My Illustrator snapping settings

I’m frequently asked about my Illustrator settings, specifically in relation to snapping and icon speedrunnning. Illustrator is a complex tool, and without the right settings, it’s impossible to work efficiently.

The Illustrator defaults aren’t to my liking, and counter-intuitively, the pixel snapping feature isn’t what I use to pixel snap. The behaviour I want is fairly simple — every time I create an object, or move a point, or edit a bézier control handle, I want that action to snap to the nearest pixel boundary.

However, that isn’t what the pixel snapping option in Illustrator does. It also takes into consideration the current stroke width, to ensure the entire object fits snuggly against the pixel boundaries. If you have a 1px stroke, drawing and editing snaps to the center of a pixel, not the boundary of a pixel. I understand why this decision was made, but I strongly disagree with it.

Here’s what it looks like.

Illustrator’s pixel snapping

This means style and snapping behaviour are linked, which is bad. For the behaviour I want, I would need to ensure I’m always creating or editing paths with no stroke, or an even width stroke in advance. That’s untenable. And, what happens with fractional stroke widths? The snapping behaviour is different for a 2.4px stroke compared to a 2.5px stroke. That makes the behaviour very unpredictable in practice.

Thankfully, Illustrator’s grid feature does provide the behaviour I’m after. To set up a grid that matches the pixel grid, open Guides & Grids in Preferences, and ensure the “Gridline every” and “Subdivisions” are the same value. I use 512, but this could be 1, or 1000, or whatever you’d like, as long as they’re both the same.

Illustrator’s grid preferences

Then, under the View menu, ensure Snap to Pixel is off, and Snap to Grid is on. Snap to Point can be on, if you like being able to snap editing to existing anchor points.

Illustrator’s view menu

With the right snapping behaviour, it’s possible to work quickly and accurately, without needing to zoom in and check the results of each edit.

Playing cards icon speedrun

Published 22 May 2020.