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Adobe Illustrator’s Align and Distribute Tools

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Theresa Jackson operates Orchard View Color (Escondido, CA) and has more than 20 years experience in prepress, graphic design, color management and photography. Email her at Theresa@orchardviewcolor.com

Adobe Illustrator’s Align tool quickly and accurately way aligns and distributes objects in your layout. The easiest access is via the workspace Control Bar (across the top). Turn this on at Window>Control (the bar’s options change with the active tool). Select one or more objects in your layout, and the Align tools will display in the Control Bar.
Click on the first icon for Artboard, Selection or Key object options. The next six icons align objects, and the last six icons distribute them.
Another access method is via the Align Panel (Window>Align). The Align Panel provides access to Distribute Spacing (see Part 3).

Part 1 – Align or Distribute Objects Relative To The Artboard
Use Align-to-Artboard to align objects relative to the artboard. Center to Artboard works great when the artboard dimensions match the final print dimensions.
Try this: Choose the Align-to-Artboard option, and select one or more objects. Click the Horizontal Align Center (second icon from the left) to center objects vertically. Click the Vertical Align Center (fifth icon from left) to center objects horizontally.
You can center a collection of objects — a row of logos that need the center position on a layout, for example — by grouping them first. Select the logos and go to Object>Group (the Align tool treats grouped objects as one) and then use the Align-to-Artboard tool to center the grouped logo on your layout.
The remaining Alignment options relocate objects to the artboard’s edge.
Align-to-Artboard, Distribute Objects will cause selected objects to distribute evenly across the artboard (edge to edge), vertically or horizontally. The extreme, left-hand item will align to the artboard’s left edge, and the extreme, right-hand will align to the right edge; the remaining objects will distribute equally between the two.

Part 2 – Align or Distribute Objects Relative to the Selection
Align-to-Selection aligns or distributes selected objects relative to their bounding box. Try this: Choose the Align-to-Selection and select two or more artboard objects. Choosing the first icon will vertically align all selected objects to the extreme, left-hand object’s left edge. Conversely, the third icon will vertically align all selected objects to the extreme, right-hand object’s right edge.
Interestingly, this tool works great for three, diverse objects — but, for four or more, the objects must be similarly sized.
Distribute Objects places equal distances between the object’s center, or edge, depending on your icon choice. (see Part 3, Align or Distribute to Key Object, to evenly balance the space between objects.)
Try this: Select three or more objects, and choose the Vertical Displace option (distribute icons 1-3) to see the top and bottom objects remain in place, with the between objects distributed evenly. Or, choose the Horizontal Displace option (distribute icons 4-6) to see the extreme left and right objects remain stationary and the between objects allotted evenly.

Part 3 – Align or Distribute Objects Relative to a Key Object
Align-to-Key Object aligns or distributes objects around a chosen object. The Key Object stays in place while all the other objects move into alignment or distribution around it.
Try this: Select three or more objects, then click on the key object. It will transform to a more dense color. The Align-to-Key Object automatically turns on in the Align Control Panel.
This tool also allows you to evenly gap between selected objects; thus, it distributes dissimilar objects evenly. Distribute Spacing is found in the Align Panel, not the Control Bar.
Try this: Select three or more objects, and tag the Key Object. Go to the bottom Align Panel’s center and input the gap space measurement. Click on the first Distribute Spacing icon to control the horizontal, between-object gaps and the second icon to control the vertical, between-objects gaps.

Final Notes
Alignment works on all objects, including text and linked images. Text inside a text box aligns to the box edge, not the text edge. Text without a text box will align to the text edge. Masked items align to the mask’s bounding box.

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