When working with Illustrator tutorials here, elsewhere on the Web, or in books, it pays to memorize the main components of the Illustrator CS3 workspace. After the jump, I describe the components I will refer to the most in my tutorials.
Click on the image below to view a much larger version.
The Menu Bar gives you access to Illustrator’s commands and features. It also allows you to make things visible or invisible like panels and guides. Some menu items act on your instruction right away. Other menu items are followed by an ellipsis (…). When you select these menu items, you will get a dialog box which gives you options to modify your request.
Many menu items are accompanied by mysterious text on the right, such as “Shift+Ctrl+G”. This indicates that there is a keyboard shortcut associated with this command. In the example above, you would hold down the Shift and Ctrl keys (on the PC), then click the G key to ungroup a group of items. It is possible to create your own keyboard shortcuts (Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts…).
Menu Bar commands are indicated in my tutorials as a series of terms separated by a “Greater Than” (>) character. For example, Object > Path > Join means start with the Object menu, select the Path item, and then select Path from the fly-out menu.
The Tools Panel contains tools that let you interact directly with your Illustrator files. Some of the tools have a small black triangle at the bottom-right. Click on hold down on one of these tools, and you will see the fly-out menu which contains related tools. For example, the fly-out menu for the Rotate Tool also contains the Reflect tool. To select a tool, click on it in the Tool Box. Tools have keyboard shortcuts of single letters, indicated by a letter to the far-right of the fly-out tool menu. For example, you can press the R key to access the Rotate tool.
The Options Bar allows you to adjust the settings for the tool that is currently selected in the Tool Box. For example, if you have the Text tool selected, the Options Bar allows you to change the font type and size, as well as the text color and alignment. If you have the Pencil selected, you can change the color and thickness of the line. I will refer to the Options Bar a lot in my tutorials.
The Illustrator panels give you even more options for your tools than the Options Bar does. They can also allow you to choose colors and styles, rearrange your composition, see important information about your files, and do more complex editing styles and effects. There are many other types of panels too. More seem to be added with every new version of Illustrator. To view any panel that is not currently visible, select it from the Window menu.
The Cursor is the form that your mouse takes when it is on the screen. The Cursor image changes its look inside the image window depending on what tool you currently have selected in the Tools Panel.
For example, the Cursor looks like a little eyedropper when you select the Eyedropper tool. It looks like a paint brush when the Paint Brush tool is selected.