Monday, July 22, 2013

Designing infographics with Adobe Illustrator

Update, August 4: A couple of readers reported some problems with the exercise files. You can download them all here.

Update, September 2: It seems that the video will also be available as a DVD in October.

During courses and workshops I usually joke that my approach to visualization is so low-tech that I feel like a Neanderthal sent to the 21st century in the Tardis. I'm reasonably knowledgeable in Flash and ActionScript (not that fashionable anymore), Maya, InDesign, Photoshop, Excel, etc., but the tool of choice for 90% of my projects is Adobe Illustrator. I've been using it for nearly 16 years. It's a solid and flexible option if your goal is to design static graphs, maps, vector illustrations, and mockups for interactive visualizations*.

Right after The Functional Art was published, I began recording video lessons for my courses. I felt that I was wasting too much classroom time with the basics of Illustrator; that time could be better spent in discussions, projects, and explaining advanced techniques. My publisher, Peachpit, believed that these videos would be a natural follow up to the book: The Functional Art offers my view of the conceptual foundations of information graphics. In the videos, I teach how I use Illustrator to bring those foundations to life, starting from scratch. Videos and book complement each other.

So this is what I've been working on in the past six months. The video is available now through a monthly subscription to Creative Edge —this is the direct link to the course,— which costs around $20 (you can also get a 10-day free trial). This subscription will give you access to many other videos and books about visualization and infographics, including The Functional Art, Connie Malamed's Visual Language for Designers, and Andy Kirk's Data Visualization: A Successful Design Process.

The video is also available as a direct download which can be ordered already. In the near future, it'll be sold as a DVD, as well.

Here's the table of contents:
  • LESSON 1: Introduction to Illustrator for Infographics
  • LESSON 2: Basic Illustrator Techniques
  • LESSON 3: Layout and Composition
  • LESSON 4: Graphs and Data Maps
  • LESSON 5: The Pen Tool
  • LESSON 6: Tracing Maps
  • LESSON 7: Explanatory Vector Illustrations
  • LESSON 8: Advanced Coloring Techniques
  • LESSON 9: Perspective Infographics
An important note about this package: It's not a how-to-do-everything-with-Illustrator tutorial. I don't explain every single feature or palette. Instead, I focus on the techniques that I believe are pertinent to designing infographics. Also, this tutorial reveals yours truly's favorite tricks, so it's a bit informal and idiosyncratic; I'm sure that most designers out there do things differently. In these 12 hours, I show what it took me more than a decade to learn. I hope that you'll enjoy it, if you decide to take a look at it.

Now, perhaps it's time to resume serious writing at last. A second book is in the works.

Creating Maps, Charts, and Infographics with Adobe Illustrator: Learn by Video

* Some folks keep asking me why I don't switch to InkScape, as it is a wonderful open source alternative. The answer is similar to what I say when asked why I don't give Blender a try, instead of stubbornly stick to Maya: Not enough time to learn new programs. Besides, I am lazy.

** About the cover, by the way: I know, a red and green map; not my most fortunate choice of color scheme!


  1. Looking forward to your next book. My copy of the functional art is already becoming a bit dog-eared from so much use!

  2. I am not so much expert in illustration yet but I am good enough in adobe photoshop so I was thinking of making the infographics in photoshop. Is it possible or good to make it in photoshop or should I need to use the illustrator for this? Do you have any tutorial on photoshop also?

  3. I guess that making infographics in Photoshop is possible, but I think that it'd also be very hard, compared to designing them with Illustrator. No, I don't have any Photoshop tutorial.

  4. Designing infographics with Adobe Illustrator will be great. I also think Designing infographics in Photoshop will be hard. But I know you can make easy too. So please try to make a tutorial for Photoshop.

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  6. I am not such a great amount of master in representation yet but rather I am adequate in adobe photoshop so I was considering making the infographics in photoshop. Is it conceivable or great to make it in photoshop or would it be a good idea for me to need to utilize the artist for this? Do you have any instructional exercise on photoshop too?

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  8. Thanks Prof Cairo for clarity and simplicity in your book. Appreciate the reading list as wells Tenerife as those from your colleague Stephen Few. More journalists should be willing to relearn and acquire new tools of informing and educating to elicit change for a better society through application of data visualization. The risk lies in the myriad of SEO tricks on data visualization which can sully the process even while increasing awareness. I am extremely grateful to you and others like Stephen Few who are weeding through and clearing the pathways so students can get to the good stuff quickly. Great comprehensive list by Stephen Few as well.