How to Use Warp Type in Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is capable of treating text as a graphic element much as anything we draw with any of the tools, so the ability to warp type shouldn’t come as a surprise. Type on a path is another feature in the same ballpark (check my previous post).

Warp type starting point

The basic starting point is the same. We use the Type tool, usually, to create the piece of text we need. We then have to tell the program to treat it as a graphic element rather than a text box per se. (This allows the Warp Type control to show.) We do this by switching to the Selection tool (black arrow) and clicking the text. We see the box selected overall, not just the text within it.

Warp type option

If we then look up at the Options panel, we have options specific to the text box. One of them will be the curved grid at right; this is the Warp Type button. It’ll say “Make Envelope”, and bring up a box called Warp Options, but it’s the right tool.

Warp type dialog box

In the dialog box, we have to select a style of warping, vertical or horizontal, the percentage of “bend” (how much to warp type), and the percentage of horizontal and vertical distortion. This is where one often has to pause and ask “How much of this, or that, should I apply?” Sometimes, the answer is given by whatever requirements were written up by the client or recipient. Or one can experiment and see what looks good aesthetically, if permitted.

Warp type result

There are a few guideline-type points to think about, though. 1) Don’t distort the text beyond readability. It defeats the purpose. 2) If you can, give some thought to the choice of font. This too can affect the readability, as fancier fonts with Warp Type running can look like tangled fishnet. 3) Most of the dialogs in the Creative Suite/Cloud have Preview checkboxes so we can play and see a live preview. Use them, by all means.

(This all works with type on a path, too. Whether it’s a good idea to do this depends on your artistic goals. But you can certainly give it a go.)

And although there is no way I know (except by creating actions) to repeat a Warp Type setup in the dialog box, you can write down any particularly good combinations for later. Or, as I said, create an action to record the details. Just remember NOT to record the selection of the text box—this way you can apply the action to any text box.

Use Type on a Path in Adobe Illustrator

The use of type on a path is an interesting cross between text and graphics, and allows text to be more than just a means of conveying information in Illustrator. But in order to use the feature correctly, one has to understand a couple of things about how it behaves.

First, we usually need to create the shape which we’ll use as a baseline, in the sense that typography uses the term—the line on which the text sits.

Type on a path

Then, we select the Type on a Path tool (in the same flyout as the regular Type tool). Position the cursor on the edge of the shape. When the “squiggle” that marks the hotspot of the cursor is on the line, we can click and type.

Once we click, we can also do most of the basic things we expect with text. We can change font, size, color, alignment, and so on.

Type on a path brackets

There are a couple of controls we need to know about, as well. They’re called brackets, and they control where the text is on the path. The two outer ones are the bounds of where the text can be; we can adjust them to show or hide the ends of the text. The middle one lets you slide the text along the path, left or right, till it gets where you want it. We usually use the Direct Selection tool to work with them. Grab carefully—watch for the cursor change to tell you when your cursor is on the control.

Type on a path options

We can also go to the Type menu > Type On A Path > Type On A Path Options command, and change how the text sits on the path. These are interesting, and can add a little pizzazz to text if you need it.

Type on a path flip

Dragging the bracket to the opposite side of the path will indeed flip the text “over”, another potentially useful trick.

One peculiarity, though. Sometimes, when we first click the path (especially if it’s closed), the insertion point can appear halfway round from where we click. So we drag the center bracket round to where we want the type on a path. (After all this time, I still don’t know why this is the case, but better to be aware.)

Many people tell me they find using guidelines helpful when precision placement of text is important. Dragging the path object to the right size, placing it carefully, and remembering it loses color when we add the text (we can click with the Direct Selection tool later to add it in again) are all things one should practice when working with type on a path.

How to Create a Gradient in Adobe Illustrator

The recent post on meshes in Illustrator kind of leads into a related subject, namely the gradient. Sometimes meshes aren’t necessary, or a little too complicated to set up, but there’s still a need for (at least simulated) shading, and gradients can provide some of this. They take a few steps, but they’re worth it.

(I will mention before I start that the process is a little different than in Photoshop; the nature of the use of gradients is different in each program.)

Gradient panel

Once the file is open, we select the shape we want to put the gradient in, bring up the panel (Window menu–>Gradient), and click the basic gradient to apply it. We can select either Linear (basically bands of color) or Radial (sunburst/circles of color) at the top right of the panel, but the main part of the process is the same from there.

Gradient ramp

Editing the gradient involves the horizontal strip near the bottom of the panel, called the gradient ramp. The house-like shapes below it are color stops; they tell us what colors are in it. The diamonds above are color midpoints, which show where the halfway mark is between two colors. Both of these can be moved, though the midpoints can’t be removed as they automatically show between any pair of colors on the ramp.

Edit gradient

To add colors, we click anywhere immediately below the gradient ramp to add another stop. Double-clicking on the new stop brings up the color controls, where we can use an existing swatch, or create a new color from the sliders. We can even choose other color systems from the dropdown menu at the top right of the controls. Editing existing colors works exactly the same way.  (Tried finding out how many colors I could put in. It got boring around fifty….) Then, if necessary, drag the midpoints to adjust where colors shade from one to another.

Removing colors is easy—just drag the color stop straight down about a half inch, and let go.

Gradient angle

Usually, once we set up the gradient colors, we change the angle if we want. The control is almost dead center, and allows use of the dropdown or typing the angle we want. It’s even possible to adjust the opacity of a color stop, using the control at bottom. According to my students, this is somewhat less common, but certainly invites experiment. Finally, the Location control positions the color stop precisely, if needed.

Using the Mesh Tool in Illustrator-Basics

The Mesh tool gives the Illustrator artist a capability that some people think doesn’t exist in this program—the ability to shade an object, for example if one wants to make something look three-dimensional, solid, curved, etc. This is fairly easy in Photoshop; what a lot of people don’t know is it’s only a little more work in Illustrator, and has easier adjustability to boot. 😊

Shape before mesh

The first thing is to create the outline of the object. I’ve laid out a simple vase-ish kind of shape for demonstration. It’s supposed to narrow down at the neck and bulge out a bit near the base. Now, art theory says that if part of an object “protrudes” toward the viewer, we paint it a little lighter as more light would strike it (the end of the nose, for example). And a part that “recedes” (say, the space under the chin) would be shadowed, and therefore a little darker.

Adding mesh

So we select the object, select the Mesh tool, and click inside it, usually near the center. This puts one horizontal and one vertical mesh line on it. We can then add more by clicking on either of those, as many as we want. The real-life example might be looking at a globe of the Earth, seeing the latitude and longitude lines that make it “look” round even aside from seeing the highlights and shadows on it—the lines help us perceive its shape.

Using mesh

But that isn’t the real power here. We can now use the Direct Selection tool and click on an anchor point where mesh lines meet, and add another fill color that leaks or diffuses out from the selected anchor point(s). If you imagine a white towel absorbing fruit punch, or grape juice, a little here or there, you have the idea. And the control handles emerging from the anchor points not only control the shape of the lines, but how far the color spreads from the anchor. And the best part is, you can always go back and adjust some more. Add mesh lines, add colors, remove them, adjust the shapes, all as you like.

Some time back, the cover of the box for Adobe Illustrator showed a reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the “Venus on the Half-Shell”), done in the program. What I did here, with some refinement, is how all the delicate flesh tones and shadings were done to almost exactly duplicate Botticelli’s work. Can we do “real” art in Illustrator? With meshes, I think we can.

How to Select Precise Colors with Pickers and Libraries

More than ever in today’s business world, having one’s company stand out from the competition is important; product branding, and the use of color in particular, is integral to this.

Product branding is the term we normally use to describe a distinctive scheme of color choices, font choices, logo, etc. which give a company a unique “look”. Coca-Cola, John Deere, Five Guys (a burger chain), Panera—any company at all. So how can a company select—and use consistently—any of these, particularly color?

Access to colors     Choosing colors

There are at least two methods we can use, at least in a majority of programs. One, which is pretty universal in business software, is the so-called “color picker” in its various forms. In PowerPoint, for instance, one can create or select a shape, go to the Home tab in the Ribbon, and on the right side click the Shape Fill dropdown. From there, one can click the More Colors option, and in the Custom section, enter the numbers which represent the RGB (Red-Green-Blue) or HSL (Hue-Saturation-Lightness) values for a company color. We don’t see the other main color system, CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black), as we print hard copy from PowerPoint slides comparatively rarely. But most companies can give someone CMYK values which can convert to RGB without too much trouble.

In other programs, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, we can indeed enter CMYK values directly; since these are often what businesses use for print ads, they work fine.

But we can go further; we can also use one of the many color libraries available, such as Pantone, Toyo, Trumatch, Focoltone, ANPA Color, and others. These are recognized color standards worldwide. They guarantee that printed material will be as accurate to particular colors as possible.

Photoshop colors     Color picker

Getting to the Color Picker in, say, Photoshop or Illustrator, is as simple as clicking the foreground or background color swatch. Once the dialog box is up, one can enter HSB (Hue-Saturation-Brightness), RGB, CMYK, or even Lab (a system in existence since 1931) numbers. And to get to the color libraries, simply clicking the button of that name on the right side of the picker will jump the user directly to them. That’s where most company colors are, nowadays.

Colors in libraries

Though Pantone is probably the most recognized name in the business, the important thing is one can select the appropriate library, then the color, usually by number or letter, and click OK. It  is then ready to use. In many cases, it will automatically add to the user’s swatches, or can be easily dragged into same. The main downside, as it were, is that the colors one brings in normally save at the document level, so a custom color library must occasionally be saved outside the document one is working in to be more widely available. But most programs that have color library selections allow for this.

Using the Direct Selection Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Of all the tools in Illustrator, among the most critical are the selection tools. And even though the Group Selection tool is a little more complicated in its function, the Direct Selection tool is used more frequently. So understanding its use is at least as important.

The Direct Selection tool’s job is to allow the user to work with individual anchor points and control handles, as opposed to the “main” Selection tool, which works with an object as a whole.

Direct Selection 1

The basic technique is simple enough. Once an object is created, one can switch to the Direct Selection tool, click, on an anchor point, and then either move it or work with the control handles on it, if any, that tell the curve of the line what to do. But what some people have said is, they have trouble selecting the anchor point even when they know where it is, because no matter how much they zoom in (64000%? Really?), it never gets bigger.

Direct Selection drag

Luckily, there are a couple of features which can help. One is the ability to drag a small selection box on a part of the shape near where the anchor point should be, using the tool; doing this will show nearby anchor points and make it easier to see where they are.

Mouse Over pref

Another is in the Selection and Anchor Display section of the program preferences: a checkbox called Highlight Anchors on Mouse Over. Having made some anchor points visible, if one slides the tool point within a few pixels of one, the program enlarges the anchor point, and lets the user click on it. So one’s aim need not be perfect.

Hover on anchor point

For a good number of things one needs to do in Illustrator, selecting all or part of a shape, or group of shapes, is a must-have technique. Therefore, knowing some of the tricks for the tools doing it, especially the Direct Selection tool, can make the job much easier.

Using the Appearance Panel in Illustrator CC 2018

If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone who worked on Adobe Illustrator had a crush on the idea of layers, because they appear not only in the Layers panel, but in the Appearance panel. There are no less than three places where the idea of layering, stacking, or something similar appears in this program—the Layers panel itself, the idea of Sub-layers, and Appearance.

The latter uses the concept a little differently. This panel shows data only for the object (or group) selected, and it’s things like fills, strokes, effects (such as drop shadows), and so on.

Appearance panel

If you have an object selected, you can show the Appearance panel (Window–>Appearance) to see how its attributes are set up. A key point is that the attributes are “stacked” from top to bottom the way you see them, so having a fill above another fill can block the lower one from being seen.


If this happens, you can adjust, say, the transparency/opacity of the upper to partly show the lower, or change the stacking order by dragging the item up or down as you would any layer, sublayer, or other component, or remove the upper one entirely.

Then, editing the attributes is quite straightforward; clicking or double-clicking on most items will bring up the appropriate dialog box, and from there it’s pure vanilla.


When a group is selected, any attribute you change, add, or remove in the panel will affect the group as a whole. In order to do something with one member of the group, you either have to ungroup and select the item in question or otherwise narrow the selection down. This is an example of the kind of step-by-step mindset one often has to develop working with these kinds of programs, but it’s not hard to do.

The normal issue one runs into in doing all this is keeping track of where to go to do what. Changing layers and stacking order of objects and groups is done in the Layers panel; changing the attributes of objects or groups in the Appearance panel. Jotting this sort of thing down initially can help.

Creating Custom Tools Panels in Illustrator CC 2018

I’ve gotten so used to the Tools panel (or Toolbox, as we old-timers call it) in Illustrator as it has been for years that although we can go from single- to double-column for convenience on smaller screens, I hardly ever think about it otherwise. But one feature in Illustrator CC 2018 which is both novel and very much a help is the ability to create one’s own Tools panels—that is, to create custom collections of tools as one needs.

We could do something like this with the panels themselves for quite some time, separating and recombining them as we like. This made possible the idea of the workspace, and Illustrator comes with a bunch of those preinstalled. But not too long ago, someone at Adobe realized it would be helpful to be able to do the same with tools—after all, we occasionally find we need what might seem arbitrary but logical (to a particular user) collections of tools for drawing, selecting, etc.

Luckily, it’s dead easy.

Window Menu

There doesn’t even need to be a document open, but it helps to know what you’ll usually need. Simply go to the Window menu, Tools, and on the submenu, click New Tools Panel.

Dialog Box

The dialog box will ask what you want to call it, and you can type any name you like—though if you need to create more than one (and you can put together as many as you need), it’s a good idea to use names that more or less describe what each will be for.


Once it has a name, the main bit is old as the hills. Drag and drop tools from the main Tools panel into the new one, in any order (a little planning for convenience might be helpful), and there you are. And since this is a program-level feature, not a document-level one, the new collection(s) will be there on that copy of Illustrator from that point on, whenever needed.

The Layers Panel in Illustrator–Tips and Tricks

In my last post, I mentioned that the Layers panel serves a more vital function in Photoshop than it does in Illustrator. No offense to Illustrator, of course! But there is a reason I said this.

In Illustrator, unless the user makes it happen, objects cannot “smear” together as if they were oil paint that doesn’t dry. So the need to separate things by layer for Photoshop-ish reasons does not exist. But the Layers panel in Illustrator does serve another, equally useful, function—that of organizer.

Doc and Layers Panel

In fact, there are two levels of organization we can see in a typical Illustrator document:

First, the layers themselves, which can be used to keep things together in the same fashion as having two or three storeys in a house. A real-life example might be a document intended for publication in Canada, which requires many documents, especially legal ones, to be bilingual. If one places all the graphics in one layer, all the French text in a second, and all the English in a third, one can easily show or hide the appropriate text for printing two versions of the document, and avoid having to create two separate documents, which would take rather more space.

Basic Layers

Second, within each layer, there can be objects whose “stacking order” (in which one object is above or below another) determines what we see or don’t see of each object. The layers’ stacking order can be changed by simply dragging any layer up or down within the Layers panel. Ditto the objects within each layer. So one might describe the Layers panel as a stack of stacks.

Layers and Stacking Order

The only downside to this story is that it can get a little complicated, especially when one has grouped objects within the layers. Groups, however, show themselves by indenting the objects within the group, and having twist/folding arrows to open or close the group, allowing objects within the group to be moved up and down within them.

But one point remains the same between Illustrator and Photoshop: Don’t create more layers than you need, for whatever reason. Each layer is almost a separate document within the file, and takes up a significant amount of room, so be sparing.

How to Use the Selection Tools in Illustrator

Occasionally, new users of Illustrator have trouble understanding the selection tools; there are three, and each does something different. So knowing which to use for what is important. It’s not that hard to get the hang, with a little practice.

Main Selection Tool

The main Selection tool, usually referred to as just that, allows the user to select the entire object. For doing anything to the object as a whole, like changing fill color, edge color, etc., this is good. Furthermore, if one wants to change the object’s dimensions or position, it has to be selected as a whole object. So the Selection tool works for this.

Direct Selection Tool

The Direct Selection tool serves another purpose. If one wants to work on a part of the object, one anchor point, or one segment of the path which makes up the border, this would be the right tool. With the Direct Selection tool, one has to be a little more precise in where to click. Doing so on the anchor point works with that anchor point and the line segments to either side. Clicking on a line segment also selects the adjacent anchor points. This tool is more specific, and gives tighter control over selection. One can also drag to create what’s called a selection box around multiple anchor points, or any part of the object, to work with that part or parts.

Group Selection Tool 1  Group Selection Tool 2  Group Selection Tool 3

The Group Selection tool is a bit more complex, but it too has a method to the madness. When several objects need to stay in the same place relative to each other, they can be selected and grouped. Once they are, the Group Selection tool can select one object within the group (with the first click), a group within several groups (second click), or a set of groups together (third click). Again, the main problem some new users have is to click carefully, as the program simply interprets the clicks regardless. (We all sometimes double-click almost by reflex these days. After working with this program since the late Eighties, that bit still trips me up sometimes, so it’s not the user’s fault.)

The Anchor Point Tool in Illustrator

When working in Illustrator, drawing with the Pen tool (producing Bezier curves) is a mainstay of many documents. (And in a couple other graphics programs, too.) But sometimes the tools that go with the Pen take a little time to get comfortable with. And the one I’ve been told is frankly a little confusing is the Anchor Point tool (which used to be known as the Convert Anchor Point tool, describing what it does).

You may know there are three main kinds of anchor points: Curve points, that have a smooth curve going in and coming out; Corner points, which have a sharp angle between two straight line segments; “Hybrid” points, curved on one side, straight on the other. Converting between them is easy, but using the tool may take a little practice.

Let’s say you want to convert from Corner to Curve.

Start with the Anchor Point tool

Switch to the Anchor Point tool, find the anchor point, put the sharp end of the V on it, hold down the mouse button, and drag. As you drag, you “draw out” control handles, which tell the curve what to do.

Drag to create handles

Some people think they need to do this and get them pointing in the right direction at the same time. Not necessary, though you can if you want.

The opposite is even simpler. To go from Curve to Corner, use the Anchor Point tool to simply click on the curve anchor point, and the control handles disappear. Done.

It’s creating a hybrid point that sometimes causes a little trouble, but it’s not really hard. Usually it’s easiest to create a Curve point first. Then switch to the Anchor Point tool, put the point of the V on the end of the control handle you want to get rid of, and click. (Don’t drag, though.)

Remove a handle

That side now becomes the Corner side, as it were. Dragging from the anchor point brings both handles back.

You can even “break” the connection between the two handles and simply grab one with the A.P.T., give a short drag clockwise or counterclockwise, and the two handles are now independent of each other.

Break handle connection

Or hold down the Alt key, and click a “broken” handle to restore the connection so the two now stay in a straight line again.

Practicing a little with the tool usually makes all this pretty easy. Just take your time.