Quickly and Equally Distribute Guides In Illustrator

Grids and guides serves as an underlying foundation for structurally sound design; however, it’s especially common that designers aimlessly place their guides or waste their time troubling over calculations. Creating evenly spaced guides in illustrator can be fast and easy. In this post you’ll learn how to do exactly that: quickly and equally distribute guides.

First I want to outline what not to do, and then provide some easier alternatives.

The Zoom and Tinker


When I see people doing the above I absolutely cringe. When you have the rulers visible in Illustrator (Ctrl/Command + R) and you are dragging a guide from the side there’s no need to fiddle around with trying to get the guide to land just right. If you are placing a single guideline then please follow the following instructions:

Drag a guide onto the artboard and then click away from the guide so it’s unselected.

Right click and uncheck the option for Lock Guides.


Reselect the guide and using the transform window adjust the x value for vertical guides and the y value for horizontal guides to the desired positioned.


Placing a single guide this way will ensure that you placed it with accuracy.

Busting Out the Trusty Ol’ Calculator


Image: Keith Sereby

When you’re trying to split an area into equal sections you would assume having to calculate the width for each column/row would make sense, but there’s really no need to when you can just let illustrator do the math for you.


One way to easily determine a fractional width of something is by simply changing the width in the transform panel to a percentage. This works fine for easy fractions/percentages you know off hand, but if you don’t know the percentage for 1/7th then perhaps you may need to pull out that trusty ol’ calculator. If it does come down to having to calculate a few things then I suggest still working with percentages, that way you aren’t typing wrong numbers into illustrator or rounding numbers incorrectly.

Busting Out the Trusty Ol’ Calculator Pt. 2: Including Gutters

Yup, we ended back up at the calculator, but don’t worry there will be a way around it as you should suspect. When you’re dealing with placing gutters between columns determining the columns width becomes a bit more complicated.

{Total Width – [Gutter Width x (Number of Columns – 1)]} ÷ Number of Columns = Desired Column Width

You can follow the formula above to determine your desired column width while taking into account the gutters, but when you’re dealing with any decimals or an odd number of columns then your numbers can get very messy allowing more room for error. There are two better ways to do this.

Option 1: The Align Panel

When you have multiple objects selected the control panel is visible in the toolbar, but for the sake of easily displaying the align options I’m going to be using the actual panel window.


As seen above, click on the top right icon in the panel to Show Options and from there be sure that Align to Selection is checked. In this example the blue represents the area which you are looking to separate into columns while the gutters are done in pink.


Create two gutters and place them on the outside of your main object so you get something similar to what you see above. If you have Smart Guides enabled (Ctrl/Command + U) then your gutters should automatically snap to the edges when you place them.


Take the number of columns you need and subtract 1 to give you the amount of gutters you’ll need, in this example I’m separating the blue area into 10 columns.

While holding down Shift + Alt click on one of the gutters to the side and drag a copy into the blue section. Repeat this until you have all of your gutters, but don’t count the gutters on the outsides of the blue section.


Select everything except for the blue section, and on the align panel click the Horizontal Distribute Center option. When creating rows you can select the option above it for Vertical Distribution.


From there you can delete the extra gutters on the sides and leave the rest as is, or you can take it a step further by dragging guides over to layout which you can see done above.

Option 2: The Blend Tool


Most times when I introduce someone to the blend tool the typical response is “What the heck is that for?” Quite honestly, I don’t think there is a very concrete answer for it; however, it’s an extremely valuable tool.


Above is an example of how type designer, Mark Simonson used the blend tool in the process of making Coquette which you can read more about on his blog.


In this recent illustration I just wrapped up all of the line work was done using the blend tool.

So what exactly is the blend tool? As described on the Adobe Help site, “The Blend tool and Make Blend command let you create blends, which are a series of intermediate objects and colors between two or more selected objects.”

In the first option with using the align panel you had to individually copy and paste each gutter until you had the right amount. By using the blend tool you can skip right over that part.

If we take a look back at what I was doing earlier we save a little bit of time by selecting the two additional gutters on the sides and then using the blend tool. Rather than using the tool itself you can simply press Ctrl/Command + Alt + B.


Pressing Ctrl/Command + Alt + B while the two gutters are selected should get you something like what you see above. Although it looks like it just filled in the area between them with the same color it actually placed a specific amount of columns between the two that you have selected to completely fill the space.


If you double-click the blend tool icon then the panel you see above should pop up. Where it says spacing the default will typically display Smooth Color which is why earlier all we saw was a solid color. By switching the spacing to Specified Steps you can type in the number of gutters you need.


After blending the two outside gutters you will notice that none of the inner gutters are editable. In order to make them live objects you will have to go the top of the toolbar and click Object > Expand.

Tip: If you are constantly expanding objects then click Edit>Key Board Shortcuts and add a keyboard shortcut.

I set mine to Ctrl/Command + Alt + E


After expanding all of the gutters you’ll notice that they’re all grouped. To ungroup them simply press Shift + Ctrl/Command + G or right click and select Ungroup.


Earlier I explained that when you have all of your columns and gutters created you can then leave them as is or drag guides onto the artboard, but you can also turn those objects directly into guides themselves.

Golden Nugget: Select all of the objects and press Ctrl/Command + 5 to convert them into guides.

If you didn’t know about converting objects into guides then this will surely open up a ton of new opportunities for you. Paths you create and custom shapes can be converted into guides. Now you’re no longer limited to just vertical and horizontal guides.

Play with the blend tool to see what you can do with it, and experiment with creating your own guides.


Example: Frances MacLeod


For my blog post last week, Do It Now, the 3-D effect was done using the blend tool.


As you may have guessed, the header image for this was also done with the assistance of the blend tool and creating angled guidelines.

Look forward to a post dedicated to creating guides specifically for lettering coming soon!