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What is Adobe® Illustrator®?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated May 16, 2024
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Adobe® Illustrator® is computer software that enables users to design, modify and edit vector graphics images from a computer and save them as files into a number of vector graphics formats. These formats are indicated by the file extension letters after the file name. The most popular formats are Encapsulated PostScript (EPS), Portable Document Format (PDF), Windows® Metafile (WMF), Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Vector Markup Language (VML). The use of mathematical equations to generate points, lines, curves and other shapes is a difference between Adobe® Illustrator® and other graphics software programs on the market. This technique is known in the jargon of the industry as "geometrical primitives" and is the basis of vector graphics.

Contained within the software are a range of tools designed to allow a smooth interface between the user and the program. Using these tools, a competent operator can create brilliantly colored artwork, cartoon drawings and all kinds of illustrations and graphic material. The developers of Adobe® Illustrator® kept terminology relatively simple for users by using familiar words such as text, blend, trace, pen, brush and mesh.

There are many functions that allow users to create unique and varied graphics using this program. Various effects, like swooshes, swirls, curls and ribbons are available, and the 3D Effect tool creates objects, logos, graphs and other pictures that seem to stand out from the page. The Art Brush tool allows the user to draw comic book-style strokes quickly and easily. Irregular edges can be added to an illustration using the Zig Zag tool, creating an effect like a postage stamp.

Adobe® Illustrator® contains the time-saving template function used by many other programs. Custom templates included in the software assist the user by acting as prompts when original work is being created. Users' own illustrations can also be saved as templates to be recalled and used with subsequent artwork. This allows the basic effects from the original illustration to be quickly adapted and edited to create an original piece, without having to start from a blank page. Settings, colors, strokes and other effects are retained in the template, and can be quickly changed to save time, while allowing the user to produce something that looks different from the original.

While Adobe® Illustrator® is a versatile program used by millions of people worldwide, it is not the easiest software to learn. Computer users new to the program may find it challenging, but those who enjoy creating illustrations and designs should enjoy that challenge. Training and the use of online tutorials should solve these issues and enable new Adobe® Illustrator® users to unleash their creative talents.

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Discussion Comments
By softener — On May 20, 2011

@Illych - I use Live Trace extensively as well to make stencils. You can use it to separate photographs into a selected number of different colors and then separate each color to print and make a stencil out of. I've done four color stencilled works of photographs onto canvas and they make great decorations for the wall of my room.

I was lucky to get a copy of Illustrator cheap with an educational discount, so don't be put off by the seemingly high price of the software if you happen to be a student. It's a powerful tool and just about essential for any serious illustrator nowadays, although that's certainly not a slant on traditional illustrators who work with non-digital media.

By Illych — On May 19, 2011

Newer versions of Illustrator (introduced in CS2, then refined in Illustrator CS3, CS4 and CS5) include an option called Live Trace which has been extremely useful to me since it was first introduced. Live Trace gives you the option to convert any kind of drawing or photograph into vector art; this means you can draw something on paper and scan it in and convert it into vector art, meaning you can fix mistakes, edit colors, etc. The smooth tool comes in handy here too.

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