Adobe Illustrator CC for Web Designers

By Michaël Chaize

When I started working for a web agency in 1999, my team was already using Adobe Photoshop to design web pages. Back then, the introduction of the History palette and multiple undo was a big step forward at a time when web designers used tables to lay out web pages with cells filled by bitmaps and text blocks. Animated GIF was hot. We were dancing with hamsters, and web designers had six CSS properties available to them.  

Today, web designers have more than 300 CSS properties at their fingertips. Time moves fast, and trends in web design have expanded to include mobile first, flat design, responsive web design, vector graphics, and icon fonts, to name a few. New techniques are available to express your creativity on a web page and deliver the right messaging. As the web evolves, I meet more and more web designers who use Adobe Illustrator CC in their web design workflow. The majority use Illustrator to create vector graphics and export them to SVG files. Illustrator CC provides a pixel-perfect design environment with scalable components, CSS generation, SVG export, wireframing, and reusable symbols.


The pixel alignment feature in Illustrator CC enables you to create and export crisp, clean graphics. When you create a new Illustrator document, you can select the Web profile. In the advanced options of the New Document panel, make sure the Align New Objects To Pixel Grid option is enabled. When you enable the pixel-aligned property for an object, the horizontal and vertical segments in the object align to the pixel grid to provide a crisp appearance of strokes. If you plan to export bitmaps at some point from your design, you may want to preview your vector graphics to see how they will be rendered. Choose View > Pixel Preview to see how Illustrator divides objects into individual pixels (see Figure 1). 

One of my favorite features is the new Transform panel. The classic Illustrator tools enable me to move, rotate, and scale graphics on the artboard. I can then use the Transform panel to make the graphics pixel-precise. The alignment tools enable me to click-align a set of objects and center them on my page (see Figure 2).

Figure 1. Pixel Preview shows how Illustrator CC divides objects into pixels.

Figure 2. Transform and Align tools for pixel-perfect designs


The modular architecture of Illustrator CC includes an interface to create reusable symbols and styles. Social media buttons, for example, are a common component in today's web design projects. To create a symbol, select a graphic in your design, open the Symbols panel, and click the New icon to add your creation to the Symbols library and use it in multiple projects (see Figure 3). 

Figure 3. Save graphics to the Symbols library.

If you have multiple instances of a symbol on your page, you can edit the original symbol, by changing some colors for instance, and Illustrator pushes the modifications to all of your web pages (see Video 1).

Video 1. Modify symbol properties once and propagate the changes across your design (no audio).

You can also use the Character Styles panel to define CSS styles. When you set a font-family, a text size, and a color for a text block, you can select the text and click New in the Character Styles panel to create a style that you can apply to other text blocks on your web pages. If you edit the properties of the style (switching to another font-family for instance), the change is automatically reflected on all of your pages (see Figure 4). 

Figure 4. Define character styles to use across your designs.


Nine-slice scaling is a good way to define symbols to scale appropriately on your web page. For example, I want to design a banner graphic that contains title text and scales well whether the title is short or long. Usually, I design web pages with Lorem Ipsum because I do not have all the final content before I need to start creating my design. So my proposal might include a short title (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. A banner graphic with a short title

Later in the project, I might receive the final title for this section, which is much longer than what I used in my comp. When I scale horizontally, the banner creates unwanted distortion on the edges (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Before 9-slice scaling is applied, the banner graphic distorts as it expands.

To enable 9-slice scaling and create scalable symbols:

  1. Select your graphic.

  2. Choose Window > Symbol to open the Symbol panel and click New Symbol to create a symbol based on your selection (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Symbol options

  1. Select the Enable Guides For 9-Slice Scaling option.

  2. Double-click the symbol to edit it.

  3. Manually adjust the guides to exclude the areas you don't want to scale (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. 9-slice scaling gridlines

Now you can horizontally scale this symbol without affecting the edges (see Video 2). 

Video 2. Demonstration of 9-slice scaling (no audio)


If you are a Creative Cloud member, your membership includes the Typekit Portfolio plan, which provides access to more than 900 professional web fonts hosted by Typekit. You can also install Typekit fonts locally on your machine. Once synced to your desktop, you can use Typekit fonts in Illustrator CC as part of a web-safe workflow (see Figure 9). 

Figure 9. Creative Cloud Typekit font integration

To install a Typekit desktop font:

  1. Open the Creative Cloud desktop application and select the Fonts tab.

  2. Click Browse Fonts On Typekit to open the Typekit repository of web fonts.

  3. Select the Desktop filter.

  4. Choose a font and choose Use Fonts > On My Desktop to automatically download and install the font on your local computer.

  5. The fonts you download, such as Proxima Nova or Coquette, will be accessible from the font list in Illustrator CC.

For more information, check out my article "Typekit, Photoshop CC & Web Design," which describes how to create a web-safe workflow with Photoshop CC and Typekit. You can apply this workflow to Illustrator CC, too. 


Illustrator CC can decrease the time you spend developing web projects by automatically analyzing your design and extracting CSS properties. If you define character styles for example, Illustrator can convert your styles to CSS. To extract CSS based on a character style, open the CSS Properties panel and select a style to generate the CSS (see Figure 10).

Note: You may want to name your character styles based on traditional web elements such as h1, h2, h3, and body.

Figure 10. Generate CSS from defined character styles.

You can also generate CSS from vector graphics by selecting a shape and naming its layer. Again, the CSS code automatically appears in the CSS Properties panel. The CSS export feature is incredibly useful. It works with gradient-filled objects, and it can generate the code for the vendor prefixes in the CSS export options (see Video 3).

Video 3. Create a gradient in Illustrator CC and generate its CSS (no audio).

CSS export includes the background color of your shapes, gradients, strokes, and even drop shadows (see Figure 11). 

Figure 11. Export the CSS properties of your designs.


The CSS Properties panel extracts the CSS properties for each individual element you select in Illustrator, but it can also generate a global CSS style sheet and the image assets of your page. Once your web design is ready, select all and click Export Selected CSS to generate a global CSS file as well as image assets in PNG format. From here, you just have to create the HTML skeleton of your page and import the CSS file to have a working web prototype (see Video 4).

Video 4. Generate the CSS and image assets for your web design prototype (no audio).

David Deraedt has created an extension you can use to automate the generation of image assets that works similarly to the way you can generate image assets in Adobe Photoshop CC. You can rename your layers by adding a .jpg, .png, or .svg extension. The Layer Exporter panel exports all your layers to single image assets (see Figure 12). 

Figure 12. Use the Layer Exporter panel to export layers to single image assets.


Vector graphics enable designers to create icons, symbols, or logos that look great on all screens, including Retina displays. SVG graphics scale well, are usually lightweight, and can be compressed further by web servers.

Check out my article "Export SVG for the Web with Illustrator CC" for more detail.

You can also export SVG files with Illustrator CC by selecting graphics and copying them to the Clipboard. You can then paste the SVG code into your favorite HTML code editor. Edge Reflow CC, for instance, enables you to add an SVG file to your comp by simply copying and pasting the graphics from Illustrator CC into Reflow CC (see Video 5).

Video 5. Copy SVG code from Illustrator CC and paste it into another editor or Edge Reflow CC (no audio).

The most recent addition to Illustrator CC provides the ability to create responsive SVG files. To use this feature, open the More Options section of the SVG Options panel. These graphics, once on your web page, automatically adjust their widths to fill the dimensions of the page. So if you reduce the screen resolution of your website, these graphics will still appear in their entirety. When you export a traditional, nonresponsive SVG file, the width and height parameters are fixed. A responsive SVG file, however, lets the HTML developer set the dimensions, which is why you can easily add them to a responsive layout. For instance, a fluid layout defined in Edge Reflow CC accepts responsive SVG files (see Video 6).


Symbol fonts (another term for icon fonts) are popular with web designers because they are:

  • Light and easy to embed

  • Scalable (vector graphics) for use across a variety of screen resolutions and densities

  • Compatible across web browsers, including Internet Explorer 6

As useful and widespread as symbol fonts are, they also have some limitations:

  • Accessibility and SEO need to be addressed outside of this process. On my blog, I show you how ligatures can help solve this problem.

  • Symbols can only have one color.

Check out Icomatic, an innovative online service, to understand how to create symbol fonts from Illustrator CC.


Adobe Color makes it fun to play with colors in Illustrator CC. Use the iOS app or the Color website, to import color themes that inspire you and experiment with different color moods while working on your visual design. I also enjoy playing with the Recolor Artwork wheel to try different color themes (see Video 7). 

Video 7. Use Kuler to change the color theme of your visual design (no audio).


To summarize, Illustrator offers the following benefits for web designers:

  • Responsive web design With Illustrator CC, you're not limited to a specific resolution. You can create several artboards (one per page) in a single Illustrator file to illustrate how the web page should respond to different screen resolutions. Combined with Edge Reflow CC, Illustrator enables a powerful workflow for responsive web designers.

  • UX prototyping and wireframing — Due to its modular approach to working with text and symbols, Illustrator CC can help increase your productivity as a web designer. The 9-slice scaling mode is a key feature for UI component prototyping and application layouts.

  • SVG and icon fonts — Vector graphics are a necessary component for targeting high-density screens. Illustrator CC is the application to quickly draw vector graphics. The output to SVG is natural and clean.

  • Workflow with web developers — Export clean CSS files from Illustrator CC, and even generate the image assets directly to JPEG, PNG, or SVG format.

  • Flat design — The current trend in web design is clean and minimalistic, and Illustrator provides an ideal environment for drawing shapes and experimenting with colors and web fonts.

November 12, 2014