How to Use the Adobe Illustrator Shape Tool to Create Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

Other than Adobe Illustrator’s Pen tool, the Shape tool is one of the most widely used Illustrator features for creating infographics. You use it to create rectangles, rounded rectangles, ellipses, polygons, stars, and flares.

The rectangle tool

The Shape tool is located eight tools down on the Tools palette. Just click the Rectangle tool and then click and drag on the artboard to create the shape.

The shortcut for the rectangle tool is pressing keyboard letter M.

Remember your geometry teach saying how all squares are rectangles? This is where you will use that math in real life. To create a square, hold down Shift while creating the rectangle. You will get a perfect square while dragging on the artboard.

To open a dialog box where you can set strict measurement parameters for your object, select the Rectangle tool and then click once on the artboard.

The rounded rectangle tool

As you might surmise, a rounded rectangle is a regular ol’ rectangle but with sloped shoulders. To use it, click and hold the Rectangle tool in the Tools palette. A fly-out menu appears with an array of shapes to choose from.

  1. Drag the pointer to the Rounded Rectangle tool.

  2. Click and drag on the artboard.

    When you release the mouse, you see an object that looks a bit like a bar of soap — great for text boxes, picture frames, a corner on a neighborhood block. The possibilities are endless!

    While clicking and dragging the shape of the rounded rectangle, adjust the rounded corner radius by pressing the up- and down-arrows keys on the keyboard. Pressing up arrow increases the radius, and pressing the down arrow decreases it.

    To open a dialog box where you can put in your own specific measured parameters (radius of the corners and size of the sides on the rectangle), activate the Rounded Rectangle tool and simply click on the artboard.

The ellipse tool

Just like using the Rectangle and Rounded Rectangle tool, click the Ellipse tool and then drag to create an ellipse or oval on your artboard.

To create a circle at any size your monitor will allow, activate the Ellipse tool and hold down Shift while creating the shape.

Edit a circle shape by activating the Direct Selection tool and then clicking and dragging any of its points to reshape the circle. When you click a point, notice that the selection produces two more handles on either side of the point. These arc-editing handles can be used to reshape the arc within that circle.

The polygon tool

Moving on to the next tool in the Shapes menu, click and hold the Shape tool icon to find and select the Polygon Shape tool. Click and drag on the artboard, and a hexagon appears.

To edit the polygon while creating it, use the up and down arrows on the keyboard to change the number of sides on the shape you’re creating. Pressing the up arrow adds more sides; pressing the down arrow decreases the number of sides. You can make something as complicated as an octagon or as simple as a triangle by simply tapping the up and down arrows on the keyboard.

The star tool

Find the Star tool icon in the fly-out menu that opens under the Shape tool. To make (and tweak) stars, select the Star tool and then click and drag on the artboard to create a star shape.

To edit a star, use the arrow keys on the keyboard. You can create a sun shape by pressing the up arrow or go as far as a triangle shape by pressing the down arrow. This comes in handy for making light flashes or just stars for a flag.

While clicking and dragging to make the star shape, hold down Cmd/Ctrl to pull out the points on the star shape to make for more pronounced shine spikes.

If you activate the Star tool and click the artboard, a dialog box appears where you can add more precise measurements for your star artwork: for example, the size of radius 1 (the inner points of the star) and radius 2 (the outer points of the start) as well as the overall number of outer points. (See the figure.)

Edit your star shape for your infographic.

Edit your star shape for your infographic.

The flare tool

The Flare tool is a specialty item with dramatic properties: not really a shape but kinda. Think of a photo you’ve shot or seen that has lens flare, when it’s not well exposed and is marred with big balls and streaks of light. (Okay, sometimes lens flare is pretty cool.) The one drawback to using the Flare tool is that it must be used on a black background.