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Design 101: 3 Illustrator Alignment Tips for Pixel-Perfect Design

Adobe Illustrator is a powerful program. In fact, it’s the one program I use more than any other Adobe program. It’s reliable, easy to work with and is the best Adobe program to achieve pixel-perfect design in my opinion. How so, you may ask? In this article, you’ll learn 3 tips to make your design work pixel-perfect, and that’s the best kind of design work to me.


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Alignment Tip #1: Guides

If you’re not familiar with guides, no worries! Read my article “Design 101: Using Guides to Guide You” to get yourself up to speed. When you’re comfortable with using guides, you can use them to deliver precise layouts (as mentioned in my linked article above) and you can also use them to measure distances between shapes, words, letters and anything else you could think of.

Another type of guide you can create is called Smart Guides. Smart Guides should be on automatically by default, but if they aren’t, simply select View from the top menu bar and click on Smart Guides. Smart Guides help with alignment in some complex ways, but to put it simply, they will help snap objects or guides in place to make things easier for you. Make sure that “Snap to Grid” is deselected; otherwise Smart Guides will not work correctly. Turn these off by selecting “View” from the top menu bar and deselecting “Snap to Grid.” Now that you have these activated, you’ll notice how objects and guides will align and snap well for you. If you don’t know what to do with these guides, watch this video to get a good understanding on how Smart Guides work.

Circle Guide

Finally, you can create custom, diagonal or circular guides. How is this possible when Illustrator only gives you horizontal or vertical options from the ruler? Easy. Simply draw out your lines or shapes that you want to become guides with the pen, pencil, brush, line or shape tools. Next, select everything that you’d like to become a guide. Finally, select View from the top menu bar, go down to Guides, and from the side menu select “Make Guides.” You now have custom guides! You can see this tip in action on this Lynda.com video.


Alignment Tip #2: Working with Coordinates

Coordinates have helped me create perfectly aligned shapes and objects more times than I can count. I use them in almost every design. In the top of your workspace, you’ll see coordinate boxes in the top part of your window. You can use the white Direct Selection Tool arrow to select anchor points in objects or paths to see their precise X and Y coordinates as they exist in your document & artboards. These are great for copying and pasting into other anchor points to get perfect alignment. For example, if I draw a shape and I need the bottom to align perfectly, I can copy the Y coordinates for one anchor point and paste them into the Y coordinates of the other anchor point I’d like to have perfectly aligned. That’s it! You can do the same with horizontal alignments as well by copying and pasting X coordinates too.

Circle Guide


Alignment Tip #3: Using the Alignment Panel

Getting familiar with the Align panel will make alignments pretty much automatic and happen like magic. This panel can be used to achieve perfect horizontal, vertical and center alignments as well as giving you the ability to distribute objects horizontally, vertically and centered as well! To access the panel, simply select “Window” from the top menu bar and select “Align.” Now, simply select the objects you’d like aligned or distributed and click on whatever alignment or distribution you need and like magic, Adobe will perfectly make it happen for you!

Alignment Panel


In conclusion, making pixel-perfect design in Illustrator is a lot easier than it sounds. As long as you know how to use the program and all of the different ways you can align things, you’ll have less headaches and more precision in all of your design work. Get familiar with guides, creating your own guides and smart guides, experiment with coordinates and using them to align and finally understanding how the alignment panel works. In no time, you’ll be able to pump out amazing pixel-perfect designs from Illustrator!