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Illustrator CS5 : Navigating Around Your Document

10/11/2011 4:51:21 PM
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Being able to move through a document easily is a key skill in Illustrator. Rarely can you fit an entire illustration in the document window at a sufficient magnification to see particular details within the image. Usually, you're zooming in, zooming out, or moving off to the side, above, or below to focus on certain areas of the document.

1. Understanding the Zoom tool

The most basic navigational concept in Illustrator is the ability to zoom to different magnification levels. Illustrator's magnification levels work like a magnifying glass. In the real world, you use a magnifying glass to see details that aren't readily visible without it. In the Illustrator world, you use the different magnification levels to see details that aren't readily visible at the 100% view.

Changing the magnification levels of Illustrator doesn't affect the illustration. If you zoom in to 400% and print, the illustration still prints at the size it would if the view were 100% (you can adjust the printing size in the Print dialog box). It doesn't print four times as large. Figure 1 shows the same Illustrator document at 100% and 400% magnification.

In Illustrator, 100% magnification means that the artwork you see on the screen has the same physical dimensions when it prints. If you place a printout next to the on-screen image at 100% magnification, it appears at about the same size, depending on your monitor resolution (the higher the resolution, the smaller the document looks on-screen). Over time, monitor pixels per inch have increased from the standard 72 pixels per inch (ppi) of 1990s models to today's 96 ppi to 120 ppi versions, so if you have a flat-screen monitor, the on-screen version looks noticeably smaller than the printed version.

For those of you who plan to use Illustrator with Photoshop, remember that in Photoshop, the 100% view is different. In Photoshop, each pixel on-screen is equal to 1 pixel in the image. Unless the ppi of the image matches that of the screen (and it would if Web graphics were being designed), the 100% view tends to be larger than the printed dimensions of the image when you're using Photoshop.

Figure 1. An Illustrator document at 100% (top) and 400% (bottom) magnifications

2. Using the Zoom tool

Perhaps the easiest way to control the magnification of your artwork is with the Zoom tool. This tool (which is located in the right column of the Tools panel) can magnify a certain area of artwork and then return to the standard view.

To use the Zoom tool to magnify an area, choose it from the Tools panel by clicking it once. The Zoom cursor takes the place of the Arrow cursor (or whatever tool was previously selected). It looks like a magnifying glass with a plus sign in it. Clicking any spot in the illustration enlarges the illustration to the next magnification level, with the place you clicked centered on your screen. The highest magnification level is 6400% — which, as all you math aficionados know, is 64 times (not 6,400 times!) bigger than the original. Where you click with the Zoom tool is very important:

  • Clicking the center of the window enlarges the illustration to the next magnification level.

  • Clicking the edges (top, bottom, left, or right) of the window makes the edges that you didn't click (and possibly some or all of your artwork) disappear as the magnification increases.

  • Clicking the upper-right corner hides mostly the lower-left edges, and so forth.

If you're interested in seeing a particular part of the document up close, click that part at each magnification level to ensure that it remains in the window.

If you zoom in too far, you can use the Zoom tool while pressing Alt (Option) to zoom out (you see a minus sign in the middle of the magnifying glass to indicate this). Clicking with the Zoom tool while pressing Alt (Option) reduces the magnification level to the next-lowest level. You can zoom out to 3.13% (1/32 actual size). Releasing Alt (Option) causes the Zoom tool to zoom in instead of out.

When you use the Zoom tool, you magnify everything in the document, not just the illustration. You magnify all paths, objects, the artboard, and the Page Setup boundaries equally. However, the way certain objects appear (the thickness of path selections, points, handles, gridlines, guides, and Illustrator user interface components, such as panels and windows) doesn't change when you zoom in.

If you need to zoom in to see a specific area in the document window, use the Zoom tool to draw a marquee by clicking and dragging diagonally around the objects that you want to magnify. The area thus magnifies as much as possible so that everything inside the box just fits in the window that you have open. If you drag a marquee box as you press and hold Alt (Option), you do the same thing as if you had just clicked to zoom out.

To move a zoom marquee around while you're drawing it, press and hold the spacebar after you begin drawing the marquee but before you release the mouse button. When you release the spacebar, you can continue to change the size of the marquee by dragging.

3. Other zooming techniques

You also can zoom in and out by using commands in the View menu. Choose View => Zoom In to zoom in one level at a time until the magnification level is 6400%. The Zoom In menu item zooms from the center of the current window view. Choose View => Zoom Out to zoom out one level at a time until the magnification level is 3.13%.

Although Illustrator can zoom to any level, it uses 23 default zoom levels when you click the Zoom tool or when you access the Zoom In and Zoom Out menu items (or their respective keyboard commands). Table 1 lists each of the default Zoom In and Zoom Out default levels.

Table 1. Zoom In and Zoom Out Default Levels
Zoom OutRatioZoom InRatio

You can quickly zoom in or out using the scroll wheel on your mouse. Press Alt (Option) and then rotate the wheel to zoom in and out.

3.1. Zooming to Actual Size

You can use different methods to automatically zoom to 100% view. The first method is to double-click the Zoom tool in the Tools panel. This action changes the view to 100% instantly. Your other choices are as follows:

  • Using the Zoom feature in the status bar. To do this, simply click the dropdown arrow in the left corner of the status bar and then choose 100% or type 100 in the field there.

  • Using the View menu. This is the best way to zoom to 100% magnification because it not only changes the image size to 100%, but it also centers the page in the document window. Simply choose View => Actual Size.

3.2. Zooming to Fit in Window size

Fit in Window instantly changes the magnification level of the document so that the entire artboard (not necessarily the artwork, if it isn't located on the page) fits in the window and is centered in it. You can choose from two methods to change the document view to the Fit in Window size:

  • Use the View menu. One way to automatically change to the Fit in Window view is to choose View => Fit in Window.

  • Use the Hand tool slot. Simply double-click the Hand tool.

You can quickly go to 3.13% by pressing Ctrl () and then double-clicking the Zoom tool in the Tools panel.

3.3. Zooming to a specific magnification

If you want to view a document at a specific zoom level, double-click the view area at the bottom-left corner of the active document window, type the magnification you want to zoom to, and then press Enter or Return.


When you specify a magnification, you don't change the document. Rather, you change how you view the document. For this reason, you can never undo any type of magnification-level change. Choosing Edit => Undo after zooming undoes the last change you made to the document before you changed the magnification level, not the magnification-level change.

3.4. Zooming with the Navigator panel

Of course, being able to zoom in very closely to your artwork does have a pitfall. The more you zoom in on an illustration, the less of that illustration you see at one time. The Navigator panel (shown in Figure 2), which you access by choosing Window => Navigator, helps you out by letting you see the entire illustration as well as the portion into which you've zoomed (indicated by a red viewing rectangle). You have several options within the Navigator panel for changing your view:

Figure 2. The Navigator panel shows a snapshot of the document.

  • The red rectangle. You can stay zoomed in and move easily to another section by dragging the red rectangle (which actually scrolls), located in the center of the Navigator, to another area.

  • The popup menu. You access this menu by clicking the triangle located on the upper-right corner of the panel. The Navigator panel's popup menu includes a View Artboard Only option. This option sets the thumbnail in the Navigator panel to show only the extent of the Artboard. If this option isn't set, the thumbnail shows all objects included in the document.

  • The magnification level box. You can type an exact magnification level in the box in the lower-left corner of the Navigator panel.

  • The slider. Located at the bottom of the Navigator panel is a slider that gives you yet another way to zoom in and out by dragging the slider to the left or right.

  • The Zoom In and Zoom Out tools. The Zoom In and Zoom Out tools look like little triangles and big triangles on either side of the slider triangle. You can zoom in and out a preset amount (using the same amounts used by the Zoom In and Zoom Out tools and menu items) by clicking the Zoom In or Zoom Out icons.

The Navigator panel can slow down Illustrator if your artwork contains many patterns, gradients, and gradient mesh objects. To avoid this slowdown, you can close the Navigator panel by choosing Window => Navigator.

5. Using the scroll bars to view your document

Sometimes, after you zoom in to a high magnification, part of the drawing that you want to see is outside the window area. Instead of zooming in and out repeatedly, you can use the scroll bars on the right side and bottom edges of the document window to move around inside the document. The right scroll bar controls where you are vertically in the document window. The bottom scroll bar controls where you are horizontally in the document window.

The scroll bars contain three elements: up and down arrows; a gray area (or bar); and a thumb, also called the elevator box, which is a gray square (in Windows) or a blue oval (on a Mac) that rides along the scroll bar. The gray area of the right scroll bar is proportionate to the vertical size of the work area (the space around the artboard). If the little elevator box is at the top of the scroll bar, you're viewing the top edge of the work area. If it's centered, you're viewing the vertical center of the work area. The techniques are as follows:

  • Using the up and down arrows. When you click the up arrow, you display what is above the window's boundaries by pushing everything in the window down in little increments. Clicking the down arrow displays what is below the window's boundaries by pushing the document up in little increments.

  • Using the thumbs. Dragging the thumb up displays what is above the window's boundaries proportionately by whatever distance you drag it. Dragging the thumb down displays what is below the window's boundaries proportionately by whatever distance you drag it.

  • Using the gray bar. Clicking the gray bar above the thumb and between the arrows displays what is above the window's boundaries in big chunks. Clicking the gray bar below the thumb and between the arrows displays what is below the window's boundaries in big chunks.

Be careful not to drag too far or you preview beyond the top of the artboard.


On a Mac, if you want to specify how far Illustrator scrolls when you click the gray bar, you can set this in the System Preferences. Also on a Mac, the default is for the up and down arrows to be together. You can change this in your system's General preferences to place the scroll bars together or at the top and bottom.

6. Scrolling with the Hand tool

The Hand tool improves on the scroll bars. The Hand tool — which looks like a hand — is located at the bottom of the first column of the Tools panel, just above the color options.

Instead of being limited to only horizontal and vertical movements, you can use the Hand tool to scroll in any direction, including diagonally. The Hand tool is especially useful for finding your way around a document when you're viewing it at a high magnification level. The higher the magnification level, the more you're likely to use the Hand tool.

To quickly access the Hand tool, press H or press and hold the spacebar. Clicking and dragging the page moves the document around inside the document window while the spacebar is pressed. If you release the spacebar, you return to the previous tool. This works for all tools, but the Type tool works a little differently. If you're currently using the Type tool in a text area, press Ctrl+spacebar (+spacebar) to access the Zoom tool, and release Ctrl () while keeping the spacebar pressed to gain access to the Hand tool.

When you click in the document, be sure to click the side that you want to see. Clicking at the top of the document and then dragging down allows you to scroll down through almost an entire document at a height of one window. Clicking in the center and then dragging allows you to scroll through only half a window's size at a time.

The best thing about the Hand tool is that it works live. As you drag, the document moves under the Hand. If you don't like where it's going, you can drag it back, still live. The second best thing is that accessing it requires only one keystroke: either pressing H or pressing and holding the spacebar.


You can't use Undo to reverse scrolling that you've done with the scroll bars or the Hand tool.

7. Scrolling with the Navigator panel

Use the red rectangle in the Navigator panel to quickly scroll to another location within a document. Clicking and dragging within the red rectangle moves the viewing area around live, whereas clicking outside the rectangle snaps the view to a new location.

You can change the red rectangle to another color by choosing Panel Options from the Navigator panel's popup menu.

8. Opening a new window

So, now you've learned how to zoom and pan around the document window, and you probably have many different sections of your artwork that you want to focus on. Illustrator lets you create a number of windows for the current artwork by choosing Window => New Window.

This option creates a new window that's the same size as the current window. You can then zoom and pan within this new window while maintaining the previous window. You can place these windows side by side to see the artwork from two unique perspectives. Illustrator gives each new window a different reference number, which appears in the title bar.

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