Adobe Illustrator Tools For Makers

Illustrator Tools For Makers

Illustrator Tools For Makers

Introduction To Illustrator Tools

So you’re bursting with wonderful creative ideas and you want to turn them into real life products. Adobe Illustrator tools are here to help!

Why use Adobe Illustrator you ask? What makes Illustrator better than the well known Photoshop for some applications, is that it creates true vector files. This means the artwork is constructed mathematically, using points with lines between them that scale without losing definition. They can also be understood by digital machines like laser cutters to make actual objects. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to do the math, the AI interface is visual.

The laser cutter’s guide to graphic design principles & elements

Everything you need to know about graphic design principles & elements.

See the ultimate guide here

You can download the latest version of Illustrator and use it on a subscription basis from here. But where do you start? How do you transform your scribbles and visions into digital designs?

This post will guide you through some of the tools you can use to help bring your creative genius to life. You’ll notice letters next to some of the tools below, these are keyboard shortcuts you can use instead of moving the mouse to the click on the required tool.  They can save a bit of time when you are making lots of changes and more importantly make you feel like a pro.

Since Adobe Illustrator is a design program, rather than writing a (boring) user manual we’ve made a bunch of fun animated GIF tutorial’s for you to peruse.  Check out where to find the tools panel in the GIF below and if you’d like to learn about even more Adobe Illustrator tools, you can find information in the Adobe Tool Gallery.  

Illustrator Tools Panel

Selection Tools

Of all the Illustrator tools, these will be the ones you use the most frequently. The Selection tools help you save time choosing and moving objects around, giving you more time to be creative. In Adobe Illustrator you’ll find the Selection tools right at the top of the toolbar, because you need to use them before performing other actions like to moving, adjusting or apply settings to parts. 

The Selection Tool (V)

Let’s start with the basics! The Selection tool lets you do exactly that – select objects in your design. This should be the default tool selected when you open the program. Simply click and drag the parts around to move them …

Illustrator Tools - Select

The Direct Selection Tool (A)

This tool allows you to select parts of objects, whether that be points or path segments. When you click and drag a point, you can see it moves around without the other points moving. You can also click and drag whole segments, or delete selected segments when using the direct selection tool. This is a good tool to use when you want to make adjustments to forms or to delete bits you don’t need. In laser cutting files, pesky doubled up lines that cause excess burning can be selected with this tool and then removed …

Illustrator Tools - Direct Selection

Magic Wand Tool (Y)

This tool allows you to select objects with similar attributes. Often these are the same stroke, color and fill settings. This can be helpful to identify similar elements in your file, or elements that aren’t quite right that you may need to adjust. When laser cutting designs, you need all the parts you want cut to be the exact same color. You can see the Magic Wand tool in action below! …

Illustrator Tools - MagicWand

Lasso Tool (Q)

The Illustrator Lasso tool allows you to select points or path segments within objects. In the GIF below you can see the corner point being selected when the lasso is dragged around it. For laser cutting, this can be helpful if you need to make a section of your object wider. When materials are laser cut some of the material is burnt away, so we recommend you keep all design features 1mm wide or larger so they aren’t super fragile once made …

Illustrator Tools - Lassoo

Slicing & Cutting Tools

The Slicing and Cutting AI tools help cut and divide objects. These are important because sometimes features need to be removed that are part of a bigger whole. They make it faster and easier to adjust your design, while retaining the overall form that you have worked so hard to make.

Scissors Tool (C)

The Scissors tool cuts paths at specified points. You can click on path to cut it at several points, creating separate pieces that can be moved around …

Illustrator Tools - Scissor

Knife Tool

You can use the Illustrator Knife tool to slice up objects into multiple pieces. Just click and drag and basically ninja up the parts. This is our favourite tool, because Ninjas. The knife tool can be especially helpful if you need to make a complicated form smaller quickly …

Illustrator Tools -Knife

Drawing Tools

The Drawing Illustrator tools are the fun ones. Set shapes and freehand forms can be made with these tools, so they form the base of your designs. Once you have the basic forms you can manipulate them using the selection tools we’ve shown you above.

Polygon Tool

The Polygon tool draws regular, multi-sided shapes. You can click and drag to make a parts and adjust the size, or just click once to set the radius and amount of sides. Polygons are great for things like coasters, having regular shapes like this means you can align parts strategically to save on material and making costs. To learn more about clever design placement for laser cutting, check out our post on nesting objects here …

Illustrator Tools - Polygon

Star Tool

This tool draws stars for you. It works in a similar fashion to the polygon tool. If you want to laser cut stars for your wall, then this tool does all the work for you …

Illustrator Tools - Star

Spiral Tool

You guessed it, the Spiral tool lets you draw spirals. While these may seem like a simple shape, they are actually mathematically quite complex. Luckily Adobe Illustrator is good at making complicated things easier to make. You can set the radius, decay and the amount of segments in a spiral …

Illustrator Tools - Spiral

Pen Tool (P)

The Pen tool creates anchor points with adjustable handles to make paths and closed objects. Click to make each point and hold down and drag the handles around to change the angle between them. The pen tool is a good way to create curved lines that are nice and smooth …

Illustrator Tools -Pen

Live Trace/ Image Trace Function

Okay so this isn’t technically part of the toolbar, but it can be a super duper helpful tool if you don’t have the time/inclination to draw all of your parts from scratch. Using image trace you can make a vector path from a drawing or pixel based image. Just remember to tick the ‘Ignore White’ box in the Image Trace Panel as it’s important for preventing doubled up lines. Check out the process below …

Illustrator Tools -LiveTrace

Type Tools

The Type Illustrator tools are great for adding standard and stylised text to your designs. Text can be a really great element in a design, but it can also be THE design. We often see text laser cut for signs and wedding props

Illustrator Tools -Type Tools

The Type Tool (T)

The Type tool is the most basic of the text tools, but it may be all you need if you’re making a laser cut sign. Simply select it and click on the artboard where you want to type. Don’t forget you have lots of options for fonts and styles, find them under ‘Window > Type’ …

Illustrator Tools -Type

Area Type Tool

Ever wanted to make a shape filled with text? This tool takes away all the hard work of trying to fit it all in. Instead of nudging letters around you can simply click in an object using the area Type tool and then write your text. This could be a great tool to use when making unique wedding invitations cut to a special shape …

Illustrator Tools - Area Type

Don’t Forget To Convert Fonts To Paths For Laser Cutting

Any text you use in your design file needs to be converted to paths. This way the laser cutter will follow your design correctly, regardless of whether or not it has the font installed.

This is as simple as selecting your text and then choosing ‘Type > Create Outlines’ from the top menu. You won’t be able to edit the text once you’ve done this, so do it last after your spell check …

Illustrator Tools - Convert Fonts

Offset Tool

Some fonts can be quite skinny so It’s also a good idea to check your features are thick enough for laser cutting. As a general rule, for engraving keep features above 0.3mm wide and for cutting keep features above 1mm wide. If you have a super skinny font, you can thicken it using Illustrator’s handy Offset tool …

Illustrator Tools - Offset

Painting Tools

These Illustrator tools relate to the look of your vector paths. Painting tools are unique in that they are used for both selecting and creating paths.

Paintbrush Tool (B)

The Paintbrush tool allows you to create a smooth path by clicking and dragging completely freehand shapes. It’s a nice tool for shapes you want to have a really organic form to them. This tool is usually best for the engraving in your design as the lines tend to be quite thin. When laser cutting designs, you’ll need to convert strokes to fills for area/raster engraving. To turn a black stroke into a filled shape in Illustrator, select your line and use the ‘Object > Path > Outline Stroke’ command. We don’t recommend converting lines that are less than 0.5mm in stroke weight …

Illustrator Tools -Paintbrush

Eyedropper Tool (I)

The Eyedropper tool samples and applies color, type, and appearance attributes, including effects, from objects to the one you have selected. For laser cutting designs this is helpful for applying the same settings to all the parts you want cut or engraved …

Illustrator Tools - Eyedropper

Reshaping Tools

The Reshaping Illustrator tools help you change the shape and layout of objects. These are helpful for aligning shapes to make your design layout efficient to cut.

Rotate Tool (R)

The Rotate tool in Illustrator lets you twist parts around on the spot. Just keep in mind vertical and horizontal lines are simpler and faster for lasers to cut so try and keep things straight if you can …

Illustrator Tools - Rotate

Reflect tool (O)

This tool helps you perfectly reflect your parts. For laser cutting, this can come in handy if you want to engrave clear/tint materials like acrylic from the back and have it readable from the front …

Illustrator Tools - Reflect02

Pathfinder Tools

The Pathfinder tools aren’t found on the standard tools panel, but they can be really helpful for combining shapes in Illustrator. Things like appearances and clipping masks don’t play well with lasers, so you often need to use pathfinder tools to adjust your forms instead. Check out our other post on how to merge shapes in illustrator …

Illustrator Tools - Pathfinder

Clean Up Tool

Here is another tool that isn’t in the main toolbar, but helps get rid of pesky bits that aren’t great when laser cut. Things like stray anchor points might not be easily visible on screen, but can cause ugly marks being cut or engraved if not removed. Don’t worry though we’ve written all about how to run an Illustrator clean up to avoid this …

Illustrator Tools - Clean Up

Now It’s Your Turn To Play With Adobe Illustrator Tools!

I quite like to just open up new software and click around to see what happens, but if you want more structure there are lots of great tutorials listed at Creative Blog. You can also check out an image depicting the full breakdown of all the tools in the panel over at Adobe. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can even find some of Illustrator’s lesser known tools at Bittbox. Everyone learns differently so all of these avenues are a great start. We hope this guide helps you make some awesome stuff in Illustrator. If you’d like to see us add any specific tools to the list please comment below!


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