by infinite_resolution


March 23, 2009

Quick Tip–Aligning to Specific Objects

Contributed by Terry Hemphill, Illustrator Marketing Manager

The Align tools in Illustrator are core tools for most every customer, and while using these tools is straightforward, there is functionality there that’s not so obvious.

For example, have you every wanted to make everything align around a single object or group?

It’s simple, but I didn’t know this trick when I joined the Illustrator team, and I’ve worked with Illustrator for years. Being shown how to do this this was one of those “ah-ha!” moments, so I want to pass the hint along.

By default, Illustrator uses the Bounding Box of your selected objects when aligning objects. In the screenshot below, you’ll see the outline of the Bounding Box of the four selected objects.


Selecting Horizontal Align Left from the align controls in the Control panel or the Align panel aligns all the objects to the left edge of the Bounding Box, as shown below.


But what if you want you Illustrator to align everything, say, to the left edge of a specific object?It’s easy. After you select the group of objects to be aligned, click once on the object you want to be the Key Object, the object you want to use to control the alignment of the other selected objects. That’s just a single, simple click, not a Shift-ClickIn Illustrator CS4, you’ll get visual feedback that shows you the key object selected. In the screenshot below, you see a heavy outline around the object that received that final, single click, indicating that it is the selected object that controls the alignment of the other objects (it’s inside the red rectangle).This key object capability has been in Illustrator since version 9. You just don’t get the visual feedback as with CS4, but the fuctionality is there.Align_visuals-04.jpgIn the screenshot below, you’ll see the results of aligning the everything horizontally to the left edge of the selected key object.Align_visuals-05.jpgWhat’s more, you can also make a Guide the key object. The process is exactly the same as with objects.First, make sure that you’ve Guides unlocked: from the Illustrator main menu, go to View>Guides and make sure that Lock Guides is unchecked.Align_visuals-06.jpgNext, select the objects you want to align, along with the Guide you want to use as the key object, then select the Guide one more time to make it the key object. In Illustrator CS4, the Guide chosen as the key object will be highlighted as shown in the screenshot below, but this capability exists in older Illustrator versions as well. You just don’t get the visual feedback.Align_visuals-07.jpgAnd the final result is shown below, after selecting Vertical Align Top. Align_visuals-08.jpgThere is additional capability for aligning and distributing objects in Illustrator in CS3 and CS4. To find our more, check out this video. Also the Illustrator Community Help pages provide more depth on this subject.I’m sure there are details I’ve missed; let me know if you’ve questions or comments.


  • By Orson - 8:30 AM on March 24, 2009  

    Hi there,I came to this this blog from RealWorldIllustrator site and found, that I post similar tip about relative alignment on my own blog in same day (How to align objects relative to some other object)!I guess great minds think alike…I try to come up with a quick tip on Mondays and was debating Key Object alignment or the Appearance panel…–th

  • By Mr. Serge - 1:14 PM on March 24, 2009  

    Great tip! Thanks a lot!

  • By Erik Kolstad - 12:21 AM on April 6, 2009  

    Brilliant, just what I was looking for. Thanks for taking the time!

  • By khoerul umam - 12:41 PM on April 30, 2009  

    thank’s for ur tips, this tips help me.align is almost use in every time i work with illustrator.TERIMA KASIH (thanks:indonesian language)

  • By Nathan Parker - 2:29 PM on July 21, 2010  

    Great feedback, one of the first listings on google for this exact problem. Thank you adobe!

  • By bygrwd - 4:08 PM on August 28, 2010  

    qO4sP6 lswmmrxumgif, [url=]ylfprpcemoms[/url], [link=]eydaynqetfrx[/link],

  • By doug - 3:26 AM on November 27, 2010  

    is it possible to align the inside edges of two objects. two squares, align right edge of the left square to the left edge of the right square.

    • By imdna - 10:27 AM on September 16, 2011  

      I usually simply use the reference point tool along with the x y axis points to do this… with your question above simply select the right side of the reference point tool, select the square on the left and copy the x value then select the box on the right, change the reference point tool to the left side, paste the x value into the x value box and there you are….

  • By shamsudeen - 2:03 PM on April 11, 2011  

    it ok , but is there any shorcut options like in Corel draw, or any custom short cut to align to each

  • By great tip... very useful - 10:19 AM on September 16, 2011  

    Ive been using illustrator for years now and have always just used “quick” workarounds to accomplish this, but now i see they were not quick at all compared to this… thanks…

  • By Nathan - 7:28 AM on May 9, 2012  

    Always wanted to know how to do this, but was too lazy to look it up…Finally did, works great, thanks for the detailed explanation!

  • By Matt - 11:22 AM on July 6, 2012  

    I don’t get this…. I select an object, then don’t shift click or anything on the next object, that just selects the next object? No magic box appears, etc. Can someone please explain how key objects work?

    I have a shape and then I have a box. I don’t want the box to move, but I want the shape to be centered inside of the box.

    • By Terry Hemphill - 5:46 PM on July 15, 2012  


      Select both objects — your shape and your square — any way that easiest: shift-select, marquee select, etc. Next select your “key” object, in this case, your square. You will see a heavy outline around it, indicating it as the key object. Then use the align commands to move your shape inside the box; the box will not move.

      –Terry H.

  • By Floor - 7:32 AM on July 20, 2012  

    omg. thanks SO much for that tip. i finally decided to look this up and now i know how!
    thanks again…

  • By Herb - 12:56 PM on January 23, 2013  

    “ah-ha!” !!!

    Thank you for this. I finally decided to google for this answer, after being frustrated trying various alignments.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


  • By Evan - 6:39 PM on February 16, 2013  

    This was helpful. Totally counterintuitive, like much of Illustrator.

  • By Trini - 10:13 AM on March 6, 2013  

    Thank you for putting this out onto the web! You have saved me countless hours of trying to figure this out!

  • By Praveen Francis - 3:08 AM on April 22, 2013  

    Thank you! I’ve wasted countless hours trying to figure this out!

  • By Anna - 10:18 AM on July 9, 2013  

    Wow, thanks so much! I was going nuts until I read this and tried it out!

  • By Mark - 10:18 PM on July 18, 2013  

    Is it possible to align the points of arbitrary paths using one of the points as an anchor point? I’ve tried the direct select tool but it moves the point and not the object?

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