ll round some of the corners to make it look a little more natural.

  4. With the polygon selected, to zoom in to it, choose View > Zoom In a few times.

    If you look at the polygon right now, with the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) selected, you’ll see a single Live Corners widget (corner_widget.jpg) in the shape. If you were to drag that widget, all of the corners would be rounded. In this instance, you’ll use the Direct Selection tool to round some of them.

  5. Select the Direct Selection tool (sp_directselectiontool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar. You should now see Live Corners widgets in each corner. You’ll select and change four of the corners. Click the Live Corners widget (corner_widget.jpg) with an arrow pointing to it in the second part of the figure. Press the Shift key and click the three other widgets marked in the figure to select all four. Release the Shift key.

    You can tell that the widgets are now selected because they have a more filled appearance.

  6. Drag one of the selected Live Corners widgets toward the center of the shape. Keep dragging past the center until you see the red lines indicating that you can’t round them any more.

    f0099-03.jpg

Creating a star

Next you’ll use the Star tool (sp_startool_lg_n.jpg) to create a few stars that will become flowers. The Star tool currently doesn’t create Live Shapes, which means editing the star after the fact can be more difficult. When drawing with the Star tool, you’ll use keyboard modifiers to get the number of points you want and to change the radius of the arms of the star (the length of the arms). Here are the keyboard modifiers you’ll use in this section when drawing the star:

  • Arrow keys: Pressing the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key adds or removes arms from the star, respectively, as you draw it.

  • Shift: This straightens the star (constrains it).

  • Command (macOS) or Ctrl (Windows): Pressing this key and dragging while creating a star allows you to change the radius of the arms of the star (make the arms longer or shorter).

Next you’ll create a star. This will take a few keyboard commands, so don’t release the mouse button until you are told.

  1. Press and hold down the mouse button on the Polygon tool (sp_polygon_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar, and select the Star tool (sp_startool_lg_n.jpg). Move the pointer to the right of the leaf.

    f0100-01.jpg
  2. Press and drag to the right to create a star shape. Notice that as pointer moves, the star changes size and rotates freely. Drag until the measurement label shows a width of about 1 inch and then stop dragging. Don’t release the mouse button!

    f0100-02.jpg
  3. Press the Down Arrow key once to decrease the number of points on the star to four. Don’t release the mouse button!

    f0100-03.jpg
  4. Press Command (macOS) or Ctrl (Windows), and continue to drag a little toward the center of the star. This keeps the inner radius constant, making the arms shorter. Drag until the star looks something like the figure and then stop dragging, without releasing the mouse button. Release Command or Ctrl but not the mouse button.

    f0100-04.jpg
  5. Press the Shift key. When the star straightens out, release the mouse button and then the key.

Editing the star

With the star created, next you’ll transform and copy the star.

f0101-01.jpg
  1. Select the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg), press the Shift key, and drag a corner of star bounding box toward the center. When the star has a width of approximately 0.4 inches, release the mouse button and then the key.

    f0101-02.jpg
  2. Select the Star tool (sp_startool_lg_n.jpg). Press the Shift key and draw a star that’s a little smaller than the first. Release the mouse button and then the key.

    Notice that the new star has the same basic settings as the first star you drew.

  3. To rotate the star, in the Transform section of the Properties panel, change the Rotate value by selecting the value and typing in 45. Press Return or Enter. To scale the star, make sure Constrain Width And Height Proportions to the right of Width (W:) and Height (H:) is selected (it looks like this: link-corner-radius-values.jpg). Select the Height (H:) value and type 0.14. Press Return or Enter to accept the change.

  4. Select the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) and drag the smaller star into the center of the larger star.

  5. Change the fill color of the smaller star in the Properties panel to a yellow.

  6. Click in an empty area of the artboard to deselect, then click the larger star and change the fill color to white.

    f0101-04.jpg
  7. Drag across the star shapes to select them and then click the Group button in the Properties panel to group them together.

  8. Choose File > Save.

Drawing lines

Next you’ll create lines and line segments, known as open paths, with the Line Segment tool. Lines created with the Line Segment tool are Live Lines, and similar to Live Shapes, they have many editable attributes after they are drawn.

  1. Press and hold on the Star tool (sp_startool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar, and select the Line Segment tool (sp_linesegmenttool_lg_n.jpg). To the right of the bowl, press and drag up to draw a line. As you drag, press the Shift key to constrain the line to 45 degrees. Notice the length and angle in the measurement label next to the pointer as you drag. Drag until the line is around 2 inches in length.

    f0102-01.jpg
  2. With the new line selected, move the pointer just off the top end. When the pointer changes to a rotate arrow (rotate_arrow_text.jpg), press and drag down until you see an angle of 0 (zero) in the measurement label next to the pointer. That will make the line horizontal.

    Lines rotate around their center point by default. The angle of the line can also be changed in the Properties panel.

    f0102-02.jpg
  3. Select the Selection tool (sp_selectiontool_lg_n.jpg) in the toolbar, and drag the line from the center point to just below the bowl. When it is touching the bottom of the bowl and it is aligned horizontally with the bowl—you’ll see a vertical alignment guide when the line is aligned with the bowl—release the mouse button.

    This line represents a table that the bowl is sitting on, so make sure the line touches the bottom of the bowl.

  4. With the line selected, change the stroke weight to 2 pt in the Properties panel to the right of the document.

  5. Click the Stroke color box in the Properties panel, and make sure that the Swatches option (swatches_option.jpg) is selected in the panel that appears. Select a brown color with a tool tip of “C=35, M=60, Y=80, K=25.”

  6. To change the length of the line from the center, move the pointer over one of the ends, press Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows), and drag away from the center. Drag until the line is 4 inches in length, release the mouse button and then the key.

    If you drag a line in the same trajectory as the original path, you will see the words “Line Extension” and “on” appear at opposite ends of the line. These appear because the Smart Guides are turned on. You can drag a line to make it longer or shorter without changing the angle.

  7. Drag across the two rectangles for the bowl and the line beneath. Click the Group button in the Properties panel to keep the artwork together.

4. Converting raster images to editable vector using Image Trace | Next Section Previous Section

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