Lots of helpful Illustrator features are hidden in special key-commands or in the many Illustrator drop-down menus or dialog boxes. These tips may seem trivial, but I know I would have learned Illustrator faster if I’d started out knowing these basic tricks:
Creating smooth paths
The are several ways to achieve smooth paths without perfect fine-motor skills. The pencil and paintbrush tools both have settings dialog boxes where you can specify the fidelity and smoothness of new strokes. The biggest Illustrator secret though is the smooth tool which is tucked away in the pencil menu. You can use it on paths you’ve just drawn or on any path in the document. Just select the path and drag it along the selected path to adjust the contours of the path. It adds or removes points as needed and adjusts the handles. This blog entry explains how to create smooth points in illustrator in more detail.
Sometimes you need to adjust the curve of a path on only one side of a point while leaving the other side of the path as is. You can ALT-click any point with the direct selection tool (the white arrow) or the pen tool to adjust only one side of a point’s handles.
Sometimes you need to adjust a path in the middle of a curve but it only has one handle, or you’ve got a point with two handles that you need to turn into a 90 degree corner. Find the convert anchor point tool hidden at the bottom of the pen menu and click the point to toggle it between a two-handled point and no-handled point.
Often times you’ll need to create a single object, then multiply it across a document. The fastest way to do this is to ALT-click the selected object with the selection tool (the black arrow), and drag out a new copy. No copying and pasting necessary. If you’re stating out with Illustrator I hope these tips can help you save some time.