Lining Up

Lining Up

Illustrator provides several ways to make things line up as neatly as possible. Instead of just eyeballing the things in the line (which sounds sort of icky), you can have Illustrator help you make sure everything lines up just right. In fact, so many ways to align things exist that you don’t need to figure out all the different methods. Just pick the one that makes sense to you and use it.

Two of the more-arcane-but-useful functions in Illustrator are tricky to find and use, but are worth the effort:

  • Snap to Point: This function (choose View→Snap to Point) snaps your cursor to a nearby point (on a path) whenever you’re near to it. This function is perfect for butting objects up against each other.

  • Constraining via Shift. This function (hold down the Shift key after you make your selection) constrains movement of objects to 0, 45, or 90 degrees (and all sorts of combinations thereof).


    If you want your objects to move in a constrained fashion, make sure that you hold down the Shift key after you make your selection and keep holding it down until after you release the mouse button. If you hold the Shift key down before you make your selection, you add that selection to anything else that you’ve already selected. If you let go of the Shift key before you let go of your mouse button, you release the constraint, and the object is positioned someplace far from where you want it to be.

Guides that are truly smarter than most of us

What if Illustrator knew what you were thinking? Science fiction? Maybe. But Illustrator is smart enough to know what you want to align — if you turn on Smart Guides, that is (by choosing View→Smart Guides). These little helpers come out and start drawing temporary guides for you all over the place. Suddenly you can align objects in all sorts of ways.

Here’s how this feature works. When the Smart Guides feature is on, it watches you work. As your cursor passes over different objects, Smart Guides draws lines from the points that you drag over, showing you how they align.

Although Smart Guides come in handy, they cause enough busy blinking of objects and lines to compete with the Saturday morning cartoons. I advise that you keep them turned off unless you’re doing some serious organizing or drawing and can use the visual cues.

Let the rulers guide you . . .

You can create a guide of your own if you drag out from one of the rulers (click the ruler and drag it into the document). Think of these guides as individual grid lines. You can use them to align artwork horizontally or vertically wherever you want without having your whole screen become littered with grid work like you do whenever you choose View→Show Grid.

Unlike Smart Guides, the guides you create on your own give you no additional information about your artwork. They’re just lines that hang out behind your artwork to use as a point of reference. When View→Snap to Grid is turned on, objects snap to guides as well (even if you aren’t using a grid).

You can drag out as many of these guides as you want or need. To move a guide that you’ve dragged out, choose View→Guides→Lock Guides and toggle the option off. Then click and drag the guide that you want to move. You can also press the Delete key after clicking a guide to remove it altogether. This action lets you customize your guides so that they’re in the exact position you need to help you with the specific artwork you’re creating.


Lock your guides after you move them by choosing View→Guides→Lock Guides and toggling the option on.

I’m a path, I’m a guide

You can turn any path into a guide by selecting the path and choosing View→Guides→Make Guides. That means circles, squares, wavy lines, or an entire logo can be used as a guide. You can also turn any guide back into a path (even the ruler guides) by selecting it and choosing View→Guides→ Release Guides. Guides need to be unlocked and selected for this to work.

If you need to move or delete a single guide, you can press Ctrl+Shift (z+Shift on a Mac) and then double-click the guide to unlock it and change it into a path. (Just press the Delete key afterward to make it disappear.)


You can always clear out all the guides in a document by choosing View→ Clear Guides.


The Illustrator Align palette enables you to align and distribute selected objects just by clicking a button. Open the Align palette by choosing Window→Align. The little pictures on each button in the palette show what the button does after you click it.

The top row of buttons aligns objects. You can align objects horizontally or vertically. If you align objects horizontally to the left, Illustrator aligns the leftmost points in the objects. If you center objects horizontally, Illustrator aligns the centers of the objects.

The final location of the objects may seem a little random at times because the Align command aligns them to a point that is the average of the locations of the objects. For instance, if you align two objects vertically by their centers — and one object is on the right side of the page and the other is on the left side — the objects will align somewhere near the center of the page. To get them exactly where you want them, you may need to click and drag the objects with the Selection tool after you align them. Still, the Align palette saves you a whole lot of time getting there.

The bottom row of buttons distributes objects. In other words, these buttons move selected objects so that they are the same distance apart. The Distribute Objects option takes the two objects that are the farthest apart and distributes the remaining objects between these two objects.

The Align palette is a good way to align things that you’ve already created in Illustrator and simply need to straighten up a bit. If everything you’ve created is all helter-skelter (or just helter work with), Align adjusts your artwork until it looks just right. Or left. Or centered. (It’s pretty handy and politically neutral.)