Learning about Illustrator for quilters


I received a wonderful question from a longarm quilter who wanted to know what processes and tools were worth learning about in Adobe Illustrator which is the Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) program I use to create my quilt designs, whether they be patchwork, appliqué or quilting patterns.  I use the most basic tools for my work.

Here is the list of things I recommend for learning in Illustrator (or whatever other program you are looking at investing in).  It may seem like a lot of gobbledygook but to someone who knows about Illustrator, it will make sense.


  • How to join lines and use the line tools.
  • Enclose shapes so they can be coloured in.
  • How to colour shapes and add gradients.
  • How to put different shapes at the end of lines, like arrow heads.
  • How to align shapes.
  • Mirror image tool.
  • How to rotate sections of a drawing to line them up.
  • Evenly divide a line into sections, including a circles.
  • Putting even spaces between shapes.
  • Put a design on a path (the pattern brush tool) and how the design warps if the path is curved.
  • Scaling the design (it’s an option in the pattern brush tool).
  • Inverting the design (it’s an option in the pattern brush tool).
  • Trace a photo or scanned drawing and get a decent outline in 1 pt stroke.
  • Learn to tile the image when printing. This means the image can be printed over several pieces of paper and taped together afterwards if it is larger than one piece of paper.
  • 3D effects and perspective.
  • If an image is drawn in 1pt stroke and then the image is reduced in size, how do you reduce the stroke size automatically so the image doesn’t become a blob on the screen?  (It’s in the stroke options).
  • Stroke options.
  • Anchor points and how they work.
  • Selection tools.
  • Pathfinder tools, these unite, divide, minus parts of shapes that are on screen. A very handy tool indeed.
  • The effect gallery.
  • Keyboard shortcuts. I still haven’t learnt many and I know I could speed up the process if I learnt them.


  • Learn about vector images and keep the image in the file at the size you want to print it.
  • Try to find a course where they use Wacom tablets in class.  If you don’t use one already, you won’t believe how fantastic, accurate and easy they are to use.
  • Look at the options in the pencil/pen tools.
  • Look at document setup options.
  • Take along a USB to save your work that will work on Mac as well as PC.


The course on Illustrator I took was part of a graphic design diploma/certificate at our local TAFE (or community college) but it had some cryptic name so I just asked the front desk if they had a course on Illustrator.  There was a short four week course and a longer one that went for the semester so I took that one. I was not the oldest person in the class (at 40) and there were others just doing the AI course and not the whole diploma.  Don’t be intimidated by the thought that the class will be full of teenagers who already know everything about the program.  They were a helpful and friendly bunch.  I actually had more experience with AI then a lot of them as I’d struggled to use it for 18 months and was able to help them. I am not one to explore a program by pushing buttons to see what they do and I like to be shown how to use the program and be able to ask questions.

I was able to talk to the teacher before starting the class and showed him what I wanted to use the program for.  I went in with a version of this list of what I needed to learn from the class. He was happy to answer all my questions.  I felt at ease about asking questions in class and the teacher wanted to show us how we could use the program in a way that related to what we wanted to do with it. It was a great experience.  Online AI video tutorials on these tools are quite useful too.  I recently did a quick video here on the pattern brush tool.

I found once I’d learnt how to use the program properly that I wondered how on earth I survived without it for so long.  It’s so good for creating patterns for students if you teach.  I’m also glad I learnt how to use Photoshop since then as it has many benefits for quilters too.

Happy quilting,


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