Tools panel overview

When you start Illustrator, the Tools panel appears at the left of the screen. You use tools in the Tools panel to create, select, and manipulate objects in Illustrator. Some tools have options that appear when you double-click a tool. These include tools that let you select, type, paint, draw, sample, edit, and move images. To see the name of a tool, hover the pointer over it.

Overview: Tools panel

Work with the Tools panel

View hidden tools

You can expand some tools to show tools hidden beneath them. A small triangle at the lower right of the tool icon signals the presence of hidden tools. Hold down the mouse button on the visible tool to view the tools hidden under it.

View hidden tools in the Tools panel

View tool options

Some tools in the Tools panel have options that appear in the context-sensitive options bar. Additionally, you can also double-click a tool in the Tools panel to view and change the settings for that tool.

Move the Tools panel

You can move the Tools panel by dragging its title bar.


View the Tools panel in double-stack or single-column

Click the double-arrow on the title bar to toggle between the double-stack and single-column view of the Tools panel.


Hide the Tools panel

You can also show or hide the Tools panel by choosing Window > Tools.

Tear off hidden tools into a separate panel

Drag the pointer over the arrow at the end of the hidden tools panel and release the mouse button.


Close a separate tools panel

Click the close button on the panel’s title bar. The tools return to the Tools panel.

Change drawing modes and screen modes using the Tools panel

Click the icons at the bottom of the Tools panel to change the drawing mode from Draw Normal () to Draw Behind () or Draw Inside ().

Additionally, you can also change the screen mode by clicking the Change Screen Mode icon () at the bottom of the Tools panel and choosing the desired screen mode.

Create custom tools panels

If you work with only a specific set of tools, you can create a customized tools panel that contains only those tools.

  1. Click Window > Tools > New Tools Panel, and then provide a name and click OK.

    A new Tools panel is created and displayed.

    A. Provide a name for the new tools panel B. New tools panel created with a default fill/stroke proxy 


    Fill/Stroke proxy is added by default. This cannot be removed from the custom tools panel.

  2. Drag a tool from an existing tools panel into a new or existing custom tools panel. If the tool is part of a group of tools, then the topmost tool is copied. Release the mouse when the cursor appears with a plus sign ().

    Tools from three tool groups (left) have been added to create a tools panel (right)


    Dragging and dropping a tool when the cursor appears with a cancel operation sign () performs no addition or deletion of tools.

  3. To get a tool that does not appear as the top-most tool in a group, do one of the following:

    1. Press Alt/ Option and click the tool group. This action cycles through all the tools present in the tool group.
    2. When the tool that you want appears at the top of the group, drag it to the custom tools panel. Release the mouse when the cursor appears with a plus sign ().


    1. Drag the tool group into an empty portion of the workspace, to view it as a toolstrip.
    2. From the toolstrip, drag a tool to the new tools panel. Release the mouse when the cursor appears with a plus sign ().
  4. To remove a tool, drag the tool out of the custom tools panel, and drop it when the cursor appears with a minus sign ().


    A tool can be removed from a tools panel only when a document is open.

  5. To swap positions of tools within a custom-created tools panel, press the Alt/ Option key, drag a tool on top of the tool you want to swap positions with, and then drop the tool when the cursor appears with a two-way arrow sign ().


A custom tools panel is persistent in the workspace it is created in. If you change to another workspace and then return to the original workspace, any tools panels created are retained and reopened.

Manage custom tools panels

  1. Click Windows > Tools > Manage Tools Panel.

    Actions that you can perform with the Manage Tools Panel dialog

    A. View the list of custom tools panels B. Delete selected tools panel C. Create a tools panel, or a copy of the selected tools panel D. Rename a selected tools panel 
  2. In the Manage Tools Panel dialog, do one of the following:

    • Rename: Select a tools panel from the list, type a new name for the panel in the text box, and then click OK.
    • New/Copy: Select a tools panel from the list, click the copy button, rename the tools panel if required, and then click OK. If no tools panel is selected, a new tools panel is created.
    • Delete: Select a tools panel from the list, and then click the Delete button.

Select a tool

Do one of the following:

  • Click a tool in the Tools panel. If there is a small triangle at a tool’s lower-right corner, hold down the mouse button to view the hidden tools, and then click the tool you want to select.

  • Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS), and then click a tool to cycle through and select hidden tools.

  • Press the tool’s keyboard shortcut. The keyboard shortcut is displayed in its tool tip. For example, you can select the Move tool by pressing the V key.

Selecting a hidden tool
Selecting a hidden tool

A. Tools panel B. Active tool C. Tear off panel with hidden tools D. Hidden tool triangle E. Tool name and shortcut 

Tip: To hide tool tips, choose Edit > Preferences > General (Windows) or Illustrator > Preferences > General (macOS), and deselect Show Tool Tips.

Change tool pointers

The pointer for most tools matches the tool’s icon. Each pointer has a different hotspot, where an effect or action begins. With most tools, you can switch to precise cursors, which appear as cross hairs centered on the hotspot, and provide for greater accuracy when working with detailed artwork.

  1. Choose Edit > Preferences > General (Windows) or Illustrator > Preferences > General (macOS), and select Use Precise Cursors.

    Alternatively, press CapsLock on the keyboard.

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