You won't drive collaborating designers crazy, and everything will be lined up in a simple, dependable, and clean way.

If you have spent any amount of time using InDesign or Illustrator, I guarantee you have wanted to line up the edges of two (or more) elements. This is one of the most fundamental uses of the program. I want a box. I want a rectangle. I want them the same height and I want them aligned with each other. Maybe it’s a photo or text box or anything else. It would be common t o line up text boxes along margins, or visual elements to share some sort of imaginary line. Getting it “close enough” just can’t cut it sometimes. You have a few options.


Sadly, this is always an option.

Eyeball it

It’s possible to zoom in real close and make micro-adjustments, it’s also tedious and time-consuming. This can appear accurate, but in very precise designs, this is not going to do the trick. As someone becomes a more experienced designer, their attention to detail grows. Not being satisfied with “eyeballing it” is the mark of a maturing designer.

Use a white box or shape

Using a rectangle that is the same color as the background is a clever solution, but one with many drawbacks. By overlapping elements –even slightly– it creates potential hazards. Elements are different sizes (or shapes) than they appear, and any nudging or adjustments begin to alter the design in unintended ways. Depending on the media, artifacts can be created at print or upon exporting. Files that exhibit this method are a nightmare to inherit, and cannot be picked up easily by new designers.

There is a place for overlapping shapes, but the resulting elements should always be “cut-out” using the pathfinding palette.

Use Smart Guides

The shortcut is cmd-U

I promise it is really worth it. If you aren’t big on the keyboard shortcuts, you can go to View > Grids & Guides > Smart Guides. (In Illustrator it is View > Smart Guides). Your world just got easier. Not only can you create new elements that are lined up or share dimensions, but you can space them evenly, snap them to the page center (or vertical or horizontal centerlines), apply a consistent rotation angle, and many more time-saving and accurate things.

The only time Smart Guides are off in my work is when they are snapping to something I don’t want to be snapping to, or inhibit me from accomplishing something else. And even in these times, I only have them off temporarily –they go right back on when I am done.

Practicing using Smart Guides should encourage you to pay more attention to detail, and naturally prompt you to consider spacing and composition more carefully.

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