12 Techniques to Help You Learn Adobe Illustrator

Adding some custom design to your marketing materials and content can really help identify your brand. Most designers charge a fortune for simple projects, but if you’re willing to put in the time yourself and learn Adobe Illustrator, the basics aren’t as hard as it seems. It’s never a bad skill to add to your personal marketing arsenal either. The creative cloud program costs $20/month for one program and $50/month for the full suite, which is far less than any freelancer or in-house employee would charge. It goes without saying that if you’re really interested in mastering the program, I highly recommend an online course solution such as Lynda.com. However, if you’re just looking to pick up a couple quick tools and techniques for foundational skills to enhance your content strategy, this list compiles my favorites and will get your design project off the ground in no time.

1: Color

Lets start with something simple. If you’re going to be designing anything, you’re probably going to be using color. I won’t touch much on color theory, but I do want you to feel comfortable adjusting colors and creating aesthetic color schemes within adobe illustrator.

How to 

  • Lets start on the top left of your illustrator dashboard. Look for two squares. One will be white, and the other will be black with a white square inside of it. The white square represents the inside of any vector object you create within Illustrator. We call this the fill. The Black square represents the color of the object’s border. This is referred to as the stroke or, more specifically, the stroke color. Clicking on either of these will bring up a drop-down menu and swatch grid where you can select different colors preset by Adobe. They have some basic stuff here but nothing too unique. Within this window, there are other menus at the bottom that can show more colors and even help you create new ones. Clicking on the “New Swatch” icon will let you manipulate the current color you have selected through a few different methods. I like using the CMYK editor or Web-safe RGB. If you have the RGB values or hex code of your brand’s color (or one you just really like and found on the web), then you can easily input the values through the two RGB options. We’ll get into another method for copying colors off the web later on.

Color

  • On the bottom of the tools panel on the left hand side, you’ll see these colors represented as two overlapping squares. This simply tells you whether the fill or stroke is selected on a given vector shape. The selected one will be on top. The double pointed arrow will let you swap the colors of the fill and stroke.
  • On the right hand side of your illustrator dashboard, make sure Automation is selected on your workspace dropdown menu. At the top of this menu you’ll see an artist easel icon. Clicking this will also let you manipulate the CMYK values of your selected color.
  • Below the color icon is the color guide. I find this essential for creating aesthetically appealing designs based on color coordination. You’ll find complimentary colors, triad groupings, and much more in the dropdown menu within this tool. The colors in your grouping will be shown down the middle column of the color guide grid and tints and shades of them will be shown to the left and right.

Color2

Tips

  • Using too many colors can be overwhelming. I generally stick to a maximum of three for any given project.
  • Selecting the white square with a red line through it will make either the fill or stroke (whichever you have selected) transparent.
  • Depending on what you’re designing, it’s important to keep in mind that RGB values (Red, Green, Blue) are used for anything published on the web or digital space, while CMYK values (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) are mainly used in print. This just has to do with pixel colorations and printer ink standards.
  • Color can define the mood of a design. It’s important to research and understand how different colors can affect different peoples perceptions and emotions. This is a great way to translate the objectives of your project to your audience subconsciously. Forbes covers this in excellent detail here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/02/04/how-to-use-color-psychology-to-give-your-business-an-edge/#39d302292e28.

2: Shape Tool

Illustrator is ultimately a creative suite, but I’ve found that many of its geometrically precise functions make it far superior to other design options. The shape tool is an essential foundation for any beginner jumping into adobe illustrator and a Segway into some more complex functions of the suite.

Where is it?

  • When starting up illustrator, on the left side of your computer screen you’ll find the tools panel. Under the line tool and above the paintbrush, the default icon for the shape tool will be represented as a rectangle. Click on the rectangle icon to use the rectangle tool, click and hold the icon to find a dropdown of other shape options (this interface function applies to most tools’ icons as well).
  • Keyboard shortcut: “M” to select the rectangle tool and “L” for the ellipse option.

How To

  • Two words: click and drag. Using the basics of the shape tool is extremely intuitive, which is why it’s early on in my list. Clicking and dragging when having the rectangle tool selected will draw a rectangle with a white fill and black stroke if you haven’t manipulated the colors already. Now, if you shift + click while dragging, you can create perfectly symmetrical shapes such as squares and (with the ellipse tool selected) circles.
  • One of my favorite uses of the shape tool is the polygon option. Clicking and dragging with this selected will automatically draw a perfectly symmetrical hexagon.
  • Below the polygon tool, the star tool has very similar properties and allows you to draw perfectly symmetrical stars.

Tips

  • Use alt + Click + Drag to copy shapes (or anything) in Adobe Illustrator. This is really useful for everything you will do and an even easier keyboard shortcut than Command + C and Command + V.
  • Press and hold Command with any shape selected to round the corners. Click and drag the circles that appear on the corners to adjust the roundness.
  • If you press the up and down arrows on your keypad when using the polygon or star tool, you can change the number of sides or points your polygon or star will have. I love using this to create perfect triangles for arrows and buttons or multi-pointed stars for making badges or action borders. You can also make flat-looking rounded gears by rounding the corners of a star with a lot of points.

Shapes1

  • The flare tool can create a unique sunlight effect, but I wouldn’t play with this too much as a beginner. The standard settings could be useful for an effect on a photo though (some opacity applied).

 

3: Gradient Tool

Gradients, or color fades, are a great way to create depth and transition in a design to guide the viewer’s eyes. They’re very easy to learn but difficult to master. Some of the best designers use gradients in very creative ways. Often times they are really easy to overlook.

Where is it?

  • The primary area of your illustrator dashboard you will be using for the gradient tool is on the right side, towards the top. You will see an icon that looks a lot like the rectangle option of the shape tool, but with a gradient. If you don’t see this tool on the right hand side, make sure your “Essentials” option is selected in the workspace dropdown menu on the top right of your dashboard.
  • Towards the bottom of the left hand tools panel under the mesh tool and above the eyedropper you can find another gradient tool. While it looks identical, this is used to mainly apply and manipulate the direction of gradients after you have designed the color scheme.
  • Keyboard shortcut: G

How To

  • Click on a shape you created. Make sure the fill is selected rather than the stroke (unless you want to apply a gradient on a shape’s border) and then click on the gradient tool on the RIGHT side of the screen. To apply the last used gradient, click the Gradient box in the Tools panel or the Gradient Fill box in the Gradient panel. The default settings for a last used gradient are going to be an even white to black fade from left to right. With the gradient window open and the fill selected, click on the gradient box in the top left corner of the gradient window. This will apply a gradient to your shape.
  • You’ll see a line in the gradient window that represents the colors in your gradient. You can drag the color points around to shorten or lengthen the space in between color transitions. You can also click just below the line to add new colors and then reorganize them as well. Play around with this a bit until you get more comfortable.

Gradient

  • Up to this point, your gradients color will be greyscale, but you can add colors to your gradient by dragging them in to the gradient window from the swatches panel – the color fill dropdown menu in the top left corner of your screen. You can also change the color of a swatch already applied to your gradient by double-clicking on its marker on the color line in the gradient panel.
  • Linear gradients are great, but radial gradients can also be useful for certain projects. Click the dropdown menu at the top of the gradients window and select “radial”. I don’t use these as often but mess around with the properties and see what you can create! The best way to learn is to experiment.
  • After your gradient is applied, you can use the gradient tool in your tools panel (left hand side) to rearrange the orientation of your gradient by clicking and dragging it across your shape.

Tips

  • Adjusting the opacity of a gradient is possible through single-clicking on one of the colors on your gradient timeline in the gradient window and selecting an opacity option under the respective dropdown menu. This is a great way to make shadows and reflections by using the same color throughout a gradient while only scaling the opacity.
  • Don’t use too dramatic of colors. A high color contrast in your gradient can make it look tacky if you are a beginner. Keep it simple. No more than 3 colors and only make slight variations in the color array.
  • There are pre-designed default gradients in the swatches panel as well. To display only gradients in the Swatches panel, click the Show Swatch Kinds button and then select Show Gradient Swatches.


4: Pen Tool

The pen tool is one of the most widely used tools in adobe illustrator. It allows you to draw freeform shapes with the help of some geometric guidance. This one takes a little bit more practice to get the hang of, but will become a critical addition to your design arsenal when you get comfortable using it.

Where is it?

  • The pen tool can be found at the top of the tools panel on the left hand side of your dashboard. It is above the curvature tool and below the lasso. The icon looks like the tip of a quill.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “P

How To

  • Lets start with straight line-based shapes. This is very simple with the pen tool. With the tool selected, left click anywhere on your artboard to create a point. Move the cursor away from your first point and left click again to create another point. The points will be connected with a straight line. Simple as that. Keep clicking points until you want to close the shape off. Do this by hovering over your first point until you see a circle icon appear. Left click, and you will have created an enclosed shape.
  • Curved lines are where the pen tool really stands out. This time, click and drag to set the slope of the curve segment you’re creating, and then release the mouse button. Move the cursor and click again, you’ll see that the guiding lines you create from dragging the cursor have made a geometric curve based on where you have set them. You can adjust the angle of these guiding lines after drawing them by holding alt on your keyboard with the pen tool selected and dragging their end points (NOT the end points of your visible line).

Pen-Tool

Tips

  • Hold down Shift to constrain the pen tool to multiples of 45°. Whether it be straight angles or guiding lines for curves.
  • Use alt to turn the curve of a guiding line into an angle. Play around with straight and curved lines leading into each other.
  • The best way to get the hang of this tool is to start tracing things. Download an image that you like such as a mountainous landscape or even a portrait. Identify tracing sections by the differences in color and trace them with the pen tool. You may be surprised what you can do! Eventually it will become second nature. Make sure you are only tracing with stroke, not fill, so you can see behind your tracing.


5: Type tool

We’re all familiar with typing and text by this point, but the interface in adobe illustrator isn’t like your run-of-the-mill Microsoft word. It’s primarily a design studio, not a text editor. It’s easy to get frustrated trying to format the little things with your typography that are normally intuitive.

Where is it?

  • The type tool can be found in the tools panel under the curvature tool and above the line segment tool. The symbol is a T. There are a few dropdown options when you click and hold on the icon. I won’t go over all of them but most are self-explanatory and fairly intuitive.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “T
  • Adjusting the paragraph spacing and kerning (space in between letters) of text is an important function of typography. To do this, you can find editing options when you click on the orange character button at the top of your dashboard after typing something.
  • Clicking on the orange paragraph button on the top of the workspace opens standard paragraph options such as indents and positioning as well as the option to unhyphenate words that overflow off the text box.

How To

  • The standard text tool has two different settings.
    • Single click in your workspace and start typing to create an unresponsive text box, where you will manually have to insert line breaks to organize the spacing of a text block. I find this a lot easier to manipulate manually but issues arise when redesigning spacing layouts.
    • Click and drag your cursor to draw a responsive text box that automatically drops down a line when your text reaches the limits of the box. This function is really useful for designing brochures, advertisements, or any project that demands spacing limitations and is a great way to manage large text blocks that you may want to re-shape later on in a design.

Type

  • If you want your text to occupy an unorthodox shape, such as a circle or polygon, first make your shape using the shape tool and then select the area type tool under the text tool dropdown menu. Click on the shape you want to transform into a text box and start typing. It’s that easy. Your shape will be permanently converted and transparent though.

Tips

  • Research and download lots of fonts. I use sites like http://www.fontsquirrel.com and http://www.dafont.com to find some really eye-catching ones. Don’t use too many fonts in one design however. My rule of thumb is a maximum of 3.
  • Convert your text into vector shapes by right clicking on it and choosing Create Outlines. This is useful if you are going to share an illustrator file, as the person on the other end may not have the text you used downloaded on their computer.
  • Consider pathfinder capabilities for the area type tool – we’ll get to this

6: Eyedropper Tool

The eyedropper tool is a really easy way to copy aspects of a design you want to recreate and helps streamline your workflow. It’s a great way to import new colors for your design off of the web as well.

Where is it?

  • The eyedropper tool can be found in the tools panel near the bottom. It looks like, well, an eyedropper. Ignore the measure option in the dropdown for this tool for now.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “I

How To

  • The eyedropper tool is really easy to use. It essentially copies all of the graphic elements of one vector object onto another. The best way to see it in action is to use it. Create two shapes. Make one black and the other white. Give the black shape a thick stroke of your choice of color by increasing the stroke value in the upper left corner of your illustrator dashboard. Select the white shape and click on the eyedropper tool. Then click the black shape. The white shape should have adopted all of the characteristics of the black shape without copying the dimensions of the original black shape. The weight of the stroke and colors of both the stroke and fill will be copied to any shape you have selected when you use the eyedropper tool.

Eyedropper

  • The eyedropper tool also works great with text. It will copy all aspects mentioned above as well as the typeface and the font size.

Tips

  • Think outside the box. Literally. The eyedropper tool doesn’t have to be used strictly within the illustrator workspace. If you click and drag the eyedropper from a selected shape to a color on a photo you upload to illustrator, you can copy the color directly from the pixels of the photo. You can do this to grab brand colors off of websites as well, outside of the illustrator workspace.

Eyedropper2

7: Layers

Every time you create a new object in illustrator, a new layer is established for that object and the most recently created object will always be on the top. Using layers is a great way to organize your projects and rally necessary when tackling complex designs with a lot of details.

Where is it?

  • The layers panel can be opened by clicking on the layers icon on the right hand side of your workspace towards the bottom of the column.
  • You can also use the dropdown option Window > Layers

How To

  • The main use of the layers panel is to reorganize your layers and reposition things behind and in front of another. To do this, you simply drag and drop the item you want to move forward or backward (up or down) within the layers panel.
  • Layer groups will be color-coded and listed in a drop-down menu in the layers panel. Click the arrow to bring up a list of items in the layer. You can tell which element are in which layer simply by looking at the selection color when clicking on them in your workspace.
  • In the dropdown list under each layer, you’ll see a small preview of each of your items in that layer. To select the item through the layers panel, click on the circle to the right of each preview.
  • On the left side of each item listed in the layers panel, you’ll see an eye icon. This hides and shows anything you want to see hidden without deleting the actual item. A very useful technique for experimenting with and replacing different design elements.

Layers

  • To the right of the eyeball and the left of the layer color of the object seems like an empty box, but when you click in this space, a padlock icon appears. This means that the object is locked, meaning that you cannot move or edit it. You can also lock entire layers. This comes in handy a lot if you want to move one item without moving a lot of others underneath or in front of it.

Tips

  • An easy way to reorder your layers and objects is by using the keyboard shortcuts Alt + [ for move backward, Alt + Shift + [ for move to back, Alt + ] for move forward, and Alt + Shift + ] for move to front.
  • I generally use 3 standard layer groups on basic projects, consisting of a background, foreground and text, because text will always be on top.

8: Groups

Working with a bunch of objects in one project can be overwhelming. That’s where grouping comes in handy. A lot. Grouping objects can allow you to organize certain elements together so that when you select a portion of the group, the entire group is selected rather than each individual element.

Where is it?

  • Grouping is a right-click function within Adobe Illustrator. Select the Rectangle tool and click and drag the page several times to create multiple rectangles. Now select all of the rectangles you just created and right click anywhere on the page. Towards the middle of the right-click drop down menu you’ll see the option Group.

How To

  • You’ll see that when you click and drag one of the objects in your new group, the whole group now moves with your cursor. Grouping objects essentially makes them a new single object, without actually doing so. With the group selected, changing the fill or stroke also changes that of the entire group so if you want to edit a single element inside your group you’ll have to double click. This will allow you to edit the individual elements of a group, whether it be repositioning them, editing colors, reorganizing the layering or anything else you wish.

Groups

Tips

  • I use groups every time I design something with layers. Groups are an easy way to combine objects of the same color so that you can easily change the color of multiple vector items with just a couple clicks.
  • You can make groups inside of groups to organize elements even further. There’s no limit to how far down the rabbit hole you want to take your groupings.

9: Pathfinder

This is one of my favorite tools in adobe illustrator. Plus, it’s really easy to use. The pathfinder can allow you to create complex shapes that will challenge your creative thinking. It’s a window I always keep open in my dashboard.

Where is it?

  • Window > Pathfinder 

How To

  • The pathfinder tool has two different categories. Shape modes and Pathfinders. Just ignore the differentiation. The theory is that shape modes create a new shape, eliminating previous bounding paths, while Pathfinders only alter the interaction of shapes. But Crop and Minus Back, under pathfinders, should really be under shape modes since they do create new shapes.
  • Lets discuss the most useful tools within the pathfinder window. Create two squares and make sure they are overlapping to some degree.
    • Unite – click the top left icon in the pathfinder window to unite two objects. This creates a new path and turns multiple shapes into one. Unlike group, you cannot edit the properties of each of the united elements. They are now one congruent shape with the same border and fill.
    • Minus front – click the icon to the right of unite to subtract the front of a shape with another shape. Think of this as punching out or cutting a shape with another shape. Really useful for making shapes like rings and donuts as well.

Pathfinder

    • Divide –Clicking divide when shapes are overlapping creates new shapes out of every overlapping line. It divides your entire image into unique movable and editable shapes All divided shapes keep the visible style of the top overlapping shape. Divide is a Pathfinder tool that I personally use a lot.

Tips

  • Experiment with the other pathfinder tools.
  • Create complex things by using multiple pathfinder functions together.
  • Once you use the pathfinder tool on a set of shapes, you cannot undo the function unless you press Command + Z.

10: Clipping Masks

A clipping mask is the closest thing to cropping that you will use in illustrator. In essence, a clipping mask is an object whose shape masks other artwork so that only areas that lie within the shape are visible. They’re great for framing patterns and photos.

Where is it?

  • Clipping masks are found in the right-click drop down menu when you select two objects.
  • Keyboard Shortcut: Command + 7

How To

  • Great for manipulating photos and pictures, draw a square, circle or other shape around an area of an object you want to use in your project.
  • Make sure the shape you are using as a clipping mask is in a layer above the object you are trying to crop.
  • Select both the photo and your shape and right click. Scroll down to the make clipping mask option and you’ll see that the image has been cropped to the parameters of your shape. You can also use the keyboard shortcut above.

Clipping-Masks

  • To release or edit a clipping mask, you can right click the clipping mask and select release clipping mask.

Tips

  • I mainly use clipping masks for background items and not for vector shapes. If you are trying to crop a shape in the foreground of your design you’d be better off using the pathfinder tool and the “Divide” or “Minus Front” option.
  • Be careful when editing clipping masks. Your edits will apply to the clipping mask itself, not the item that it’s masking. To edit the item it’s masking, you’ll have to click the edits contents icon in the top left corner of your workspace. It looks like a circle with anchor points around it.

11: Drop Shadows

Adding some stylistic elements can really make your designs look professional. Two that I use quite often are drop shadows and inner glow. But the list of stylizing options doesn’t stop there. Feel free to explore the stylize list and discover new techniques yourself! They’re easy to figure out once you start pressing buttons.

Where is it?

  • Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow
  • Make sure to choose the stylize option under Illustrator Effects and not Photoshop Effects. If you don’t see Photoshop options then ignore this.

 How-To

  • Drop shadows are very easy to apply. First select the shape you want to apply a drop shadow to, then choose “drop shadow…” in the stylize menu. After you get to the drop shadow panel, just Set options for the drop shadow, and click OK.
    • Mode specifies a blending mode for the drop shadow. Keep this on “Normal or “Multiply” for now.
    • Opacity Specifies the percentage of opacity you want for the drop shadow. Lower numbers make the drop shadow more transparent, higher numbers make it more visible.
    • X Offset and Y Offset specifies the distance you want the drop shadow to be offset from the object. Mess around with this with the preview box ticked can help you manipulate the perfect drop shadow.
    • Blur specifies the distance from the edge of the shadow where you want any blurring to occur. Again, starting out you’ll want to have the preview box ticked.
    • Color dictates a color for the shadow. Usually this will be black, but feel free to experiment.
    • Darkness specifies the percentage of black you want added for the drop shadow. A value of 100% used with a selected object that contains only a black fill or stroke creates a 100% black shadow. A value of 0% creates a drop shadow the color of the selected object.

Drop-Shadow

Tips

  • Once you apply a stylize effect, you can’t undo it unless you press
    command + Z so it’s always best to tick the Preview box when defining your stylizing options to make sure it looks right.
  • When manipulating your drop shadow with Preview ticked, I find it best to place your vector shape over a background of the same color. I use white on white. This helps you really see the changes your making to the shadow by maximizing the contrast.

12: Inner Glow

My favorite stylizing effect, inner glow can make your vector shapes look great when done right. This is a technique I use a lot for promotional materials such as banner ads for the web and other marketing materials. It’s a great way to give your designs some extra depth.

Where is it?

  • Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow
  • Again, make sure to choose the stylize option under Illustrator Effects and not Photoshop Effects.

How To

  • Once you’ve selected an item you want to add an inner glow to, apply an inner glow through the stylize menu. Adjust the parameters to your liking and press ok.
    • Mode Specifies a blending mode for the glow. Again, keep this on normal or multiply.
    • Color (the box next to mode) changes the color of your inner glow.
    • Opacity specifies the percentage of opacity you want for the glow. Keep this low for high contrasting colors if you want a more subtle glow.
    • Blur specifies the distance from the center or edge of the selection where you want blurring to occur.
    • Center applies a glow that emanates from the center of the selection.
    • Edge applies a glow that emanates from the inside edges of the selection. This is the standard option.

Inner-Glow

Tips

  • Again, play with these options with the Preview box ticked and discover how to make your inner glow perfect for your project.
  • Feathering is very similar to inner glow, except it adds opacity to the edges instead of another color. Once you feel comfortable using the inner glow technique, move on to feathering. You can find it right in between “Drop Shadow” and “Inner Glow” on the stylize menu.

Bonus: Saving the file correctly

All of these techniques can be great for creating awesome designs. However, it all goes to waste if you aren’t saving your files correctly. If you want to save a design as an image for the web, you have a few options. First off, you will most likely want to export the image instead of saving it. I know this can be confusing, but using PNG’s and JPEGS has become the standard for image sharing in most cases. I could go on and on about saving files so for the sake of your time, I’ll go over a few guidelines to go by whenever you’re exporting something from adobe illustrator.

Where is it?

  • File > Export

How To

  • If you want to save a project in high quality and care about the background being transparent, you’ll want to save it as a PNG.
    • To save as a PNG, click File > Export and then choose the “PNG” option in the drop-down menu. After you click “Export”, you’ll be directed to a preferences screen. Here, you can choose the quality of your image, the background preference, anti-aliasing, an interlace option and the destination of your file.
      • Anti-Aliasing allows you to choose whether your export will be optimized for text or for art. It’s pretty straightforward. If you are exporting graphics, choose art. If it’s text, choose text. If you have both in your design, just leave it on “none”
      • Interlacing basically makes it so your image quality loads on a web page versus its dimensions. It’s a good choice if you’re planning on exporting a PNG for the web.
    • If file size is a big issue and you want a simple image with no transparency, choose to export as a JPEG. To save a file as a JPEG, click File > Export and then the JPEG option in the drop-down menu. This menu will have a few more options on it, but don’t be overwhelmed, it’s fairly simple to use and similar to exporting PNG’s.
      • Quality determines the overall quality of your JPEG based on a range from 0 to 10. Dimensions aren’t affected. Higher quality produced a larger file size.
      • Color modes convert the image into either a CMYK or RGB format. If you’re exporting for the web, use RGB. For print, use CMYK.
      • Compression Methods determines the mode of compression for an image. Select Baseline (Standard) for safe web use, Baseline Optimized for optimized color and a slightly smaller file size, or Progressive to display a series of increasingly detailed scans (you specify how many) as the image downloads. It’s important to note that Baseline Optimized and Progressive JPEG images are not supported by all web browsers.

Jordan Opel Jordan Opel is an accomplished, creative professional. He is responsible for managing and enhancing organic social media activities for our various clients. Additionally, as the leading graphic designer, he contributes to a significant portion of Circa Interactive’s creative endeavors through motion-media design, illustration, and content-creation experience.

Creating Custom Images from Scratch – University Events

Content is Still King

Creativity is becoming more and more commonplace throughout the various facets of marketing and promotion. Gaining a creative edge is crucial for successful higher-education marketing campaigns, and it can be difficult working without a (generally expensive) creative professional. This is a guide to help the everyday marketer design his/her own custom images without an internal designer.

Custom images convey a personal message that can be manipulated and tailored to multiple instances and events. Rather than stock images or campus/student photos, custom images show that you took the time and effort to create something for a specific occasion. They derive a sense of personality. Audiences are much more likely to interact with something they find personal over a corporate entity. Custom images can help your branding, link building endeavors and social media campaigns. They are extremely versatile.

Adobe illustrator is by far the most popular and well-rounded tool to create custom images and graphics. Through the Adobe Creative Cloud, you can download Adobe Illustrator for $20/month or you can get the entire Adobe suite for $50/month.

Creating Your First Custom Image

Start with a square

  • Most social media platforms acknowledge squares as a standard image shape. Square images will be your safest bet for social media post integration.
  • Go to the shape tool on the left side of the screen, click and hold to bring up a drop-down menu and select the rectangle option. Shift-click to draw a large square.
  • The bigger the better, you can always reduce pixel dimensions and retain image quality but not the other way around.

1

  • Remove the border around the square so that only the “fill” remains.

2

3

Add Your University Colors

  • To retain brand consistency, use the eyedropper tool to add your university colors.
  • Click on the square you made and ensure the “fill” is selected rather than the “stroke” or outline.

4

  • Make sure the illustrator window isn’t taking up your full screen and that you can see something on your screen that has the colors you want to use. I would suggest your school logo.
  • Click on the eyedropper tool, and then click on the inside of your square and HOLD the mouse button. Drag the eyedropper tool to your university color (outside the illustrator window).

5

  • The square should now have copied the color you want. Click on the swatches panel and go to add new swatch. Your new color should show up in a pop-up window. Click ok and your new color will now be in your library for you to use consistently.

6

  • Repeat this process for any other colors you wish to import.
  • (Your university most likely has an extensive brand standards document outlining the various official university colors. This is definitely something to consider implementing if your school doesn’t have one already.)

7

Create a Gradient (Optional)

  • Click on your square and click the gradient button on the RIGHT side of the screen. There is one on the left as well, ignore it for now.
  • Make sure your square’s fill is selected.
  • Click on the square on the top left corner of the gradient box to make your shape into a gradient.

8

  • Add your custom colors by clicking and dragging them from your swatches library into the gradient window.
  • You can use the gradient tool on the LEFT tool column to change the orientation of the gradient.

9

Add Icons

10

  • Note: Illustrator, like most digital workspaces, works in layers. If you ever want to bring forward or send back a certain layer, such as text, icons or shapes, simply use the key commands “Command + ]” to move forward and “Command + [” to move backward.

Add Text

11

  • Adjust Kearning (spacing between letters) by clicking the orange “character” button at the top of the screen.
  • Resize different lines to create more depth and highlight certain phrases or words.

12

  • Change the color of the text. Feel free to match your school’s brand or branch out and use new and unconventional color options. Again, I’d stick to no more than three colors overall for your custom image.

Add your Brand

  • Lastly, add your University Logo somewhere.
  • Add hashtags and/or the event theme, slogan or motto.
  • Refer to spacing restrictions and brand procedures procured by your institution. Many universities have necessary white space restrictions in regards to logo placement.

You can see my final design below. I added a couple white text boxes with the rounded rectangle shape tool to add more depth and help the text and logo stand out. I’ve also added opacity characteristics to the text boxes.

OU Russ Prize Image