How To Align Key Objects In Illustrator

Align key objects in Illustrator

In this tutorial we’ll be having a look at a convenient feature built into Illustrator’s Alignment Tool that allows you to align objects while keeping one of them anchored in place on the artboard. To do this we will have to designate what is known as a key object.

The problem with aligning objects in Illustrator is that whenever you’re aligning multiple objects, it moves all of their positions on the canvas. Designating one of them as the “key object” will anchor it to the canvas so that the rest of the objects align relative to the key object. Without a key object enabled, a new location for all of the selected objects is determined by taking the average of them:

Aligning objects
Aligning multiple objects in Illustrator changes their position to the average position between them.

Let’s have a look at how to address this.

Align Relative To A Key Object In Illustrator

The following video tutorial will demonstrate exactly how this works, and in less than 2 minutes:

First, make sure you have the Alignment window open by navigating to:

Window > Align

To align your objects, select them by clicking and dragging a bounding box around them or by clicking on them while holding the Shift key.

With your objects selected, you can designate a key object by clicking once on one of them. A heavy blue border should appear around the object, indicating that it is the key object:

Key object
The blue border indicates which is the key object.

Now that you have a key object selected, it will be anchored to the canvas and all of the other objects will align relative to it:

Aligning to the key object
The key object stays in place when aligned with other objects.

If at any point you want to remove the key object designation, just click on it again. You can click on another object to choose it as the new key object if you’d like.

Why This May Confuse Some Users

If you’re used to working with other vector design applications — such as Inkscape or Affinity Designer — then key objects is probably a foreign concept to you because those apps handle alignment differently. They have settings built-in that allow you to align objects based on the first or last selected, as well as other options, which eliminates the need for something like key objects.

That said, once you’re aware of how to align by key objects in Illustrator, it’s no less convenient than any other application.

Become A Master of Adobe Illustrator!

Want to learn more about how Adobe Illustrator works? Check out my Illustrator Explainer Series – a comprehensive collection of over 100 videos where I go over every tool, feature and function and explain what it is, how it works, and why it’s useful.

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