How to Design a Quilt in Adobe Illustrator - Settings and Preferences

Monday, September 1, 2014

Even though improv quiltmaking has become my main squeeze, I still enjoy designing my own quilt patterns to sew from. While I’ve always known there was quilt design software available, I never bothered looking further than my beloved Adobe Illustrator. For those who are new to AI, the number of settings and tools and can be overwhelming, so I wanted to give you guys a detailed walk-through of the process. I use Illustrator CS5 on PC and CS6 Mac (but I'm using the CS5 PC version for this tutorial), so your mileage may vary depending on what version you use.

This will be a multi-part tutorial to keep it from being a novel. For our first lesson, we will start off with the basic preferences and settings I use when designing quilts in Illustrator.Open your preferences by clicking CMD/CTRL + K.

General Preferences


Keyboard Increment - When you tap one of your direction arrow keys, the object (any path/shape you create) you selected will move by the increment you input in the field. I change the keyboard increments frequently to quickly and precisely move blocks. By default, I usually put it at .25 inch for quilt design. NOTE: If you hold SHIFT when clicking an arrow key, your object will move 10x your increment. So if my increment was set to 1 inch, clicking SHIFT + LEFT ARROW, your object will move your object 10 inches to the left.
Double Click To Isolate - I check this. It’s handy for moving an object in a group without ungrouping it (we’ll discuss grouping later).

Selection & Anchor Display

Selection & Anchor Display
Tolerance - This setting determines how easily you can select an object.The higher the value (the range is between 1-8), the easier it is to select an object. I keep the setting at 1 because I find I have difficulty selecting the correct object when it's turned up.
Object Selection by Path Only - I do not check this box. When designing quilts, your paths will all be touching one another, making it difficult to select the right shape. By keeping it unchecked, you can click in the filled area of an object to select it.
Snap to Point - Leave unchecked, for the same reasons as described under Tolerance.

General - Inches. Always inches.
Stroke - Points, it’s simple. I always use a 1pt stroke.

Guides & Grid

Guides & Grid
You can turn on a graph paper-like grid by clicking CMD/CTRL + ".
Gridline every - Set to 1 inch.
Subdivisions - Set to 4. It’ll give you a grid line every .25 inches.
Grid in Back - Uncheck. This keeps your grid visible in front of your objects, which I find to be more useful.
Show Pixel Grid (Above 600% Zoom) - Check. Why not?

Smart Guides

Smart Guides
Smart guides are super helpful tools that make quilt design way easier. They're not as complicated as the look, but you get a quick overview of them here.
Display Options - Check everything!
Construction Guides - 90º & 45 º angles is the option I usually select, but if you are doing shapes that use different angles (like equilateral triangles), you may want to pick a different option.
Snapping Tolerance - This setting is like one of those online drag-and-drop dress-up games. When moving or creating objects, it will "snap" your object or points to line up with existing objects. That means you will have an easier time lining things up precisely. I set it to 10pt, but if you feel like it’s too strong of a snap, reduce it. TIP: Zoom in when lining up objects. The snapping will be more accurate when you are zoomed in closer.

Once you have your preferences set, make a new document by clicking CMD/CTRL + N. Set your artboard size to the size you want your finished quilt top to be, in inches. If you don’t know what size you want, just give yourself a square with enough space.

Now, turn on your rulers by clicking CMD/CTRL + R.

Now you’re set up to start designing quilts. In my next post, we'll learn how to start building quilt blocks.


  1. Share as well as Sell the documents, designs, graphic, 3d models, artworks, photographs, etc., earn money, and get hired worldwide. Register from e mail as well as ones social media account through choosing category "GRAPHICS, DESIGN, AND ALSO MULTIMEDIA", thank you!

  2. This is fabulous. I'm just starting to learn illustrator for publishing quilt patterns. Thank you!