Creating the optimal Adobe Illustrator workspace

Hope you have been enjoying the new year so far :). Today I wanted to share a few tips on how to organize your Adobe Illustrator workspace. Since sharing my Illustrator + graphic design process in the Share-worthy Design course, I've put together systems that streamline my workflow. I hope this tutorial helps speed up your process!

You frequently use the same color swatches, typefaces and graphic elements. You’ve found your loophole for locating the files, but still find yourself repeatedly performing the same tasks in Adobe Illustrator. Rather than frequently performing the same tasks, it is time you finally set up your Illustrator workspace to best suit how you work! Everyone works differently, so Adobe embraces that and allows you to customize this robust tool to improve efficiency.

There are SO many options to customize your workspace, so I hope these few tips help improve efficiency and allow you to spend more time designing.

To kick things off, create a new document using one of Adobe’s preset profiles. Select the profile that best suits your needs (typically print or web), and we will adjust the settings from here.

Customize default brand swatches

First up, let’s get rid of the default swatches in Illustrator. These are a great starting point, however if you have an existing brand you work with, or your own brand, you most likely will want to trade out the defaults for your brand colors. This will save you loads of time from referencing previous files, or manually typing in the color values.

Step 1: Remove any of the current swatches you don’t want. Shift+click all unwanted swatches and select “delete swatches” in the swatch palette.

Step 2: Add the swatches you want to save to your swatches panel. Either manually enter in the color value, or select any artwork that contains the swatch colors and select “new color group” in the swatches panel. (Tip: I recommend separating your brand swatches into different color groups, ie: primary, secondary, neutral, etc).

Step 3: Select “save swatches” as .ai from the swatch libraries menu. Once they are saved, you will be able to always reference them from within Adobe Illustrator under the “user defined” section within the swatch libraries menu.

Tip: If you want the same colors to appear each time you open Adobe Illustrator, simply open the swatch library from the “user defined” section, and click “Persistent” from the drop down.

Customize default brand typefaces

If you are tired of repeatedly changing the Myriad default typeface in Illustrator, there is a simple trick to swapping it out for your preferred typeface.

Step 1: Open the character styles panel (Window > Type > Character Styles).

Step 2: Double-click “Normal Character Style” and change the default typeface to your desired typeface. Click “OK”, then save your file.

Bonus: You can also create character styles for your commonly used type settings. I recommend creating one for headlines, and another for subheads. The “normal character style” can be set for your body type settings. Through adding character styles, you will be able to quickly change text to commonly used settings much easier.

Adjust your Illustrator workspace


Once the typography + colors are set to your liking, you can think about the rest of the workspace. Here are a few starting points, but feel free to customize to what suits your workflow best.

Units: First up, adjust the units to your preference. I typically prefer inches (for print) or pixels (for web). I normally only use “points” for font size or stroke width, so adjusting the units in your default workspace will save you one extra step in future documents. To adjust, simply navigate to Illustrator > Preferences > Units. Select the “general” units that you prefer.

Panels: Think through the typical Illustrator tools that you use, and make sure that they are included on your panel sidebar. These can include layers, artboards, swatches, Adobe CC Libraries, links, pathfinder, etc. You can drag + drop each panel to your order preference as well. Eliminate any panels you don’t frequently use, in order to create a clean workspace.

Once you created a workspace to your preferences, save the workspace for future documents. Navigate to Window > Workspace > New Workspace to save your current setup for future uses.

Utilize Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries

Adobe recently released the Adobe CC Libraries resource. At first, admittedly I ignored it thinking I didn’t want to save files in another “cloud” system. I had no idea how much I was missing out! Essentially, the libraries resource allows you to save assets for quick reference throughout all Adobe programs. These assets can include color swatches, brushes, character/paragraph styles, photos, logos, etc. Instead of repeatedly navigating to your logos folder on your desktop, or searching for photos you frequently use, you can save them to your library for quick reference. You can add several libraries to access throughout Creative Cloud, so don’t be shy in adding your favorite resources to the mix.

Here are a few recommendations for your various libraries:

Brand library: logos, colors, type styles, bio photos, brand photography, icons, illustrations, patterns

Design resources: mockups, icons, wireframing, illustrations, graphic elements, color palettes

How to create an Adobe CC Library:

Step 1: Navigate to Window > Libraries. From the flyout menu select “create new library.”

Step 2: Name your library (ex: Brand Resources). Once it is named, drag design assets to this window in Illustrator. You can also rename the file within the panel.

Tip: If you work with clients who use Adobe, you can share a library with them that includes their design assets. You can watch a more in depth video tutorial on the library features from Adobe here.

Save document profiles + templates for best workflow

Once you have set up your Illustrator workspace for efficiency based on your process, you can save this document profile or template. Both of these file types have similar structure. Here are the basic functions:

New document profiles give you a blank document with custom settings (color swatches, typography, preferences, etc). These file types show up when you create a new document, along with the print, web, and video settings. To create a new document profile, save + name your illustrator file in the “new document profiles” folder. (Applications > Adobe Illustrator CC > Support Files > New Document Profiles > en_US)

Illustrator templates have the same functionality as a new document profile, but with more customization including content, design elements, guides, and artwork. These file types are great for blog post templates, portfolio template, social media dimensions, etc. To create a new Illustrator template, save + name your document as a .ait file type. (File > Save as Template. Make sure the file format is Illustrator template. Save the template in your “templates” folder under “cool extras” in the Illustrator applications folder).

There are so many ways to customize your Illustrator workspace, and I hope these tips start you on the right path in improving efficiency in your workflow.

There are so many ways to customize your Illustrator workspace, and I hope these tips start you on the right path in improving efficiency in your workflow. I've worked in this program for years, and finally fine tuned my workspace + shortcuts in Illustrator! Download my favorite Illustrator shortcuts (for free)!