Getting into Illustrator: Drawing Basic Shapes

For some folks, Adobe Illustrator is a notoriously hard app to master. As always, the best way to learn is not to perform tasks in isolation, but to build a piece of artwork and learn each tool as you need it. Here, we’ll introduce some of the most common Illustrator tools by building a set of symbols that resemble the familiar playing card suits, hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Note: Keyboard shortcuts to access the tools are shown below in parentheses.

Step 1

To draw the diamond, start by using the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a rectangle from corner to corner. Hold Shift as you drag to constrain it to a perfect square.

Step 2

To rotate the square, switch to the Selection Tool (V) and hold the cursor just outside a corner: the cursor will then show you the Rotate function. Drag it around, holding Shift as you do so to constrain the rotation to exactly 45°.

Step 3

To make the diamond narrower, choose the Scale tool (S). Move the cursor to the side of the object, and drag it towards the center. If you hold Shift as you do so, then you’ll only change the width, not the height.

Step 4

To change the color of the diamond, make sure it’s selected and choose the color you want either from the Swatches panel or, if you want more precise control, from the Color panel.

Step 5

Now to draw a heart. Choose the Ellipse Tool (L), and hold Shift as you draw an ellipse to constrain it to a perfect circle. Then switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag a selection to include just the bottom handle of the circle.

Step 6

Press Delete to remove that bottom handle, then choose the Pen tool (P) and click on the leftmost anchor point. As you click, hold the mouse button and drag downwards to make a handle about twice as long as the one above. Then move the cursor to the bottom of the heart: make sure you have Smart Guides selected (Ctrl-U / Command-U) and it will automatically snap to the right hand point.

Step 7

Click to mark the bottom point of the heart, and drag down and to the right until you get a pleasing shape.

Step 8

Switch to the Selection Tool (V) and click inside the half heart to select it. Choose the Reflect Tool (O), and hold Option/Alt as you click just to the left of the center line to bring up its dialog. Choose the Vertical axis, and click the Copy button.

Step 9

You’ve now made both halves of the heart – but because the top circles need to overlap, the bottom isn’t working quite right. Drag with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the bottom two points of the heart.

Step 10

With the bottom points selected, bring up the Average dialog (Ctrl-Alt-J / Command-Option-J). Select to average both and click OK.

Step 11

With both the bottom points now in the same place, it’s time to merge the two halves together. Select them with the Selection Tool (V) and open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). Click the first icon to unite the two shapes into a single object.

Step 12

Here’s the result of merging those two halves: we’re left with a single object, rather than the two we started with.

Step 13

One of the good things about Illustrator is that you can easily repurpose your artwork. So we’ll take a copy of the heart (hold Option or Alt as you drag it with the Selection Tool) and then rotate it 180° to make the spade – hold Shift as you drag around the outside with the Selection Tool.

Step 14

The flipped heart makes the perfect body for the spade. Recolor it by selecting a black swatch in the Swatches panel.

Step 15

To draw the stem, click with the Pen Tool (P) just to the left of the point where the two circles meet, and drag straight down; then move the pen to the bottom left position, and click the mouse button.

Step 16

When you click the button, Illustrator will fill the path you’ve drawn by joining the endpoints. Don’t worry, that will be sorted out next. Alt-click or Option-click in the middle of the spade with the Reflect Tool (O), as before, and choose Vertical and Copy to make the other half.

Step 17

Use the Direct Selection Tool to select the bottom two points of the stem, and join them using Ctrl-J or Command-J. This makes them into a single object, and the fill will now work correctly.

Step 18

You can use the stem of the spade to make the stem of the club – no need to draw it again. So use the Move tool and drag the stem to the side, holding Alt / Option to make a copy. Then select the two parts of the spade, and use the Pathfinder panel once again to unite them.

Step 19

To make the club, start by drawing a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L). As long as you have Smart Guides switched on (Ctrl-U / Command-U) it will snap to the midpoint of the stem. Hold Alt/Option to draw from the center out, and Shift to make a perfect circle.

Step 20

Switch to the Selection Tool (V), and hold Alt/Option as you drag a circle to make a copy. Two additional copies of the circle will make the club; all you need to do now is select all the pieces and use the Pathfinder panel to unite them.

Step 21

And that’s it: your set of four playing card symbols is complete. If you need to, you can adjust their relative sizes so they all belong together.

Posted on: October 9, 2017

Steve Caplin

Steve is a freelance writer, artist and designer, and the author of over a dozen books, including the popular How to Cheat in Photoshop series and the Amazon #1 best-seller Dad Stuff. His training videos can be seen on, Retouch Pro and elsewhere.

2 Comments on Getting into Illustrator: Drawing Basic Shapes

  1. This was a super helpful tutorial, thanks!

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