by Terry Hemphill


June 23, 2009

Creating Accurate Ruler Guides in Illustrator

Contributed by Neeraj Nandkeolyar, Illustrator Workflow Team

Haven’t we all tried to create ruler guides as accurately as possible, but after zooming in we found the guides were off? This is one of the reasons why most of us drag ruler guides out at maximum zoom. Here are some quick ways to get accurate ruler guides, without having to work zoomed in.

Choose the desired ruler units, either from Preferences, or control-click (on Mac) or right-click (on Win) on the rulers.


First, the basics: to create simple vertical or horizontal ruler guides, drag from one of the rulers into your image. A guide appears where your release your mouse.Now, while dragging the new guide, press the Shift key. This makes the guide snap to visible, accurate sub-divisions on the ruler.Shift-Drag.pngThis snapping works only for new guides and not for existing ones. So how can you accurately re-position a guide later? First, select the guide, and from the Transform panel or Control panel, change its location on the x-axis (for vertical guides) or y-axis (for horizontal guides).Transform_XY.pngAnd finally, how can you create vertical guides from horizontal rulers? No problem, just just press Opt/Alt while dragging the guide from the ruler. And accurate snapping with Shift works here as well.


  • By George Coghill - 8:23 AM on June 23, 2009  

    Nice tip! Never thought to use the Shift key, nor Illustrator’s Transform panel.

  • By Mordy Golding - 9:52 AM on June 23, 2009  

    Thanks Neeraj! Great tips about working with guides. But I’d really like to see Illustrator adopt some of the functionality from InDesign in this area. Sure, you can easily reposition guides via coordinates in the Transform (or Control) panel, but you’d have to first unlock your guides. And if you have your guides unlocked, you’ll easily select them by accident when you select your artwork.In InDesign, there is logic that allows guides to be unlocked, but when you make a selection that also encompasses art, the art becomes selected and the guides are “temporarily” unselectable. While this would prevent a user from selecting and moving objects and guides together, I think it’s rare that designers would want that. I’d rather see a state where I could guides remain unlocked so that I can easily adjust them, but where the guides never get in the way of the objects.

  • By George Coghill - 12:19 PM on August 10, 2009  

    Good to know about the Shift key feature.

  • By Hassan Menedez - 6:05 PM on August 30, 2010  

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  • By MaKA - 4:46 PM on December 20, 2010  

    This works fine with all ruler units, but not with Millimeter in CS5.
    Would be nice to get this fixed!!!

  • By Richard Earney - 5:39 PM on January 26, 2011  

    If you unlock the guide View > Guides > Lock Guides you can also use the Move dialog to create copies (with Transform Again) to create complex but accurate grids. Then lock the guides a the end.

  • By verena - 2:08 PM on April 28, 2011  

    GREAT! thanks very much!

  • By Kimberley - 1:01 PM on January 26, 2012  

    I cannot get the guides to work! help!

  • By Sue - 9:31 AM on February 7, 2012  

    Why don’t they let you type in cordinates? In Corel Draw you double click on a guide and from there you can move the guide by typing in the measurement you want it to be at. You can also delete the guide, make a new guide, or even switch from horizontal to vertical guides or angled guides. There are also presets for 1 inch margins, columns, printable area etc. and you can make your own presets. That is one feature I really miss since converting to Adobe.(Let me know if there is a way to do this in Adobe that I am missing)

    • By Eric - 12:28 PM on April 10, 2013  

      Yes, this is a really helpful feature in Corel Draw, I’m hoping that it is also available in Illustrator, and I too just haven’t stumbled across it.

  • By Alphonso - 12:34 PM on August 24, 2012  

    Excellent tips for working with guides, I also never thought about using the transform panel, until now, but I will certainly use it in the future!
    Thanks for that

  • By Morten Seglem - 7:28 AM on January 30, 2013  

    Hey! Great tip, and here’s another one:

    1 – Make two (2) guide of equal lenght, and put in both ends.
    2 – Object > Blend > Blend Options. Use “Specified distance”.
    3 – Object > Blend > Make.


  • By Güneş Önderoğlu - 9:12 AM on February 28, 2013  

    I cannot get the guides to work! help!

  • By kuaför - 9:13 AM on February 28, 2013  

    Nice tip! Never thought to use the Shift key, nor Illustrator’s Transform panel.

  • By Gelin Saçları - 9:14 AM on February 28, 2013  

    This works fine with all ruler units, but not with Millimeter in CS5.
    Would be nice to get this fixed!!!

  • By Matthew - 7:13 PM on July 13, 2013  


    Am beginner designer, Very useful tutorial.

  • By jdee - 11:42 AM on September 4, 2013  

    The horizontal ruler is the only one active. How do I also see the vertical ruler?

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