Editing Digital Vector Art In Adobe Illustrator
An easy start guide for editing your purchased or downloaded vector files in Adobe Illustrator.
Vector files are fantastic for many projects, but how do you edit them to suit your design? Sometimes you need to modify, transform or adjust these files, so they are right for you. If you’re not familiar with vectors, this can seem a little scary, and that is why I have created this easy start guide. If you’ve purchased files from my Creative Market store or downloaded them from the internet, let me guide you through the process of editing digital vector art in Adobe Illustrator.
✏️ What is a vector image?
A vector image is a computer graphic which is formed by lines and shapes. Generated using mathematical formulas a vector is scalable to any size without losing quality (don’t worry, you don’t have to do the math). If we compare a vector to a photograph or raster file when scaled, the difference is visible. That is why vector files are an excellent option for graphics because they can suit projects large and small.
🖥 Editing in Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator is one of the industry standards for vector illustration and graphics. Adobe Illustrator gives you the power to create incredible designs. If you’re not at the stage when you are comfortable to create your own, it can also be used to edit vectors to suit your needs.
⭐️ Getting Started
To begin our journey on learning to edit vector art in Adobe Illustrator, we need to start at the beginning and go over a few basics. Firstly, you will need to locate your downloaded files. It’s always a good idea to keep them organised. For example, you might have a folder called assets or vectors.
Step 1: Open the file ending in .ai with Adobe Illustrator
When you open your vector for the first time, you may see a screen similar to below. In this example, I have used the Essentials Workspace view in Adobe Illustrator CC 2019. You can adjust your workspace by going to Window > Workspace and selecting your preferred setup.
Step 2: Save As (optional)
If you’re working with a vector you have downloaded, it’s a good idea to save the file as another name, so you still have the original. You can do this by going to File > Save As and enter a new name. Make sure that the format is in Adobe Illustrator (.ai).
Step 3: Viewing Layers
By clicking on the Layers panel, you can see all of the layers associated with the vector. The layers are important because they contain all of the shapes that form the image. Layers can be single shapes or grouped to include several shapes. Hopefully, the creator of the vector has labelled the layers to make it easier for editing.
Step 4: Disabling or enabling layers (optional)
If you decide you would like to disable a particular layer, you can click on the eye icon next to a layer. To enable the layer again, you can click in the same space, and the eye will appear again, to show the layer is visible.
Step 5: Clipping Masks (optional)
A clipping mask is a shape that reveals only select parts of layers. In the layer Clipping Mask: Shadow the clipping mask is the shape of the donut. Layers that are below the clipping mask will only show what is visible in the masked area. Not all vectors include Clipping Masks, and often it depends on the artist’s personal preference or the design itself.
Step 6: Saving Your File
You must save your file through the editing process, so you do not lose any changes. To save, all you have to do is go to File > Save.
↪️ Undo And Redo Changes
The Undo and Redo options in Adobe Illustrator allow you to go backwards or forwards on modifications you have made.
To undo or go backwards you can click on Edit > Undo.
To redo or go forwards you can click on Edit > Redo.
🗒 Note: Depending on the changes you have made the Undo and Redo options may have Move, Color or other options beside them. This simply shows what form of modification was completed.
🗂 Grouping And Ungrouping Layers
Layers can be grouped in Adobe Illustrator to include all of the shapes that complete a specific design element. Grouping layers allows you to control all layers within the group and makes it easier to move, scale, rotate and more. You can group and ungroup layers depending on your preferences and the project demands.
Grouping contains all layers together.
- Step 1: Click on the Layers panel
- Step 2: Hold the Shift key and click on each layer you would like to group together
- Step 3: Go to Object > Group
- Step 4 (optional): Under the Layers panel, double click on the group and rename it
🗒Note: In this video example file, I have ungrouped all of the layers to show the grouping process. In the downloadable file, the layers are grouped.
Ungrouping releases layers that were previously grouped.
- Step 1: Click on the Layers panel
- Step 2: Select the group
- Step 3: Go to Object > Ungroup
🎨 Modifying Colours (fills and strokes)
Modifying colours in Adobe Illustrator allows you to change the fill or stroke of a particular shape to suit your needs. Adjusting the colours of the vector can be done in a few ways.
Modifying Colours: Recolor Artwork
The Recolor Artwork tool allows you to recolour one or all of the colours in the layers you select.
- Step 1: Select all layers
- Step 2: Go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork
- Step 3: Select the colour you want to modify
- Step 4: Use the sliders to change the colours or double click on the colour box under New, which opens the Color Picker
- Step 5: Use the Color Picker to select a new colour
- Step 6: Click OK to keep changes or cancel to return to the previous colours
Modifying Colours: Direct Selection
The direct selection tool can be used to select any layer, regardless of grouping. This method allows you to choose a specific element easily and change its colour.
- Step 1: Use the Direct Selection tool to select a layer
- Step 2: Go to the Properties panel and click on Fill to use swatches or the Color Mixer
Modifying Colours: Strokes
Strokes can add defined outlines to a vector and are easily applied and edited.
- Step 1: Under the Layers panel select a layer
- Step 2: Go to the properties panel and select the stroke width and colour
- Step 3: Click on Stroke for additional options
- Step 4: The stroke is applied to the layer you selected and to edit it again, select the layer and modify the stroke from the Properties panel
🗒Note: If you have grouped layers, make sure you choose the layer from the Layers panel or use the Direct Selection tool. Additionally, some designs may outline strokes, meaning you can no longer modify the stroke option from the properties panel. You can, however, change the fill.
⬆️ Resizing, Moving and Rotating
Resizing, moving and rotating vectors in Adobe Illustrator allows you to control the size, positioning and angle for your design.
Resizing A Vector
Resizing a vector enables you to change the scale or size of the layers or group you select.
- Step 1: Go to the Layers panel and select the layer (or group of layers)
- Step 2: Use the Selection tool and drag up or down at the corner or side of the vector
- OR Step 2: To maintain the proportions hold the shift key and use the Selection tool to drag up or down
🗒 Note: If your vector uses strokes, it is important that under the Properties panel, you check Scale Strokes and Effects if you would like the stroke to match the resizing.
Resizing An Artboard
Resizing the Artboard allows you to change the dimensions of the actual file. The size of the artboard is commonly measured in pixels (px).
- Step 1: Go to the Properties panel and click on Edit Artboard
- Step 2: Enter the new dimensions for the Artboard under W (width) and H (height) and hit enter
- Step 3: Click on Exit under the Properties Panel
- Step 4 (optional): Resize your vector if required (following instructions from the previous section)
🗒 Note: The dimensions you choose will affect the size of the file. For example, if you choose 6000 x 6000 pixels, the size of the file will be significantly larger than 600 x 600 pixels. Additionally, some artists have restrictions on the size that vector files can be scaled too. Make sure you read the full terms before using a vector.
Moving A Vector
Moving a vector allows you to control the position of the layers or groups within the artboard.
- Step 1: Click on the Selection Tool
- Step 2: Select the layer or layer group you would like to move from the Layers panel
- Step 3: Click and drag where you would like to move
- Step 4 (optional): If you would like to align a vector to specific positioning (such as centre), go to Window > Align, select the layer or group from the Layers panel and use Align Objects to adjust the horizontal and vertical alignment
Rotating A Vector
Rotating a vector enables you to turn specific layers or groups.
- Step 1: Click on the Selection tool
- Step 2: Select the layer or group from the Layers panel
- Step 3: Hover over one of the points
- Step 4: Click and drag to rotate your selection
- Step 5 (optional): Hold the shift key and click and drag to rotate at specific degrees (such as 45, 90 and all the way back to 360).
⌨️ Adding And Editing Text
Adding and Editing Text in Adobe Illustrator gives you the power to personalise your design. You’re only limited by your imagination and your font library.
Adding text to your design allows you to emphasise your message. In this example, I have used the font Arial, which should be available on most PCs and Macs.
- Step 1: Click on the Type Tool
- Step 2: Click on a space within the artboard
- Step 3: Enter the text you would like
- Step 4: Use the Selection tool to select the text
- Step 5: Under the properties panel choose your font, size and additional options
- Step 6: To change the colour of your text, in the properties panel, click on the Fill colour to use Swatches or the Color Mixer
- Step 7: Your text will now have its own layer and can be moved above or below other layers
Editing text allows you to send the correct message that suits your project. You can change words, modify fonts, colour and more.
- Step 1: Go to the Layers panel and select the text
- Step 2: Double click (on the artboard) in the text
- Step 3: Type in any changes you would like to make
- Step 4: Return to the Layers panel and ensure the text layer is selected
- Step 5: Go to the Properties panel and many any desired changes to the font, size, colour, etc.
🗒Note: Some vectors will have outlined fonts, meaning you can not customise or edit the text. If that is the case, you may have to search online for the font (or one similar). Not all fonts are free, and some have specific licensing agreements. Always make sure you read the description before downloading.
When you save your file, it will do so in the Adobe Illustrator (.ai) format. To use the image on print or screen, we need to convert it to a different format. The type of format you choose will depend on what your project requires. The most common is JPG or PNG.
Exporting A Vector
When you have finished all of your edits, it’s now time to export your design.
- Step 1: Go to File > Export > Export for Screens
- Step 2: Make sure your artboard is selected (with a tick)
- Step 3: Under the Formats, select the scale (1x is the actual size), Suffix (what goes on the front of the file name) and the Format
- Step 4: Select the appropriate scale and format for your project (if you are unsure 1x JPG may be suitable, make sure you are aware of the artboard size)
- Step 5: Click on Export Artboard and your files will be saved
⬛️ Background Colour
Adding and editing a background colour in Adobe Illustrator allows you to create a design that suits your project perfectly.
Adding And Editing A Background Colour
The quickest and easiest way to add a background in Adobe Illustrator is with the rectangle tool.
- Step 1: Click on the Rectangle Tool
- Step 2: Click and drag to make a rectangle over the artboard
- Step 3: Double click on the new layer in the Layers panel and rename it background
- Step 4: Drag the background layer below the vector group
- Step 5: Go to the Properties panel and click on the Fill colour to choose from Swatches or Color Mixer
- Step 6 (optional): If you would like your background to match the size of your artboard, you can select the background layer, go to the properties panel and change the width and height to the artboard size (ensure the background layer does not have a stroke), use the horizontal and vertical alignment to ensure it fits perfectly on the artboard
💖 Thank you for reading
Throughout this tutorial, we have looked at the many ways you can edit digital vector art in Adobe Illustrator. Vectors are an incredible asset to a range of design projects, and so many incredible designers share their work. I hope that you will now be able to make any modifications with ease and have your latest project ready to roll!
If you need help, please get in touch, and I will do my best to assist you. Leave a comment on this post or reach out via the contact form. Alternatively, you can reach me Twitter (@up) or Facebook (Kassandra O’Shea).
I do not work for or have any association with Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Inc. This guide has been created to assist others in using Adobe Illustrator.
Adobe Illustrator CC 2019 on Mac was used for the examples in this guide. Layouts of other versions of the software may look slightly different.
This document was last updated on the 17th of November 2019 and is for information purposes only. Please do not redistribute in part or full without written permission.