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Illustrator Tip: Distributing Objects

Part 1: Using Distribute commands to spread objects out evenly across a page By Dave Nagel
"Distribute" commands are some of the more misunderstood features of Adobe Illustrator. It's likely that you've tried to use them a few times, given up and forgotten they ever existed. And it is, in fact, tricky to get them to do what you think they should do: distribute objects across your canvas. But with a little trickery, you can actually use these commands or this purpose.

Let's say, for example, that you have a bunch of objects and want to spread them out across a page--maybe to use as background elements, maybe for some other purpose. And the key is that you want them distributed evenly in rows and columns, as in the example below.

Today we'll look at how that works using Distribute commands. There are other ways to do this without using Distribute commands, but this is one technique that might be useful for you when others aren't feasible. For example, you could define an object as a pattern ad then spread it over the canvas, but using Distribute commands, you could also overlap objects to create some cool backgrounds, which you can't do with pattern fills.

And, of course, getting a pattern fill to line up properly with your page can take a lot of trial and error.

So here's how to do it with Distribute commands.

Aligning objects
First off, you need to get the objects involved aligned with one another before distributing them across the page. And you want to make sure that the number of objects involved to begin with is no more than the number you ant spread out from left to right. In other words, if you want five columns of objects on your page, begin with five objects. If you want objects to overlap, create enough of them so that when they're spread out evenly over the page, they'll be overlapped. (The overlap example above used 10 base objects, rather than five.)

If you're starting out with a single object and want to duplicate it across the page, select the object, copy it and then use the Paste in Front command (Edit > Paste in Front). The reason for this is that Paste in Front puts the objects on top of the original object, rather than offsetting them on the page.

So here I have a stack of five butterflies all on top of one another, since I want to have five columns of butterflies when I'm done with this process.

If you're starting off with multiple objects, you first need to align them into a tidy stack, just like the example above.

So I'll start off with five objects on my page and select them all.

Then I'll open up the Align palette (Window > Align). And I'll click the Horizontal Align Center button.

Followed by the Vertical Align Center button.

And again I wind up with a tidy stack.

Distributing across the page
So now that I have all my elements aligned, I can start the distribution process. But this requires two separate distribute commands. For the first one, we're going to distribute these objects across the page to make our columns.

Step 1 is to go to the Align palette, click the flyaway menu in the top right and choose the "Align to Artboard" option.

Once you do this, all alignment and distribution will be applied relative to the canvas. (So, for example, if you now align your objects center, they'll be centered on the page.)

So now, with all your objects selected, hit the "Horizontal Distribute Center" button in the Align palette. And look what happens....

Say, that kind of seems like what should happen with Distribute commands, eh?

Okay, now we can move on to vertical distribution.

Distributing down the page
Now, to distribute these objects down the page to create rows, we're going to do something similar to what we've done before.

Begin by grouping the five objects already on the canvas (Object > Group). Then copy the group and paste in as many duplicates as you'll need to fill out the page. In my case, I'll have eight total groups to distribute on the page. Again, don't forget to use the Paste in Front command to ensure that the objects are all lined up properly. And, if you're using multiple types of objects, distribute the different types horizontally (as above) then group them and align all of the groups, as we did previously.

Now select all of your groups--again, I have eight groups total--and click the Vertical Distribute Center button in the Align palette.


And now you have your background made up of evenly distributed objects. Simple enough, even if it takes a bit of explanation.

Next time around we'll take a look at a different technique, one that will allow you to spawn multiple copies of a single object and spread them out on the page using the object's starting point as a reference, rather than the page.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, be sure to visit me in the Adobe Illustrator forum at DMN Forums by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:adobe illustrator, distribute, tutorial, spread objects, pattern, columns, rows, align, artboard


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