Grant M Fisher
Illustrator + Designer


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Top 3 Uses of the Alt Key in Illustrator

The more you use Illustrator, the more accustomed you will become to the tools it has available. But did you know that several of the tools have "alternate" ways to use them? Enter the Alt key. 

For this tutorial, we're going to be re-creating the illustration at the top of this post.

Start out with an artboard that is 800x400. If you're not sure how to do this, refer to my previous blog post about creating artboards.

This illustration is made up of very basic shapes, so if you need any help on how to create shapes in Illustrator, refer to my posts on creating shapes here and here.

1. Alt + Eraser

First, we're going to make the sun in the background. Choose a shade of orange, and select the Ellipse tool (L). Then, while holding down the shift key, drag out a circle around 400px in diameter, and place it in the middle of the artboard. Next, we want to cut off the bottom of the shape using the Eraser tool (Shift + E). We want to cut this shape off in a straight line, and that's where the alt key comes in. With the circle shape selected, activate the Eraser tool, hold down the Alt key, then click and drag out the eraser to create the area that you want to remove from the screen. You'll see a dotted line that shows you the area that you will be erasing. When you marquee around the area you want to remove, release your mouse click. 

Like this:


After creating this shape, drag it to the bottom of your artboard. 

Next we want to make the mountains in the background and the trees in the foreground. Use the Polygon or Star tool to create a some triangles. Let's start with the mountains.

Drag out four large triangles, and color them all different shades of gray using the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches). Place three on the left side, and one on the far right side. Your illustration should look like this so far:

Next, we want to create the trees. Create three triangles that are different shades of green, and a brown line to make the trunk of the tree. Make the three triangles all slightly different in size, and stack them from small to large. You can free form this, or you can use the same dimensions and colors that I used:

2. Alt + Selection Tool

Once you have the tree created, select all four objects that make up the tree, and group them together (Command + G).

The next use of Alt is probably the easiest and most common use of the key, and that's to duplicate shapes. 

With the Selection tool (V), hold down Alt, then click and drag your tree to duplicate the shape. You can keep repeating this to place a bunch of trees on your illustration. It's important to point out that you should see a white arrow appear behind your selection arrow to show that you will duplicate the object you're moving, as you'll see below.

Notice the double arrow before each time I duplicate these trees.

Notice the double arrow before each time I duplicate these trees.

Next, move the trees you just duplicated, and resize them all to make them look less uniform. 

3. Alt + Reflect

Next, let's create a tent and a trailer to go in the foreground.

For the tent, use the Polygon or Star tool to create a triangle measuring 44 x 55, and color it solid black with no stroke.

Next, use the Line Segment tool (\) to draw 3pt strokes around the triangle on the top and bottom. Make both a little longer than the actual triangle, then move them to appear as you see below:

Use your arrow keys to nudge the shapes around to put them into place.

Use your arrow keys to nudge the shapes around to put them into place.

Now, we're going to mirror the right support and stake using the Reflect tool with the Alt key. In the image above, they're the shapes marked 1 and 2.

To do this, first select the two objects we want to reflect. Then select the Reflect tool (O). While holding down the Alt key, place your cursor at the top point of the triangle to find the center point of the tent. Then, click on that center point to bring up a dialog box. Within the dialog box, make sure you have "Vertical" selected, then click Copy to duplicate the two shapes.

The image to the right shows what your dialog box should look like before you click Copy.

Next, we're going to create a trailer using some of the methods we've learned today.

First, start by creating a mixture of line segments, circles, and rounded rectangles to make up the shapes that you see in the trailer. Use Alt + Eraser to cut off the bottom of the rounded rectangle. You should have shapes that look similar to the below image. Use the arrow keys or Selection tool to nudge the objects around into place.

Bonus Step 1: This step covers content I have not yet written blog posts about, that's why I'm calling this a bonus step.

To improve the shape of the trailer, you can use the Live Corners feature to adjust the corners on the fly.  (I'll cover Live Corners more in a future post) Using the Direct Selection tool (A), select each corner individually, then click and drag on the blue, target-like circle, and drag to adjust the corners. Do this for each corner to add a little more character to your trailer.

Almost finished!

Place your tent and trailer into your illustration, and add a dark green 8pt stroke along the very bottom of your image for the ground. Your image should now look like this:

Looking good!

Looking good!

The last step is to add some more depth with the sky. Create four rectangle shapes measuring 800x100, and make them all a shade of purple. 

Then, group the four shapes together, and send them to the background by navigating to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.

Next let's add some stars to the background using Alt + Selection, as we learned earlier. 

Start by creating some very small circles in a very light gray color. Then, with your Selection tool, hold down Alt, and duplicate them all over the sky.  (Note: It may help to zoom in to be able to more easily duplicate these stars.)


Bonus step 2: 

As the last step, we're going to use the Pathfinder tool to create the moon. I'll cover the Pathfinder tool more in depth in a later blog post. 

Start by creating a circle that is 120px in diameter. Using Alt + Selection tool again, hold down shift, and duplicate the circle diagonally to the left. 

Next, with both objects selected, open the Pathfinder tool (Window > Pathfinder), and choose Minus Front to cut the top circle out of the bottom circle.

Once you cut out the moon shape, put it in the top right corner of your illustration, and that's it! 

So how did it go? Were there any steps that you got hung up on? I'd love to see your results and/or feedback in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!!