A beginner's guide to Adobe Illustrator: colorfy this mess!

Feb 18 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

If you've been doing your homework, then you now know how to make a shape and mess with it. We've established the difference between the black and white selector arrows already, so you're ready for the next step. Let's add sparkle color!

Break out your boring black box again. Got it?

Good. Using the black arrow, click on it so it is selected. At the bottom of your toolbar there should be two overlapping boxes, one that is "empty" or white, and one that has a thick black border. Double click the empty one and a color palate should show up. By selecting a color here, you will fill your box with that color.

Voila! You should also see that there remains a black border around your box. Making sure you have the box selected, double click the toolbar box with the thick border and select another color.

Boom! Now that we have offended color blind people or anyone with taste with our color choice, let's look at the difference between a white box and an empty box. Draw a second box that overlaps with the first and turn the inside white, using the fill color tool described above.

Because we have a white background, when we made the first box it looked as though it might be empty, but it was actually filled with white. The overlap between these boxes makes that clear. So how do we get rid of the white and make it really empty? Go back to your toolbar and look for the three little boxes below the two we have been using to add color. The left one is white and is the fill tool. By clicking on that box you are requesting that the object you have selected be filled with whatever color you chose. The middle one is the gradient tool (which is a PITA, but that's another story) and the right box has a red line through it. This box is how you get rid of either the fill or the border. Select the white box you have drawn in your document and then look at the overlapping color boxes in the toolbar. If the solid one is on top of the border one, then click the box below that with the red line through it. If the border box is on top, then click the fill box so it is on top and do the same.

We're left with an "empty" shape that is now transparent to the object behind. Now, say you want to move the rear object to the front. Select the rear box and go up to Object -> Arrange -> Bring to Front.

Now you can create and manipulate objects, add and subtract color and arrange object front to back. You're practically ready to be a graphic artist. Next week we will get into the alignment tools and how to make things look more precise than doing things free hand.

5 responses so far

  • Rad Scientist says:

    PLS, this series of posts is so great it has inspired me to
    de-lurk to say thank you! I have made figures in Illustrator before
    many times and feel like I have to learn anew every damn time, and
    I have also NEVER been able to figure out those little boxes and
    why sometimes I can make things change color and sometimes I can't.
    So thank you!

  • chall says:

    Sweet!! 🙂

    happy weekend, I can colour boxes! (if I had AI that is....)

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm glad it is helping some people, because I'm starting to refer to these posts as "My little traffic killas"

    I do it for the community service.

  • Isabel says:


  • Vera says:

    I like the posts! I decided to try illustrator since I like to make little diagrams for presentations. Making diagrams in powerpoint is a pain.
    But illustrator is scary so I didn't try it-now I can already do pretty much everything I could do with powerpoint-I guess lines is the only thing left. And with better curves, alignment, and size control!

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