Illustrator CC 2014 brings graphic designers some cool new improvements to enhance the “drawing” experience of this vector program. I’ve always loved using Illustrator, although the disconnect between the feeling of drawing on paper vs. fashioning a vector shape onscreen can seem awkward. The new Illustrator perks: a more user-friendly Pen and Pencil tool and the new Live Shapes/Corners functionality give much more accessible controls to vector drawing and design. The best part of these new improvements? They are very intuitive. While an explanation or overview is helpful to know what has changed, the best way to understand them is to just get in there and create! The new tweaks will become second nature to a user with previous Illustrator experience in no time.
Live Corners – what a great enhancement for drawing and manipulating shapes! While this feature does nothing that was not possible in earlier versions of Illustrator, the sense of control is now much more integrated into the actual drawing process. Selecting any shape, or point on a shape, with the Direct Selection tool will reveal an on-art control point or “inset widget” at each of the corners. You can drag that widget to alter the shape of the corner. Double clicking the widget will open your dialog box for controls over the corner style (round, inverted round or chamfered), the corner radius dimension, and rounding that is Absolute or Relative. Option (or Alt) clicking will toggle between the three styles. Adobe offers some easy online video tutorials to cover all these features, but the process is so intuitive, just playing around with the new features is your best teacher. (BTW, I learned a new word with that “chamfered” corner feature.)
The Pencil tool, in CC 2014, has advanced away from being more of a freestyle drawing tool often relegated to imprecise sketching and moved more toward a companion of the Pen tool. Double clicking the Pencil tool in the Tools palette will bring up its Options where you can set the fidelity of the line you are creating to the actual movement of your cursor. This is a great way to smooth curves when needed, or to create sketchy curves when that is point. Holding down your Option (or Alt) key will constrain the Pencil tool to a straight line; holding down the Command (or Ctrl) key will constrain it to horizontal, vertical or 45° angles. As you can see, this is very much like the Pen tool. The Pencil tool also toggles out to access the Smooth and the Path Erase tools. The Smooth tool is a handy way to touch up a path shape with which you aren’t quite happy. It subtracts excess points and contours to create a smoother shape. The Path Erase tool is your eraser, pure and simple – even stopping mid-segment to create a new end point.
The CC 2014 Pen tool sports some major enhancements as well. One change you will notice right away is the Pen tool Path Preview. When drawing a shape, it is helpful to see exactly where the path will fall before dropping the point onto the document; this new tool previews that path for you with a colored preview line extending from the last point dropped to the position of the pen before you click in a new point. Adobe also gave us advancements on the manipulation of anchor points: repair broken anchor point handles, draw uneven handles when needed, and other new ways to finesse closing the shape of a path without distorting your drawing. The Pen tool in Illustrator has always been one of those tools that really needs hands-on practice to understand. Often the description of what or how the tool works is longer and much more confusing than the actual process of using it. So dive in – the new features will become second nature as you use the tools and incorporate the new perks into your work routine.
Launching Illustrator CC 2014 will bring up a Welcome screen that does a great job in introducing everything you need to know: the tabs for New Features, Getting Started, and Tips & Techniques include video tutorials and links to the great online library of Adobe help documents. (You can always access this screen when needed by going to Help – Welcome in the menu bar.) Have fun making some great vectors.