Adobe Illustrator is one of the most powerful piece’s of design and vector based software available and because it’s more complex it makes it harder to learn. It can be incredibly daunting to learn a piece of software, especially one that is updated every couple of years and is one of the more complex and powerful pieces of software available in it’s field.
As the software is expensive on it’s own I will try and give guidance and tips to things that don’t cost even more money. This might be obvious but most people won’t do it, you need to have a structure or plan going into learning this piece of software. Give yourself an hour a day or a few hours a week and divide them between learning and practising on your own, having a plan and sticking it help you learn anything so much quicker.
The next thing is actually learning the software and for this I heavily recommend watching video tutorials, chances are if you are learning a piece of design software you are a visual person and learning from a video with someone explaining and walking you through the stages can be a great help. Text tutorials are also available and can be useful but they tend to be aimed at more experienced users, so if you are starting out I would find and focus on video tutorials.
I know earlier I said I would try and make the tips free but if you do have some extra money and you need the help I would heavily recommend getting a subscription to Lynda Learning. It makes everything a lot easier and it goes through everything and there are files that allow you to follow along with the person giving the tutorial. This is great as you are actually doing the work instead of just watching someone else do it and you will learn more by doing than just watching. I did the tutorial series from Deke Mcclelland on Illustrator and it was great and it made my transition from Photoshop to Illustrator a lot easier.
Some people get stuck in the cycle of just learning and never actually doing, this is why practice is the most important (and most obvious) tip I can give. To learn or become better at anything you need to practice. To avoid getting into the cycle of just learning I would recommend learning and practicing at the same time. So either follow a tutorial and go along with and do as they do or learn one hour on one day and on the next do one hour of practice. My personal method is giving myself little projects to do, e.g. design a logo or make an everyday object or a face of a character. Just something by yourself, although it is useful to follow along with a tutorial some may feel they can’t do it by themselves, however having an original side project will give you a lot more confidence in your abilities.
If you want to save time when actually using the software, you need to learn the keyboard shortcuts it will make your life a lot easier as well as save you a lot of time when designing. Keyboard shortcuts can be found in the edit menu at the bottom. Below is a link to a quick overview of some of the main keyboard shortcuts:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help there are many design forums and places to ask questions with people there who know what they are talking about, my personal favourite is; http://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/
Below are links to some helpful sites that offer video tutorials and help in learning Illustrator:
http://vector.tutsplus.com/ (free / costs)
Remember to leave a comment and let me know if there are any other graphical topics you would like me cover.