When Adobe Illustrator debuted in 1986, the Voyager 2 spacecraft was still in our solar system and a man, kicked out of Apple, had just founded a small animation studio called Pixar.
Seventeen incarnations later, it still is the illustration tool of choice for graphic artists not on a budget. Now, Voyager 2 is one of the farthest man-made objects in space and Adobe Illustrator has found a permanent home in all the devices made by that Pixar guy.
If you’re starting to feel the first pangs of romance, ask yourself three common questions:
- Why should I learn Adobe Illustrator?
- Can I learn Adobe Illustrator without any drawing skills?
- Where can I learn Adobe Illustrator for free?
Reasons to Learn Adobe Illustrator
- You can give voice to your design ideas.
- You can design your own logos, business cards, and invitations.
- You can design your own PDF worksheets and boost productivity.
- You can make your own infographics – a powerful visual presentation tool.
- You can customize resizable vector objects and use them in your documents, charts, and presentations.
- You can use it to make your own custom T-shirts.
- You can use it for quickly wireframing concepts.
- You can draw lovely cartoons!
You Don’t Need Drawing Skills!
Drawing is a foundational skill if you want to become an all-round graphic designer, but a lack of it shouldn’t stop you from approaching Illustrator.
There are different types of graphic designs as well as different types of graphic designers. Adobe Illustrator is a versatile program that caters to a wide range of pursuits, including web designers and architectural planners.
Nancy Cleary, art director and publisher at Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, has an answer for those who doubt:
I learned quickly that in graphic design, all you need is the ability to quickly rough out a design concept.
And Adobe tells us all about the real world applications:
Actually, just about every industry uses Illustrator, from two-dimensional CAD designs in engineering fields to the greeting cards made by Hallmark. People designing watches use Illustrator, and people designing shoes use it too.
It’s the standard tool for apparel design, including T-shirts, and almost all packaging design work is done in Illustrator — such as, say, the label for a wine bottle or the packaging of your favorite orange juice.
It is true that an illustrator with drawing skills will have more opportunities, but it is equally true that a lack of drawing skills isn’t a make-or-break deal. It is important to have an aesthetic eye for good design and creative chops, mostly because today’s designers rely more on the computer than on traditional drawing techniques.
A foundation built on design knowledge helps, however, so don’t stop practicing your drawing.
8 Free Learning Resources for Illustrator
With your confidence restored, let’s dive into the best tutorial sites that can help us begin Adobe Illustrator for free. I have included examples of basic tutorials that anyone can do. The advanced tutorials are meant to showcase just what is possible with this software.
Requirements include an installed copy of Adobe Illustrator and oodles of patience.
Adobe’s own site should be the first port of call. It is also the best organized one for beginner. Take the one-minute tour of Illustrator Creative Cloud and get started with the essentials.
You will notice that the lessons ease you into the workspace and the basic techniques. I would recommend that you practice the Pen tool until you get it right. Have fun with the Pen Tool Game while you are at it.
The Key Techniques section has more games and several projects. All tutorials are a mix of text and video. For some tutorials you might need other Adobe apps like Photoshop or their mobile apps. The parent site is worth checking out even if you have an older version of the software. The fundamental features are easily transferable and Adobe tells you about all the newer features.
You can also catch all the videos on Adobe TV.
Basic Tutorial: Bitmap vs. Vector
Advanced Tutorial: Design a web layout on the go.
Tuts+ is part of Envato and started out as a mixed bag of tutorial blogs, but has since distinguished itself as a premier creative resource. Much of the content needs a subscription but the site carries free content too – nearly 19,000 free tutorials across a range of topics.
Start here and head to the Design and Illustration section where you’ll find a series of articles on Adobe Illustrator. Each tutorial has a comments section, for feedback and questions. Also, check out the series of articles collated on a single topic with Learning Guides. For instance: This collection of seven posts on simple silhouettes.
Apart from the quality of articles, it is the community of Tuts+ users that makes this site rise above the pack. Community Projects are a perfect example of collaboration and creativity coming together.
Advanced Tutorial: How to Create a Neon, Stylized, 60’s Inspired Portrait in Illustrator
Creative Blog covers the entire gamut of digital arts from web design to visual arts. The makers are also behind design magazines like Computer Arts, ImagineFX, and 3DWorld. The frequency of Illustrator articles is high but you will find yourself browsing to articles that touch upon non-Illustrator topics too.
The disappointing bit is the limited YouTube channel because video tutorials are often easier to grasp when a beginner is trying out stuff like complex masking techniques.
Basic Tutorial: How to quickly build shapes in Illustrator.
Advanced Tutorial: How to edit drawings in Illustrator with Image Trace.
Blog.Spoongraphics is the main design blog of Chris Spooner. If the follower count is any indication, popularity isn’t a problem.
Here, general design related topics intermingle with tutorials on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. There is also a video section with step-by-step instructions and videos hosted on their YouTube channel.
There are freebies on offer as well. A paid membership gets you downloads of complete layered source files for all of Chris’s Illustrator & Photoshop tutorials and other stock bundles. Chris also runs a separate blog called Line25 that is focused on web design.
Basic Tutorial: 20 Basic Illustrator Tutorials Every Beginner Should See
Advanced Tutorial: How To Design a Print Ready Die-Cut Business Card
This learning blog, which is completely dedicated to Adobe Illustrator tips and tricks, brings out fresh tutorials twice a week. Maintained by Ryan Putnam, this awesome resource has content going all the way back to 2008.
The tutorials are well designed and marked with details like the program version, skill level, and time required to complete them. The site also accepts contributions from Illustrator virtuosos.
Basic Tutorial: Quick and Easy Sleek Beveled Icon Vectors
Advanced Tutorial: Wam! Pow! Wow Your Audience with a Pop Art Vector!
The personal blog from Asmaa’ Murad is more than a tutorial site. This graphic designer (and mother of two) hosts plenty of vector art downloadables, ranging from clipart collections to digital stamps and textures.
The vector resources are for sale, but you can dip into the tutorials for free.
There is no particular organization to the lessons here. You will find tutorials that take you just a few minutes to complete along with tutorials that are way more in-depth. Beginners should start with Learn How to Draw Vector (BASICs) — PART 1, which is a collection of her basic tutorials.
Basic Tutorial: Create a smiley Face Basic tutorials.
Advanced Tutorial: Visual walk through making of sugar skull illustration.
Started by designed Tony Soh, Vector Diary is a wonderful resource with many Illustrator tutorials on offer. The first stop for novices should be the free Learn Adobe Illustrator in 30 Days Crash Course, then there’s the 101 Illustrator Tips & Tricks series (which is on number 26 as of now).
The free tutorials cover everyday objects while the premium segment do a lot more.
Basic Tutorial: Starry Night
Advanced Tutorial: Gradient Mesh Flower
The good thing about Layers Magazine is the huge collection of graphic design tutorials, Illustrator included. The bad thing is that it is sporadically updated.
The site’s Illustrator section seems to have gone dormant in November 2014, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the 150+ articles on Illustrator alone.
Tutorials are a mix of text and video casts. In case you are tackling the entire Creative Suite, it’s a good place to be as the site covers the other Adobe graphic tools too.
Basic Tutorial: Using Kuler with Illustrator
Advanced Tutorial: Illustrating with the Gradient Mesh Tool
Honorable Mentions to Bookmark
A few more places to check out at the beginning of your learning journey.
- DeviantArt: Just one of many vector art groups you can find on DeviantArt.
- YouTube: A list of all videos on Adobe Illustrator generated automatically by YouTube’s video discovery system.
- Pinterest: A virtual pinboard for Adobe Illustrator tutorials on the web.
- Learn Adobe Illustrator from Scratch: A free Udemy course with 41 lectures. Try this 11-hour course over a weekend to understand the basic Illustrator techniques.
Get Started with Adobe Illustrator
Do note that my selection of basic and advanced tutorial samples is from where I stand. I am knee deep in learning how to create infographics with Illustrator, and so far it has been smooth sailing thanks to online resources like these.
But there’s still a lot to learn. Sometimes it seems there is no end in sight! Hopefully these resources help you as much as they have helped me.
Use the comments to tell us how confident are you with vector art! How did you take the first steps? What advice would you give someone who is about to fall in love with the art that Adobe’s second best known tool can conjure up?