17 Tips that will save you time in Illustrator

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Save Time in Illustrator

Photo via Envato Elements

I've put together a list of 17 quick tips that will help you save time when using Illustrator, and increase productivity as well. For some of you, this may mean breaking a habit or two, but in the long run, it's well worth exploring the options of the Illustrator interface if it means saving time (measured in clicks and curse phrases, in my case), especially when it comes to “selection” methods. Some of these are obvious, and some may not be, but I want to help enlighten even the most casual of Illustrator jockeys. In no particular order. . .

While working in adobe illustrator, you may suffer from many difficulties as things get as complex as you get creative and try to bring thoughts into action. But certain tools and tips will help you redefine your skills and do the complex things quickly in no time. In this tutorial, you will come to know about different keyboard shortcuts, palettes, and a variety of selection tools. The selection has always been the prime focus of all the illustrator tools and tricks. These tips are about particular tools of Photoshop and quicker ways to do different things on Photoshop. These tips and tricks are used by top designers and experts frequently that is why I have suggested these tips and tricks. Some designers want to save the bulk of time somehow so that they can do more of it and earn more money through freelancing. That is possible only if they learn these few tips and tricks. Experienced designers always put themselves one hand advanced than other designers. This blog serves to get you familiar with all the tools and customizations in Photoshop.

1. Select all shapes with the same fill or stroke, or both.

If you go to the “Select” menu and click on “Same,” you can instantly select ALL of the shapes with that same fill color, stroke color, or both, in a single click! I love this feature and I find myself using it more and more every day. It comes in handy, especially when editing a file received from a client when trying to prepare for printing (color matching to a Pantone). Also if you make a last minute color scheme decision, you can easily update all of your shapes at once. Other “select same” options include Blending Mode, Opacity, and Stroke Weight. This feature may have been hidden from you till now but it is pretty useful as it enables you to categorize all the shapes and colors. These simple shortcuts will help you do the selection and other kinds of stuff in a quick and fashionable manner. These tricks will save your time especially when you are working on long projects and you have little time to focus on the side tactics. Some of the illustrator features are not visible clearly and users never get any advantage of them. These features are designed to save time and do complicated things in a smart way.

Fill Color

2. Use the “White Arrow” to select individual paths within a group, without ungrouping.

Also known as the Direct Selection Tool, you can use the white arrow to select individual shapes, paths, and points, within a group of shapes, without ungrouping. Notice if you use the “Black Arrow,” or (standard) Selection Tool, all of the shapes within the group are selected at once. Switch to the Direct Selection Tool and click on a single shape within that group, and you can instantly change it's filled, or stroke, or whatever (even drag its position), without ever ungrouping anything. Another illustrator hack that simplifies the selection process. Selecting the desired shapes or portion has always been the prime concern and problem for the newbies. There are several illustrator hacks available which simplify the selection process.

Example: (A group of shapes that make up a button)

Clicking on the blue shape with the Black Arrow. . .

Blue button shape

Clicking on the blue shape with the White Arrow. . .

2nd Blue Shape

3. Use the Layers Palette to select paths within a group.

Instead of constantly grouping and ungrouping, you can easily select an individual path or shape in the Layers palette and change whatever you want (fill, stroke, etc) without ungrouping anything. This not only saves you a little bit of time, but it also keeps your shapes aligned the way you want them. To select an individual path, click on the circle icon in the corresponding path sublayer. (this is also a good way to FIND paths)

Selecting paths from the layers palette

4. Learn to “Lock” shapes for selection purposes.

A lot of times I find myself stacking shapes and paths on top of each other to achieve the effect I want. Sometimes it can be frustrating when trying to select paths at different depths in this case. An easy way to help your stacked selection woes is to lock the shapes you don't want to select. You can do this by hitting Control + 2 (PC) or Command + 2 (Mac). instead of right clicking on the top shape and navigating to “Select Next Object Below,” just lock the top shape and you can select the one below every time with one click. You can also find Lock in the Object menu at the top, and as an Icon (above) in the Layers palette. You can use the selection process which you find easy and convenient to use.

5. “Detach” tools that you use on a regular basis.

Some of the tools in the Illustrator tools palette are detachable. You can pluck them off of the main tools palette to display the main tool, as well as all of the sub-tools, to gain easier access to them as a stand-alone palette. (note: this doesn't apply to ALL of the tools in the Illustrator toolbar) Simply click and hold on the desired tool, then mouse over to the arrow on the right to “detach.” Now you can move the tool anywhere in your workspace. This is just like creating your own menu or re-organizing the whole illustrator software.

Detatch Palette
Illustrator tips 19

6. You can use the white arrow to adjust path curves, without ever touching the “Handlebars.”

This one might not be used as much as the others but it is good to know none-the-less. You can select (using the White Arrow) a line segment between 2 points on a path, and manipulate its Bezier curve by dragging, without messing with the anchor points at all.

Illustrator tips 3
Manipulate Bezier Curve
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7. Take advantage of the Layers palette and grouping.

Let's say you have a group of objects and you just created a brand new shape that you want to be inside that group, at a certain depth. Instead of ungrouping and using keyboard shortcuts to control depth (which you can't really see any way in large groups), drag the path to the appropriate depth in the layers palette, and it is automatically included in your grouped object. Every beginner loves to hear some tips from the experienced designers. The more knowledge you have, easier it will be for you to finish the task under the belt. These are the tips and suggestions that the experienced designers have learned over the course of their career and these tips saved them from making blunders. Learning about new software is just like learning about the new language and practicing these tips in your work will make you do different things quickly. There, you just saved at least 3 steps.

8. Make the “Align” palette your best friend.

If you don't use the Align palette, you definitely should check it out. It makes guides obsolete in many cases and gives you more freedom to let the creativity flow freely, while you worry about aligning later. Aligning is a useful aspect in several cases when you intend to classify or crop the image.

Align Palette

9. Always make sure your Clipping Mask is on top.

When using clipping masks, the path that is doing the masking has to be on top of anything it is going to clip. The reason this is in a “time saving” list is because if you don't have your (most of the time) relatively simple clipping mask path on top: When you try to apply it and the rest of your shapes are very complex, Illustrator will either crash or tell you it is going to and give you an option to cancel. Not crashing Illustrator qualifies as saving time in my book (not to mention all the lost work that you can't get back if you didn't save recently), and making sure your clipping mask is on top will help you have less crashes.

10. Save your own custom swatch library.

If you're like me, you hate unwanted swatches that you never use, getting in your way. Not only do you never use these default swatches, but it also makes it harder to find your own swatches that you've just added. If you take a few minutes and make a custom swatch set, then save the set as a swatch library, you can load your most used colors in a couple of clicks, whenever you want, with any file open. Don't sift through your hard drive to open a file just to get a color and bog down your memory even more. A few minutes setting up your favorite swatches could save you hours in the long run.

Saving a custom swatch library. . .

Saving a swatch
Save Palette as Swatch

Loading a custom swatch library. . .

Opening a swatch library

11. Create custom actions just like Photoshop.

You hear about Photoshop actions all the time, and how much time they save. Well, guess what, you can do exactly the same thing in Illustrator, including “Button Mode.” (pictured) Again, this takes a few minutes, sometimes seconds to set up, but well worth it. A true time saver.


12. Join 2 endpoints with a keyboard shortcut.

I recommend keyboard shortcuts in general, but an uncommon one that I find extremely useful is joining endpoints. Simply select 2 endpoints (with the White Arrow) and key “Command + J” (Mac) or “Control + J” (PC) to join them to paths together. This may come in handy when doing custom typography or logo work, if you alter, slice, or customize intricate paths.

Example before and after. . .

2 Buttons

13. Quickly copy color with the “Eyedropper Tool.”

Another quick way to change the color of an object is to select the object you want to change and use the Eyedropper tool to grab the color from any other object on the artboard. Make sure that you have the correct attribute selected in the tools palette, (a stroke or fill) and click on the shape whose color you want to apply to the selected shape. This also applies to Type! If you have some new type and want to change it's style to some type you already have on the artboard, just use the Eyedropper on the type you want to mimic (when using the eyedropper on type, you know it is working when you see a small “T” next to the tool on rollover) and you type changes instantly. point size, font, color, everything. (simple color pluck pictured)

Blue button and green button
two green buttons

14. Change effects you have already applied in the Appearance palette.

Instead of hitting undo and re-applying filters and effects, open the Appearance palette and you can easily adjust the effects you've already applied to shapes. Yes, this will still re-apply the entire effect once you adjust any of the options, but the time-saving value here lies in having quick access to exactly what settings you previously applied.

Appearance palette

15. The fastest way to duplicate a shape.

This makes me want to kick 3 or 4 of my college professors in the face, but all you have to do to quickly duplicate a shape is hold down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) click on a shape, drag, and release. You should now have two identical shapes (also works with grouped shapes), while leaving the original intact, and with a few less keystrokes. Give it a year, it'll save some time in the long run, guaranteed; AND you don't have to look for it like when you paste a copy and it shows up in a random location. You control where the copy goes with your mouse, just don't let go of the option/alt key until you release the mouse.

16. Special characters via the “Glyph” palette.

Illustrator has a special character palette called “Glyph.” If you find yourself needing to use special characters on a regular basis, I suggest exploring this palette. You can even choose the font and variation at the bottom, as well as preview size.

Glyph palette

17. Get to know the “Pathfinder.”

If you don't know what the pathfinder is, you probably need to. It allows you to combine, subtract, and basically use shapes in Illustrator like cookie-cutters. This can mean eliminating grouped paths into a single path for easier selection and organization, as well as condensing overall file size in the bigger picture.


These illustrator hacks are worth-learning for sure. They will help you understand and grasp the illustrator knowledge in a better way.