Part 5: Rulers, Outlines, and Groups

In this fifth part of our Illustrator guide, we show you how to use rulers to increase your accuracy. After that, we explore outlines and groups.

In the previous part of our guide, we discussed text and gradients. Now, the next thing you might be wondering is how you can draw things with an added layer of accuracy. Additionally, wouldn’t it be nice to treat text like a vector and edit accordingly? That’s actually what this guide is all about.


First, we’re going to open up a new project. Now, the first thing you might be wondering is, OK where are the rulers? By default, these are hidden.

First, we need to go into the “View” menu and then “Show Rulers”. This will display the rulers in a manner like this:

Now, you may look at this and think, “Well, that displays the rulers so I can get a general idea of lengths from an edge, but beyond that, how is this even remotely useful? Well, the usefulness may not be necessarily what you see initially, but how you use them will likely help you a lot. Specifically, we are talking about guides. To create a guide, either click on the top ruler and drag down onto your canvas or click on the left ruler and drag right onto your canvas.

What you’ll see is a dotted line. You can move this anywhere on your canvas. When you let go, it’ll become a blue line:

Now, you can make guides on any layer you want (remember how everything is colour coded?). While this, once again, looks like nothing but a visual aid, the critical feature these things have is a little thing called “snapping” You can create anything you want. If you want that object to snap to that guide, just click and drag it over to that guide and it will snap perfectly in place:

There are a bunch of practical uses. You don’t have to eyeball anything to make sure it is level with each other. Just let the program snap to that particular line. You can use as many or as few guides as you want. For me, I use these all the time because they are an enormous time saver. You can snap objects on the left hand side as illustrated above or centre them on the guide. The guides themselves won’t appear in the final product, but your product will.

On a small note, sometimes, you’ll run into situations where something looks off, but technically, everything is perfectly lined up. At that point, you can look at white space and why there is that optical illusion telling you it’s not perfectly lined up. If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now, as you design things, you’ll probably encounter that sooner or later. Just remember visual references as a way of making things look more well lined up.


If you looked at some text and thought to yourself, “Hey, I wish I could make small edits to that text itself.” Well, modifying the text is a great way to attract visual interest. You could simply use the pen tool to trace the letters. Alternatively, you can put your edits on a different layer and hide your modifications with using clever identical colours layered on top of each other. Unfortunately, these methods tend to be time consuming. Chances are, you might be wishing that you can turn that text into a convenient vector. Believe it or not, the program has a very easy way of handling this.

First, I’m going to think of some text that I would want to modify. Let’s say I’m making a logo for some fantasy book or game or whatever product I’m trying to make. So, I’m going to call this product “Vampire”.

So, after I select a good font, I have the start to my logo:

You really could use a number of different fonts, but this is the one I wound up using (Franklin Gothic Demi). Now, I’m looking at the text and I think that I like the dramatic look to it. If it pops up in a video, it is nicely punctuates the term. Unfortunately, a characteristic of vampires is a sense of sharpness. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could transform that “M” to give it fangs. That’s not a bad thing to incorporate into the above, right?

Well, I can’t exactly draw them on all that easily without adding layers, locking things down, etc. So, a great idea would be to create an outline of the text. To do this, click on the black cursor button (selection tool):

Next, right click on the text and select “Create Outlines”. When you do this, you should see Illustrator create the outlines almost instantly, making your text a vector object:

Ahh, perfect. The text is in what is known as a “group”, so the whole thing will have a tendency to select at the same time. We’ll get into groups later, but for now, it’s actually ideal that it stays in a group.

Now, I want the fangs to have an equal length, so I’m going to create a guide to get a good length. After that, I’m going to click on the hollow cursor button (Direct Selection Tool) and start moving my vertices around:

So, I’m able to move them around, but they don’t have quite that sharpness I’m looking for. What I need to do is add a curve. So, to modify the curves of a line, I’m going to go to my pen tool, then hold down the button to get a sub-menu. The last item is just an angle looking thing known as the “Convert Anchor Point Tool”.

After that, I can click on a vertex and click and drag to make my curve.

Now, you’ll notice that I added a second guide. The purpose of that guide is actually more to line up the handle of the converted vertex. The first one is more for making it look great. However, it may be difficult to eyeball the second curve. So, I created the guide for the second converted vertex so that the curve will also be identical to the first. After all, that handle will vanish when you start converting the second vertex.

Now, when you do this, you may encounter the following error when you go to make your second conversion:

There are two ways to get around this. The first is to simply line up your cursor with the vertex until it displays. Alternatively, you can take your black cursor selector tool button and re-select the letters again. Both are viable options. All the error means is that you aren’t able to select nothing.

Now, we can delete the guides and zoom out to see what effect our handy-work had on the text:

Now, this is the part where designers can start nit-picking. What about making the first fang reversed so it more lines up with actual real life fangs? How about making the whole thing white with a black outline? What about adding drops of blood to the fangs? What about, heck, picking different letters for the fangs? Maybe you could add a small bat to the side along with a fork of lightening. You could even use a different font as a launching point.

With the tools you have so far, this is where imagination starts to take off. Thanks to being able to draw with the pen tool, outline something, add gradients, use fill and strokes, this is where the sky starts becoming the limit. All this thanks to being able to convert text to an outline.

A Word About Groups

When you start getting into more complex designs, you might start to think that it would be nice if you could treat chunks of the design as a single object rather than individual lines and objects. In fact, there is a very easy way of handling this. Let’s take a look at the following example:

OK, we have a, well, pretty mediocre coconut tree. You’ll likely notice that I have tonnes of lines going through it. I’ve got a trunk with lined textures flowing through it. I also have palm leaves with lines running through them. I even have two circles representing coconuts as well. If I try and move this object, I might just get whatever part of the picture I’ve selected.

Now, if I select everything, yes, I can move it around as one object, but that selection disappears as soon as I start doing something else. I could lock this down on its own layer, but that’s a lot of extra work just to move a single object around. Well, there is an easier way: make it into one group.

First, I’m going to use the selector tool and select the whole thing (draw a box around it or simply use CTRL+A if there’s nothing else in the graphic).

From there, I’m going to right click on the selection and click on “Group” in the menu.

Now, when I click on any part of the object, it’ll select every part of it and treat it like one item. I can single click and drag it around the screen (as illustrated above). Alternatively, I can hold down “Alt” and click and drag it to another point. This will create a duplicate of the original object you’ve made. Now, if, for whatever reason, you want to make it no longer a group, simply use your selector tool (black cursor), right click on the object, then click “Ungroup”:

If you are designing something complex, grouping can save you a lot of time and effort. It’ll even make your design process easier to manage in the long run.

So, that is it for getting an understanding of groups!

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