What’s New in Illustrator: The July 2022 Release (Version 26.4)

Let’s call this one The Wish List Edition. First rolling out to users on July 25, Illustrator 26.4 is a version that ticks off some ancient items on the wish lists of users everywhere. Adobe’s developers have added an actual list feature (for bullets and numbering), as well as a History panel, and some smaller things in the 3D and Materials area.

Let’s take a look at the details of these functions, and what they can—and can’t—do for us.

Making a List

The Bullet & Numbering feature has sparked many discussions about how “InDesigny” Illustrator should get. Are lists really necessary or will this encourage people to do things like layout catalogs in Illustrator? For a long time I’ve agreed with those who said Illustrator should not try to be InDesign Lite. Yet, at the same time I’ve seen packaging designers who need to use Illustrator struggle with the program’s limited text abilities. Ultimately, I was glad to see lists coming to Illustrator because I can see the need not only for packaging, but other areas as well, like infographics.

The Illustrator developers have not copied InDesign’s way to make lists. Instead, it looks like they have been inspired by the way Microsoft Office software does it. But at least the Bullets & Numbering feature is easy to find, located in the Paragraph panel (the inputs also appear in the Control and the Properties panel when text is selected). You can also use it from the Text menu (and the contextual menu when working with text).

You can format a single selected paragraph, all the paragraphs in a selected area, or all the paragraphs in a text frame by clicking on either the Bullets or the Numbered Lists button (Figure 1).

Illustrator26 4 1 numbered list

Figure 1. Turning text into a bulleted and a numbered list

Once the text is a list, we can modify the list formatting. There’s a pop-up offering several numbering styles and four different bullets, so you can style lists differently. Each level in your lists can have its own style (Figure 2).

Illustrator26 4 2 list popup

Figure 2. The popup has basic formatting for the bullets respectively the numbering.

Undo a list

In order to convert a list item back to normal text, click on the pressed list button in the Paragraph, Control, or Properties panel.

Additional list options are found in a dialog box that you open by clicking on the More Options button (three dots). Because these options are in a modal dialog box, the process can be rather complicated – particularly when formatting multi-level lists. In order to move the cursor to another list item, you have to first close the dialog box, put your cursor into a different list item and then re-open the dialog box, and so on (Figure 3).

Illustrator26 4 3 list options 1

Figure 3. Both types of lists are formatted using the same Bullets & Numbering dialog box. Switch between them using the tabs at the top of the dialog box.

The list formatting is very basic. You can’t apply character styles to the bullets or numbers, or even change their color. Instead numbers take on the list item’s character styling. The four bullet types cannot be changed at all – at least not without a workaround that we’ll come to in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at a different method for creating lists. There are some trigger characters that create list entries when typed at the beginning of a paragraph: *, #, >, + followed by a space (which is important). Illustrator then creates a list entry, keeping the character as its bullet. This is the only way of using those characters as bullets (Figure 4).

Illustrator26 4 4 list triggers

Figure 4. Bulleted lists with special characters

Typing multi-level lists

Levels in your lists can be created by setting the Level number in the Bullets & Numbering dialog. You can also just place the cursor before the list item and type a Tab in order to increase the list level. Type Shift+Tab to decrease it.

Now let’s come to hacking list formatting. If you want to format your bullets (or numbering) differently than the following text, you need an additional space before the actual list item. The smallest space Illustrator can use, is a Hair Space. Any formatting applied to that space will also be applied to the list bullet or number (Figure 5).

Illustrator26 4 5 hacking list

Figure 5. Hacking lists with spaces: you can get creative and apply color, font size, baseline shift or a completely different font. With the * list bullet and Zapf Dingbats you can get the pointing finger for that cheeky Seventies list.

Note that this behaviour is an option that you can find in Preferences > Type: Automatic Bulleted and Numbered lists while typing. If you don’t want Illustrator to create a list every time you start a paragraph with one of these triggers, you need to turn it off.

The space-formatting hack was inspired by a design Jean-Claude Tremblay shared in the Illustrator Prerelease group. His artwork took the technique a bit farther.

When using the space hack, you will also need to adjust the list positioning – and maybe you will want to change the indents for your basic lists anyway. Just like InDesign, Illustrator uses Left Indent and First line indent for the positioning. You can use negative indent values to move your bullets (and even your text) outside the text object bounds (Figure 6).

Illustrator26 4 5 hacking list

Figure 6. Using the indents to align lists with the space hack and multi-line list entries. Start with the First Line Indent to adjust the spacing between bullet and list entry. Then adjust the position of the whole line. Multiline list items, which are hacked, need additional indents via the paragraph panel.

The Alignment option aligns the bullets (and more importantly the numbering) to Left, Center, or Right. Unfortunately it doesn’t work reliably (Figure 7).

Illustrator26 4 7 list right aligned

Figure 7. Lists with left- and right-aligned numbering.

The general paragraph indents are applied cumulatively to list indents, which can work against you when formatting lists using Illustrator’s paragraph styles. Paragraph styles in Illustrator are irrational – especially when you are used to InDesign’s reasonable way of styling. In Illustrator all paragraph styles are children of the [Default Paragraph Style]. Every option that is not specifically set up in your custom paragraph style will be inherited from the [Default Paragraph Style]. No settings are mandatory in Illustrator’s custom paragraph styles (and therefore none are set by default).

Tip: Unlike InDesign, when when you outline text containing lists, Illustrator keeps the bullets and numbering!

Coming Undone

If you’re in the habit of moving objects with the arrow keys, you’re familiar with having to press Ctrl/Cmd+Z dozens of times to get back to the state before you started the move. This can be quite boring and eats up your time. Things like this are why people have been asking for a History panel to be added to Illustrator. Happily, this item has now been checked off from the wish list. Just don’t confuse the History panel with the Version History panel (which only works with Cloud documents).

Illustrator can remember up to 200 steps in the new History panel – depending on your computer’s memory and your settings in Preferences > Performance under History States. The panel doesn’t provide any advanced options such as snapshots (Figure 8).

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Figure 8. The History panel – in order to go back to a specific state, just click on it.

Clicking on a state in the History panel will display it. Later steps will not be deleted immediately, so if you didn’t hit the correct step in a long list of “Pen, Pen, Pen” drawing moves, you can still go back or forth.

You can create a new forked version by clicking on Create New Document From Current State, go back to the source document, and return to your latest edit.

Or you can continue working at the state you went back to. Only then the later steps will be deleted.

Tip: History is only kept until you close the file. After that, what’s gone is gone.

Putting the Vector into 3D & Materials

3D & Materials is a work in progress and what has been missing all the time is its connection to Illustrator’s core: the vector paths. With this new version not only can you export wireframes with one click, but you can also render and expand the mapped artwork to vector paths (as long as you applied vector artwork and there is no gradient in it).

Strings attached: Gradients

Using gradients as image maps in 3D effects has always caused a conversion to pixels because it’s impossible for Illustrator to automatically render the lighting of a gradient using solid colored vector shapes.

Mapping artwork to a 3D object was introduced in version 26.2 (March 2022) and works via symbols. You drag the symbol from the Materials section of the 3D And Materials panel onto the object and then drag it around to position it. With complex objects you have to fiddle around a little in order to find the face of the object where you want the map to appear (Figure 9).

Illustrator26 4 9 dragging map around

Figure 9. Dragging artwork onto a complex object with multiple faces. Applying a label and some stickers to a packaging is straightforward, but precisely arranging them is not possible.

Flat surfaces work best. On curved surfaces the mapping often does not work at all, e.g. this globe won’t look correctly when you rotate it (Figure 10).

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Figure 10. Mapping a globe

Once the map has been applied, the Render As Vector option in the Render settings pop-up now applies to the map as well. The vector rendering will not reflect your lighting settings, though (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Render settings pop-up: left: correct lighting situation; right: rendered as vector

You can hide the actual object to show only the mapping, which is a setting in the Materials section of the 3D And Materials panel. This functionality allows you to perform some interesting distortions that cannot be achieved otherwise, and has always been an important component of the “Classic” 3D effect. Unfortunately it doesn’t cooperate now when you render mapping as vectors (Figure 12).

Illustrator26 4 12 invisible2

Figure 12. Rendering with Invisible geometry and rendering as vector

When working with 3D, Illustrator users expand the effect to color it with gradients. To expand the 3D effect to wireframes, go into the Object section of the 3D And Materials panel and then click on Expand as Wireframes in the Quick Actions section. Illustrator expands the object itself as well as vector artwork mapped onto them. Unfortunately after expanding some edges of the object might be missing and the Invisible Geometry option doesn’t work either (Figure 13).

Illustrator26 4 13 expand wireframe

Figure 13. Expand to wireframe tends to omit curved edges. It renders mapped artwork as vector without explicitly checking that option.

Expanding a full color 3D object

Of course you can also expand the rendered object. After applying the Render settings from the popup, choose Object > Expand Appearance. You will get a mixture of raster images and vector artwork.

Last but not least

The color applied to a 3D object is now preserved when exporting it as an OBJ. This allows you to save a step when using those files in 3D software and they are also easier to tell apart.

Summing it Up

The July 2022 Release of Illustrator brings some long awaited features, but it looks a bit unfinished. It’s almost like Adobe wants us to continue to prerelease process of testing and sending feedback in order to figure out which refinements are really needed in the industries where people are using these new features. Lists will probably always be less sophisticated than in InDesign, but users should at least be able to configure and format the bullets and numbers without having to fake them.

Not being an avid supporter of a History panel I’m curious to learn if it meets peoples’ expectations. The 3D and Materials function is still far from being able to replace the “Classic” 3D effects in workflows that involve output to vector and/or mapped artworks. It looks promising so far with some new functionality it brings to the table and I appreciate the ongoing commitment to improve it. But there is still a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to the refinements, which I hope are coming soon.

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Monika Gause is a freelance graphic designer based in Hamburg, Germany. She is a lecturer at the University of Lüneburg and has produced a couple of LinkedIn Learning (formerly video2brain) trainings on Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and Inkscape. As an active Adobe Community Professional she can be found helping people in Adobe’s online forums, in Facebook groups, and wherever she comes across an interesting problem.