Manipulating Guides in Illustrator CS

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If you use Illustrator regularly, no doubt one of your first steps when working on a new document is to set up your guides. The process, though, can take some time, especially if you like to create a grid made up of guides or want your guides perfectly centered. And, even if this isn't a problem for you, well, it is redundant and at least a little time-consuming. So today we'll take a look at a few methods for manipulating guides and for setting up an automated Action for creating any number of evenly spaced guides for any size document.

The most common problem many of you likely face is simply placing guides that are centered on the canvas, regardless of the size of the canvas. With this in mind, you can't use the standard transformation tools without doing some calculation ahead of time, which isn't productive at all. This is owing to the fact that transformations in Illustrator, whether relative or absolute, are measure in units, rather than percentages. You can transform a guide precisely 400 points, but you can't, for example, transform it to a location at 50 percent the width of the canvas. So here are some ways around it.[an error occurred while processing this directive]Method 1: Alignment and distribution
In Illustrator, it's possible to manipulate guides just as if they were any other kind of object, with certain limitations. You can move them, rotate them and even align and distribute them. But how can you create guides and then spread them out evenly across your canvas without performing measurements or simply eyeballing it? Using Align and Distribute Objects tools, of course. To begin, open up Illustrator and place six vertical guides on your canvas. It doesn't matter where you place them.

Now, in order to make the guides editable, choose View > Guides > Lock Guides to uncheck the Lock Guides option. (If it's already unchecked, leave it alone.)

Select all of the guides on your canvas by dragging the Selection tool across all of them. When they're selected, they'll change color to the current layer's color (in my case, a darker blue).


Now open up the Align palette (Window > Align). Select the flyaway menu on the top right and choose "Align to Artboard." (This option should remain checked in the future, so you won't have to do this every time.)

Click the button for "Horizontal Distribute Center."

And voila! Your guides are now spaced evenly across your canvas, giving you five equal areas regardless of the dimensions of your page. You can use the "Vertical Distribute Center" button to do the same thing with horizontal guides as well.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Alternately, if you have only one guide (and therefore nothing to distribute), you can use the Align buttons to place the guide in the center of your canvas. Just place your guide, and then click the "Vertical Align Center" or "Horizontal Align Center" button to get the job done.

Method 2: Make guides from object
The problem with the Align and/or Distribute method is that it can't be automated. You have to create the guides and then align/distribute them manually with each new document because Illustrator doesn't record the creation of ruler guides when creating Actions. However, there are other methods that can be completely automated. One of them is through the use of objects that you then convert to guides.

Remember, we're pursuing this method for the purpose of automation (recording as an Action) and for generalization, meaning that whatever document size you create, you'll be able to divide it up evenly with the click of a button or F-key. So our method may seem circuitous the first time around, but it will save a lot of time in the future.

To begin, open up your Actions palette. Click the New Action button to create a new Action and start recording. Then follow these steps. (Each one will be added as a step in your Actions palette.)

1. Choose Object > Crop Area > Make. This will set crop marks at the edge of your document.

2. Choose Object > Crop Area > Release. This will convert your crop area to an object the exact dimensions of your page.

3. Choose Object > Path > Split Into Grid. A dialog will pop up asking you how many rows and columns you want to create and how wide the gutters should be. Set the number of columns and rows you want, and make the gutters 0. Click OK when you're done. (Do not choose the "Add Guides" option. It will create problems.)

[an error occurred while processing this directive]4. Now go to View > Guides > Make Guides. This will convert your object into guides.

5. If desired, you can add one final, step: View > Guides > Lock Guides. Apply this only if you had the guides unlocked previously and only if you don't want the guides getting in the way while you're working.

You now have a page full of evenly spaced guides and an action to create these guides anytime you make a new document. Now click the "Stop Recording" button in your Actions palette, and you're done. If desired, you can also assign an F-key to the Action by selecting the Action, then selecting the flyaway menu and then choosing "Action Options."

Incidentally, every time you play this Action, you will be presented with a dialog asking you how many rows/columns to set. If you simply want to use the number that you used when you created the Action, you can disable the dialog by clicking on the little menu icon next to the Action Step, as seen below.

That's it. To test it out, create a new document and hit the Play button (or F-key) for your Action. If you have any further questions, drop me a line or visit me in the Adobe Illustrator user forum here.