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Vector Artwork Fundamentals in Illustrator CS5

A lot of users begin digging into Illustrator and either don't like it, find it difficult to use, or don't really understand exactly what's happening. I put together this article to help explain some of the fundamentals of vector artwork in Illustrator. So if you're just starting out, this will definitely clear things up!

01 - Everything's Just Simple Lines and Points

We've all played connect-the-dots, and that's really how objects are created in Illustrator. Because everything's vector, that means that our objects are created out of just two elements: paths and anchor points. A path is a line that appears between two anchor points; and an anchor point appears whenever the path changes direction.

In fact, to help you along, choose View > Smart Guides. Smart Guides in Illustrator help you point out the different elements on your screen, like paths and anchor points.

02 - Viewing Artwork Wireframes

Even though you may have a full color layout, a goofy cartoon, or a logo you're working on for a project, again, everything boils down to paths and anchor points. With a piece of artwork open, try choosing View > Outline. This takes you into Illustrator's wireframe view, where no colors, special effects, or any other "artwork dress up" is displayed. All we get here is the skeletal structure -- paths and anchor points!

Once in a while, I'll flip over to the Outline view to see how things are looking. Often, selecting objects that are overlapping other objects are much easier to select in Outline view, too. When I'm ready to continue working on my full color piece, I'll simply choose View > Preview.

03 - Different Types of Anchor Points

There are three different types of anchor points that you should know about, especially if you want to get the most out of Illustrator. First, we have straight anchor points. Think of these as plain vanilla anchor points, which are used for straight path segments. Objects like squares, rectangles, and triangles all have straight lines; therefore all the anchor points used in these objects are straight anchor points.

Next, we have curved anchor points. These fellas are used whenever curved paths are used, like in arches, ovals, and circles. What's interesting to note about these guys is that they have lines coming off of them called direction lines. Direction lines control the path's curve, and they sort of work like a teeter totter. Pull one side in one direction, and the other side moves in the opposite direction.

The third and final type of anchor point is called a combination anchor point, or a combo anchor point. These guys make use of both straight and curved paths, and are often used in more specialized cases.

04 - Conclusion

Although this has been a very brief look at some of the vector fundamentals in Illustrator, I hope you've been able to pick up a few things to make your Illustrator adventures much more enjoyable!

Geoff Blake

Geoff Blake | Articles by this author

Geoff Blake is a book author, video presenter, designer, and visual artist. As an in demand live-on-stage software educator since 1997, Geoff has taught desktop publishing, web design and graphics courses all over North America and is regarded as an expert in Adobe's Creative Suite applications, as well as in HTML, CSS, WordPress, and related technologies. With his humorous, non-jargonny approach, Geoff produces highly regarded articles, video training and DVDs, and regularly contributes to top industry magazines and websites.

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