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Creating Complex Objects

Both rectangles and ellipses have four path segments and four anchor points. (You'll learn more about them in Hour 5.) Illustrator also has tools that can create objects with different numbers of sides. Like the Rectangle and Ellipse tools, the Polygon and Star tools can be dragged or clicked. However, they always create from the center of the object.

Using the Polygon Tool

The Polygon tool creates closed paths with multiple sides. Your object can range from three sides, producing an equilateral triangle to as many as 1,000 sides. To give you an idea of what a 1,000-sided polygon looks like, even at an incredibly huge size, see Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7 Illustrator's maximum document size is a little over 227 inches by 227 inches. This 1,000-sided polygon is about 200 inches across, and still looks like a circle. For reference, in the upper-left corner you can see the page-tiling indicator for a single letter-sized sheet of paper.

Task: Working with Polygons

Unlike the Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, and Ellipse tools, you always drag polygons from the center. Let's give it a try.

  1. Select the Polygon tool in the Toolbox.

  2. Determine where on your artboard you want the center of the object.

  3. Click and drag straight toward the top or bottom of the page.

  4. Continue to hold down the mouse button and drag the cursor in a circle around your object. Observe how the object rotates with the cursor.

  5. Still holding the mouse button, press the Shift key. You'll see the polygon snap into a specific orientation. When Shift is pressed, the polygon will always have a flat side on the bottom. Release Shift, and then press it again. Release Shift, but keep the mouse button down.

  6. Press the up arrow key on your keyboard several times. Every press of the up arrow adds one more side to the polygon.

  7. Press the down arrow key several times. This subtracts sides from the object. Keep the mouse button down.

  8. Press the spacebar and drag. You can also reposition polygons while creating them.

  9. Release the mouse button. Click once more in the center of the artboard and release. Give your clicking finger a break while we look at the Polygon dialog box (see Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8 You can create numerically with any of the object creation tools. Simply click once on the artboard to open the appropriate dialog box.

You can input the radius (from the center to any one of the points) and the number of sides.

Using the Star Tool

The Star tool is very similar to the Polygon tool. And, as you'll see right now, it has a lot of similar behavior.

  • Click or drag to create stars

  • Stars are created from the center

  • Pressing the Spacebar lets you move the star while continuing to hold down the mouse button

  • The Shift key orients the star so that a point is always toward the top of the page

  • The Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) key will align the path segments on either side of a point. (You'll see an example later, in Figure 3.10.)

  • The up and down arrow keys add points to the star, rather than sides

  • The number of points can range from 3 to 1,000

There are a couple of additional concepts to consider when creating stars. To understand them, let's first look at the Star dialog box (Figure 3.9) .

Figure 3.9 The numbers you'll see in the Star dialog box are those of the last star created, whether numerically or by dragging.

Task: Working with the Star Tool

Stars have two radii. Radius 1 is the distance from the center of the star to the end of a point. Radius 2 is the distance from the center of the star to the angle at the base of two points. Let's see how they work.

  1. First, use the command Select, All or the keyboard shortcut Command+A (Mac)/Control+A (Windows) and delete all of the clutter.

  2. Click somewhere to the left of the center of your artboard. In the Star dialog box, enter Radius 1: 100 pt, Radius 2: 45 pt, Points: 5, and click OK.

  3. Move the cursor to the right of the new star and click again.

  4. Leave Radius 1 set to 100 pt, and leave the number of points at 5. Change Radius 2 to 60 pt. Click OK.

The only difference between the two stars is the length of the second radius, the distance from the center of the star to the base of the points.

Task: Mastering the Star Tool

The Star tool has a couple of other little tricks up its sleeve as you drag it on the artboard.

  1. In the empty area near the top of the artboard, click with the Star tool and begin dragging.

  2. While continuing to drag, press the Shift key and continue to hold down both it and the mouse button. This, you will recall, orients the star to the top of the page. (If you need to reposition the star, remember the spacebar.)

  3. Now press the Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) key. This makes the shoulders of the star square to each other, as in Figure 3.10. (The Shift key is not required, but it makes it easier to see.) Release and press the Option (Alt) key several times. Each point is constructed of two straight path segments. With Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) depressed, the segments on either side of a point's segments will be parallel.

  4. Figure 3.10 To the left, a star with Radius 1 set to 100 and Radius 2 set to 55. On the right, dragging a star with Radius 1 at 100 and the Option (Alt) key depressed to automatically adjust Radius 2.

  5. Press the up arrow key four times to give the star nine points. (Release the Shift and Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) keys momentarily, if necessary, but continue to hold down the mouse button.)

  6. Once again, press and release the Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) key several times. Release the Shift key and do it again. Press the Shift and Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) keys.

  7. Release the mouse button.

  8. Start dragging to create another star in another part of the artboard. Don't drag very far—keep the star small for the moment.

  9. With the mouse button still down, press and hold the Command (Mac)/Control (Windows) key. Now drag the cursor farther from the center of the new star. At this point, Radius 2 is not changing, but you are dragging the points of the stars (Radius 1) farther from the center. Release the mouse button and the Command (Mac)/Control (Windows) key.

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