Step 1: Setting Up the Workspace

Go back to Practical Adobe Illustrator

NOTE: When I originally wrote these lessons, I was still using Adobe Creative Suite 6 (CS6). I’ve updated this lesson to include references to the new Creative Cloud 2018 (CC2018) redesign. That means some of the designs of the various dialog boxes have changed. If it doesn’t look exactly like what you’re seeing, don’t worry. The functions will still work the same, unless indicated otherwise.

Let’s start off with a few assumptions:

1. You have either a Mac or Windows capable of running Illustrator.

2. You already have a copy of Illustrator installed on your machine. It doesn’t matter which version; I have the Creative Cloud subscription, so I always have the latest version. However, the setups in this series of exercises will work on all versions.

3. You have a reasonable familiarity with the program and how it works.

Go to File>New and open up a new document:

The CS6 version of the New Document dialog box.
The CC2018 version of the New Document dialog box.

You should see something like this:

Don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly like this. If it does, I’d like to know how you got on my machine.

Before we delve into adjusting the document, I’d like to cover setting up the workspace. And the first bit of advice I’d like to make is: do what is comfortable for you. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. If you prefer to open tabs as you need them and leave them all over the desktop, that’s your call. If you like to just look at the icons and save screen real estate, do it. I like mine all tidy and on the right where I can access them easily, and I have enough screen real estate where I can stretch out the window names. That’s what works for me.

Illustrator comes with a default workspace set. After much trial and error, I’ve selected the elements seen at right for my workspace. I’ve saved it as “Harry” (you can do that by clicking on that down-arrow and selecting “New Workspace,” then giving it a name. As you start progressing in Illustrator, you may find that you need different tools for different types of documents. Create workspaces that serve those needs and switch back and forth as required.

If you don’t know where to get the tools, go under Window. You’ll see a whole listing of them. You don’t need to employ them all; you take what you need and leave the rest. If you select a tool and think you will need to use it on a regular basis, go ahead and add it to your workspace. If you find out that you aren’t using it, just drag it off the list and close it. As these lessons progress, we’ll discuss what the tools are and what we will be loading them with.

If you didn’t set the page up as I outlined above, or you missed a step, it’s an easy fix. Select the “Artboards” tool and click on “Artboard 1.” A dialog box will appear.

Note the Orientation (highlighted in red). I want you to change this to landscape (on its side). And check the values in the blue box – make sure that solid filled dot is the top left-hand corner. If it isn’t, click on it to make it so.

Select View>Rulers>Show Rulers. Then go to View>Guides and make sure “Lock Guides” is turned OFF (no checkmark).

Now it’s time to discuss another preference. I can’t think in picas. Nor can I think in inches. My mind finds it easier to think in 10s rather than 12s. So in Preferences, I set my units of measurement to Points. Later on, if the situation requires it (usually at the request of the page designer), I can change to picas or inches.

Working in points also gives you the advantage of pixel counts when designing or converting graphics for web use. Points equal pixels. So if you’re needing a graphic element to be 100 pixels wide, just create it at 100 points and you’re good.

At the Express-News, we have two designated page set-ups; a 5-column width and a 6-column width. This means my template has to reflect the column divisions for both. I had one of the page designers give me the exact widths required for a 1-column, 2-column, 3-column, 4-column and 5-column width for the 5-column setup, and the same divisions for a 6-column setup. These are the numbers I got from them (for the 36-inch web setup, for those in the know. If you don’t understand that, don’t worry.):

6  71559p7

Let’s do the 5-column setup first. From the ruler on the left drag a ruler guide out to around the 30 point mark. If you miss it, don’t worry. We’re going to fine tune it. When you release it, a blue line should appear on the screen.

Select it again (drag your cursor over it) and look at the “X” value (on the top of the screen). Change it to “30.”

Drag another line out. In the X-value box, type “30+133” (no quotes) and hit Enter. The value should change to “163 pt.” Drag out another line past the second. In the X-value box, type in “30+278” and hit Enter. Do the same for the 3-, 4- and 5-column numbers. You should now have 5 columns marked out.

I know — you’re wondering why I selected “30” to start instead of “0.” When you print this document, you’ll need at least a quarter-inch space on the left — this builds it in on both sides.

Now that we have our 5 columns, there’s something else to do. We need a gutter for multiple-column widths. You can do this one of two ways:

1. Select that first column right-hand line (at 163). Be careful not to move it. You just need the number. Drag out a line past the 1st-column line and change the X-value to 163+10 (or however many points you want your gutter to be). This sets it to 173. Repeat for the second, third and fourth lines (you don’t need to go past the fifth column, as that’s the end of your page). This will vary your column widths by a point or two per column.

2. Select that second-column right-hand line (at 308). Again, be careful not to move it. Note the number. Drag out a line and enter the following X-value: “308-133.” This gives you exactly the width of a single (first) column It also means that your column gutters are going to vary by a point or two, but that exact measurement may help you when aligning elements.

Why do it one way or the other? It depends on your needs. You may want to experiment and see which one looks better to you, which is the primary aesthetic here. And just in case you didn’t notice it, it was a lot easier to let the program do the math than trying to figure it out yourself. That is another reason why I like to use points over picas.

When you’ve finished, go to the right of your screen and click on “Layers.” Change that “Layer 1” label (click on it) to “5-column grid” in either the panel or in the pop-up box (it appears depending on where you click – just accept it if it does). Then lock the later (click where the red outline directs you).

Save the page. You can save as a template now, if you like, but I prefer to save as a regular document and finish it before converting it to a template. I’ll call my file:

Now, we’re going to duplicate that layer to make creating the 6-column setup a bit easier. First, make sure the layer is selected (highlighted).

See that down arrow and four-line box? Click on it. Select “Duplicate 5-column grid.” Unlock the new layer and change the name to “6-column grid.” Turn off the 5-column grid layer by clicking on the eyeball.

Now, delete all of the lines on the page EXCEPT the ones at 30 and 745 (the two outside ones). Those two will remain constant. Using the 6-column calculations in the table above, create your 6-column grid. When you’ve finished, lock the layer and save.

You can re-order layers by selecting one (or more) and dragging them up or down in the Layers panel as needed. I like my layers in chronological order, so I put 5-column on top. Plus, I create more 5-column graphics than 6-column, so I turn off the 6-column layer and turn on the 5-column.

Now go back to View>Guides>Lock Guides and lock them. You don’t want these guys to move later on. You can always unlock them later if you need to.

Next step: Paragraph Styles, Part 1

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