Five New Type Features in Illustrator CC 2017

Illustrator added several new features to its stable recently with the shiny new CC2017 update. Among them are a few type-related improvements. While most just duplicate functionality that can be found in InDesign, I see that as a Very Good Thing™. Now, you might think the new features aren’t worthy of a mention because of this, but I think the very fact that Illustrator and InDesign are sharing functionality will make working in both on the daily that much easier. My five top new improvements to Illustrator, in almost no particular order, appear below.

Placeholder Text

While heading to the airport, I nearly shouted at my Uber driver as I read over the new features on my phone, “Illustrator has placeholder text!” He wouldn’t have cared one whit, but I am more excited about this new feature than all that showed up in the last update to InDesign combined.

When creating text frames using the Type tool, Illustrator now automatically fills the frame with placeholder text. Unlike InDesign, the placeholder text here is proper lorem ipsum. I haven’t been able to find a way to use my own text—like you can in InDesign—but I’m hoping I just haven’t stumbled upon that particular secret, yet. This new feature is on by default, but you can disable it by going to the Type pane of Illustrator’s Preferences and de-selecting Fill New Objects With Placeholder Text.
The placeholder text will appear not only when you create a new text frame, but also when you convert an item to one that contains text. For instance, if you create a path and then want to run text along that path, the placeholder text will automatically fill to fit. Select the path you want text to flow along, choose the Type on a Path tool, and your friend Mr. Lorem Ipsum appears. The text that gets placed picks up font and size attributes from the most recently styled type object. If you have empty text frames, you can add placeholder text after the fact by choosing that option from the Type menu.

In-Context Alternate Glyphs

Saying this new feature’s name aloud takes longer than actually using the feature. Its older sibling appeared in an earlier update to InDesign, and now the feature is available for those working with type in Illustrator.
The feature simply alerts you to alternate glyphs available for text in your document. Want to quickly know if there is a swash alternate for that capital A or an actual fraction to display 1/8 more elegantly? While you can still head up to the Glyphs panel to view all of your options, using the in-context option saves time and—as is often the case with large OpenType fonts—effort expended on scrolling. Simply select a character and the available alternates will pop up in a separate widget. Clicking on one of the glyphs will change the current character to the selected alternate.

Import Text Into Objects

Bringing text into Illustrator just got a jumpstart with the new ability to bring that text directly into a shape. Want to fill that newly-created star with more than that newfangled placeholder text? Well, now you can, kiddos!
Any shape that you’ve created can now become a holder of text when importing supported text files. This holds true when importing RTF or TXT files, even when importing DOCX files and the like. Whether you’ve drawn a perfectly-crafted polygon using the Polygon tool or freeformed an asymmetrical shape with the Pen tool, the process is easy. Choose Place from the File menu, navigate to your text file, and click Place. Choose any file-specific options, then select the frame that will hold the text by clicking along its path. The text flows into the shape, but keep in mind the shape will lose any stroke or fill formatting you’ve applied. Head to the Appearance panel to add or replace those attributes.

Easy Access to Special Characters

It’s as if Illustrator is actually made by the same company as InDesign and that users may—gasp—jump back and forth between the two apps. Having one take a page out of the other’s playbook may seem unoriginal, but what is being delivered is parity. A few new options in Illustrator bridge that Gap of Non-Parity; my favorites include the access to special characters.
Whether you’re a seasoned InDesign user or not, you shouldn’t be surprised to find these new options under the Type menu in Illustrator. With the cursor sitting where you need it, navigate to the desired special character submenu, and select it to insert it at the cursor. Choose from whitespace options like em and en, thin and hair spaces; forced line breaks; and special characters like hyphens, dashes, quotation marks, trademark symbols, and bullets.

New Keyboard Shortcuts

With the added ability to (finally!) insert special whitespace characters easily comes new shortcuts to access those characters. If you need to insert en spaces, add a discretionary hyphen, or make an item superscript, you’ll find that there are shortcuts available for ease of use.
If you find the supplied shortcuts aren’t up to your standards—or, you know, just hard to remember or actually key in—you can always change them to a custom combination. To do that, go to the Edit menu, then choose Keyboard Shortcuts. Choose the Menu Commands item from the pull-down menu and drill down on the Type menu. Lastly, if shortcuts aren’t your things, most of these commands can also be accessed through the contextual menu by right-clicking or control-clicking with your text cursor selected.

Posted on: January 13, 2017

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 25 years. She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular contributor to InDesign Magazine, tech edited How To Do Everything with Adobe InDesign CS4, and served as leader of the Denver InDesign User Group. After living as a nomad for almost a year, she recently put down roots in El Paso, Texas, where she hikes and bikes every chance she gets. Check out to see all of Erica's upcoming events, tips and tricks, and workbooks.

1 Comment on Five New Type Features in Illustrator CC 2017

  1. Now if we are after Adobe parity, I wish InDesign handled creating outlines of text the same way Illustrator handles this, … instead of messing with the counters when you ungroup the resulting outlines.

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