I used the trace tool to, according to the tutorial, turn something into an editable vector. But it didn't work as it did in the tutorial, it put a blue box around the asset and made a loud error noise whenever I tried to edit it. It does visually look like a vector file, but I can't do anything to cut, erase, draw on or even over (new layer) the file.

After giving up on the trace tool, I tried to draw freehand with my Wacom, I was putting up with the extremely exaggerated over-smoothing of my lines, but once I encountered one tiny area I wanted to erase, using the eraser completely altered the entire image – fattening all of the lines and totally altering the drawing in a way I really hate.

I honestly feel like I'm being pranked. The program doesn't behave the way it seems to in any of the tutorials I see illustrators using it for. Is there some "mode," or series of setup steps I need to do?

I'm trying to do work with a friend who really wants me to give him AI vector files, not my usual JPEG raster files. But so far this program handles so badly it seems like we won't be able to move forward at all.

I've always been pen and ink, it's really strange and upsetting to try and lay a line down and have a computer program arbitrarily alter your line, or blast an error sound, or lock the document for editing with no message as to why.


3 Answers 3


Many of the issues you seem to be facing are all due to sheer unfamiliarity. You might benefit from reviewing some of the basic tutorials provided by Adobe regarding how the application works. Many tutorials around the web focus on very cursory explanations in an effort to get to an end goal in as few steps as possible. These often don't make for tutorials which explain functionality.

Illustrator can be a fantastic tool for the creation of artwork. Thousands of users utilize Illustrator for a vey wide range of styles - from hand draw utilizing tablets, to tracing raster files, to more shape oriented constructions. However, you need to understand how it works. Often a small alteration to a tool's settings can make a difference for an artist.

Unlike traditional painting and raster applications, vector-based creation isn't something which comes as intuitively to many people. It almost always takes a period of acclimation.

  • I see what you mean. I couldn't find most of these in the application itself, so I didn't know they were around. It's much more appropriate to my level. A bit of a slog, learning to zoom in and out to make sure I'm not missing anything important, but I think you've got me on the right track.
    – StanKers
    Apr 22, 2019 at 3:41
  • 1
    Glad I could help. Sketchpad.net may also assist with some functionality overviews.
    – Scott
    Apr 22, 2019 at 3:49

Auto Trace. You need to expand the trace before you can edit it. With the trace selected, hit the Expand button in the tool options along the top. Auto tracing is certainly a useful feature in Illustrator, but the fact that you have to Expand it to edit it is not intuitive. Illustrator is not intuitive or user friendly, but a complex tool (no shit!).

Drawing freehand is certainly an option in Illustrator, however it's not the way that most people will use the software, it can be useful of those who need to draw sketches/line drawings and such like, but that's only a small part of what Illustrator can be used for. Freehand drawing/painting might be what you are familiar with when using raster software, but it's not the way Illustrator really works at it's core. A wacom tablet is useful for drawing freehand, but not for much else in Illustrator (in my personal opinion). I find a mouse to be more useful generally, much more so than in Photoshop for example.

Altering strokes you drew freehand with the Pencil/Brush tool: that behaviour can be changed in the the tool options. Double click the Pencil or Brush tool icon to bring up the options, where you can change the amount of smoothing.

Erasing in Illustrator is an entirely different concept from that used in raster software. When you use the eraser, it cuts/eats into a shape (a closed path) and changes the path and anchors, and for open paths it removes part of a path, and it's anchors, and adds new anchors. In certain circumstances it can alter the appearance of a stroke in unexpected ways, e.g. if you have a variable width profile added to the stroke.

There isn't a special "mode" to set up. Illustrator is ready to go, however there are many ways to customise the user interface to make various common controls and panels a bit easier to find. There are some presets for layout of the user interface at the top right hand side. Examples are: Essentials, Essentials Classic, Layout, Painting, etc. This will set up the panels to make these tasks a little easier.

Now, all that said and done, probably best to forget drawing freehand with a Wacom, at least for the moment, or until you are more familiar with the software. And after learning the basics and the user interface, instead try to concentrate on learning Illustrator's main tool - the Pen Tool. Understand that tool, and then learn the concepts of Bézier curves, anchors, strokes and fills, and you will be at least 80% of the way towards mastering Illustrator.

And lastly, if you previously used Photoshop or a similar raster image editor, then you can basically forget almost everything you learnt, because although they might superficially have similar interfaces, that's where the similarities really end.


It would help you to not think illustrator constructs as a drawings, atleast initially. Its not that you can not, but if you do then you lose some of the power of vector graphics. Also the kind of layering nature of drawing is realy detrimental to performance.

It is far better to start of thinking about illustrator as if you would be cutting the shapes out of colored paper with scissors. This is a much better analogy and gives you much more reasoning power about the benefits and pitfalls. Its not that this is a entirely correct analogy but it is a better one to start from.

Anyway, yes your existing skill does not automatically transfer over to a illustrator context. I feel your pain, but be assured that you will come out as someone who better understands things in the other end.

And yes illsutartor (aplies to CC version) is a in a very bad configuration when you start. They are trying to sell existing users 3 new features so you should start by configuring the palettes and disabling the shape widgets.

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