The Digital Art Studio: 5 Favorite Illustrator CC Features

If you’ve ever experienced a power outage, you’ve also likely found yourself reflexively flicking that light-switch even though your conscious mind knows the power is out. A similar thing happens to me whenever I move between different versions of an application—when using earlier versions of an app I often catch myself frustrated when a feature that’s become second-nature isn’t working as expected. As my

As my last post made clear, I still maintain and use CS6 versions of my main trio of Adobe apps alongside the entire Creative Cloud when it’s available. Although in most ways I find that moving back and forth between versions is fairly straightforward, there are definitely some CC features that I do sorely miss (and reflexively reach for) when I’m working in CS6. When I was asked recently which features of CC I felt were most useful, I looked at Adobe’s chart comparing “

When I was asked recently which features of CC I felt were most useful, I looked at Adobe’s chart comparing “key features across versions” of Illustrator, I found this chart to be marketing-generated, not necessarily covering specifics of what might be critical to daily production. I next looked at the list of new features in my Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, but found that my evaluation needed some updating, in light of the experiences I’ve had using Illustrator CC. And of course, a few features have been added in subsequent versions of Illustrator.

Now that I’ve been using CC for quite a while, I thought I’d assemble my current list of features introduced since the debut of Illustrator CC that I miss the most when working in CS6. Although I thoroughly appreciate each of the features and improvements below, you should be aware that only the first item is a “dealbreaker” since it’s the only one that allows you to generate art that is impossible to achieve without CC. The rest, while missed in CS6, create effects can be achieved with workarounds.

1. Raster Brushes

Illustrator CS6 introduced many amazing enhancements to brush features, but CC added a bit more to this already robust feature set. Only in CC and later can you incorporate rasters into your paths and brushes. Here in CreativePro, we’ve already shared a few of the brushes lessons from The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, and from my courses, but in case you missed it, here is an example of something I can only do in Illustrator CC.

Being able to paint with raster images is by far my favorite Illustrator CC feature. Painting with raster brushes (or applying the brushes to paths), allows me to quickly and easily populate a scene. This feature is similar to Photoshop’s “puppet warp” but provides much more nuance, gesture, and control.

Using Illustrator CC’s Raster Art brushes I was able to gesturally paint a few paths to create the background buildings for a “Monsters in the Mission” poster.

Raster brushed buildings

After trying a few different ways to construct a monster as a pattern brush, I ultimately created it as an Art brush as well. To make the head, I used the building brush to paint a curved path, expanded it, then masked it with a monster head shape.


In the final version of the main poster (with type designed by Flora Davis), amongst the additional effects were drop shadows and transparencies applied to brushed strokes using the Appearance panel.StandPOSTER.english

2. Artboard Manually Resizing from the Center

I’m sure this seems like a silly thing to miss, and if you most often are designing for print you might not even notice this minor change that I so appreciate. Most folks change artboard sizes by selecting from one of the preset options in the Control Panel, or entering a new custom size. But if you’re like me, you often design for onscreen view, and you find yourself wanting to resize an artboard so the artwork fits visually within the artboard. When resizing artboards to the artwork within, I often need to keep the artwork centered and resize the artboard frame. In CC I can just grab a corner, hold the Option/Alt key, and drag to resize the artboard on all sides while keeping the art centered. The multi-step process in CS6 that requires grabbing one corner and then the other is more cumbersome and less accurate.


3. Text block toggle (Point Type and Area Type)

There are three main kinds of Illustrator text blocks: Point type (click with the Type tool); Area type (click-drag with the Type tool, or click on a closed or semi-closed object); and Type on a Path (click on a path for the type to move along that path). Type on a Path is its own thing, but most of us find there are times when we start out with Point text or Area text and wish we’ve started with the other. Until CC we had to manually select the text we wanted to convert, and then paste it into the other kind of container (Point or Area). Single line text can look the same in each option, but if you need multiple lines or want to transform the type, the type of text block you have matters a lot.

Illustrator CC provides a simple toggle between Area and Point type blocks. When your type is selected with the Selection tool, double-click the new icon on the right side to toggle Area to Point text, and Point to Area text. Oh, and if you don’t like blank text containers, a newer update can place greeked text into any of the three kinds of blank type containers.
TextChange003 TextChange002 TextChange001

4. Raster image improvements

This pair of improvements is small but time-saving for sure. But more than just being convenient, these two features are so useful that it’s hard to believe we went so long without them. In CC, when you select a linked file the Embed button in the Control panel becomes an Unembed button. Click Unembed and you get to choose where to extract the link and what to call it.

Also, if you keep your Illustrator linked to files, then you likely have experienced the frustration of opening the Illustrator file and realize that you’re missing links or fonts. Finally, with CC you now have the feature we’ve depended on in InDesign: choose Edit > Package and you can create a folder into which all of your links and legal fonts will be collected.



5. Bezier path drawing enhancements

If you’re an old-school fan of the Pen tool like me, you’ll like these new CC features a lot. First, you can see a preview of your curve as you draw (the blue portion of the path is what it will be if you place that anchor point and pull out that direction handle).

Next, when drawing an asymmetrical curved path, you no longer have to first click-drag to place the anchor and switch to the Direct Selection tool to properly adjust the direction handles. In CC, you can now click-drag to place a point and fit the first part of the curve, and then hold down Command/CTRL to lock the length of the previous direction handle while being able to separately adjust the current direction handle—while keeping the anchor point smooth (so the current pair of direction handles are still linked but different lengths). If you let go of the Command/CTRL before letting go of the drag you’ll even out the handles again.

And finally, a very useful addition to CC is a new addictive way that you easily end a path: instead of having to click again on the Pen tool, you can now simply press the Esc key.


These are brief summaries, so please let us know if you’d like any of these features explained and expanded in more detail for a future post.

Posted on: March 24, 2017

Sharon Steuer

Sharon Steuer has been creating, writing about, and teaching workshops on digital art since the early 1980s. The current edition of her Illustrator WOW! book, The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, is the fourteenth book in the series, and her "Artistic Painting in Illustrator" online video courses are available from Sharon is also the author of Creative Thinking in Photoshop: A New Approach to Digital Art, and is a regular contributor to Her digital paintings and illustrations have appeared in numerous books and magazines and have been exhibited nationally. Find Sharon via,, and @SharonSteuer (Twitter).

7 Comments on The Digital Art Studio: 5 Favorite Illustrator CC Features

  1. I love your 2 dragons Sharon.
    I did read the article. But I fear the reverse. Because I’m still using CS4 (on Win 8.1). What CS4 features do I miss in CC and what were they replaced with? I’ll probably face a culture shock if I ever do decide to subscribe to CC. So I keep postponing.

    • HI Robert!
      Glad you like the dragons.
      Well you’re lucky in terms of being on CS4–the good news is that you won’t lose your independent license if you try out CC.
      So feel free to check it out when you see a good deal on CC or you need one of the new features. Just remember to save copies back in CS4 as you go–any of the new features (like brushes that didn’t exist in CS4) will be expanded, and text might reflow or break apart, but if you discontinue CC for any time you’ll at least be able to open your files.

      CS5 through CC introduced painterly Bristle Brushes, vector brushes, auto-corners for brushes (and a bunch more on brushes), as well as new ways to construct and edit paths.

      I honestly couldn’t go back farther than CS6 because of my brush addiction.
      If you do try it–let me know what you think!

  2. Hi Sharon.
    Thanks for all the tips. Especially the one on saving back in CS4.
    I will let you know, if I try CC. Here or on Instagram in a comment.

  3. Robert Waarde

    May 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Hi Sharon,
    This comment by you : “Well you’re lucky in terms of being on CS4–the good news is that you won’t lose your independent license if you try out CC.”.
    I just didn’t get it. Until last week that is. OMG :rolleyes: Of course, I could install CC side-by-side with CS4.
    I spent most time with the perspective grid so far, because that’s the only thing I really wanted from CS5. And I love it. The other thing I like is that the fonts in CC’s UI and title bar are not blurry anymore. Can’t say anything about the other tools, etc.

    But in CC I’m a semi-newb all over again. So I was looking for a copy of your Illustrator WOW for CS6+CC book. But apparently it’s hard to get. I might have to wait up to 4 weeks for delivery. 3+ weeks to go and start making progress.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Robert.
      Lovely to hear from you!
      you can get the Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 & CC from directly from the publisher:
      Drat that it’s low at Amazon. Peachpit isn’t publishing any more– I’ll have to see if the papa company (Pearson) is planning to reprint it.
      Sending my best!

  4. Sharon,
    I’m based in The Netherlands. I ordered the book online, but locally. With estimated delivery of up to 4 weeks. I’ll just have to wait.
    Even at the site that you linked, the book is out of stock now. 🙁

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