Whether you’re designing a presentation deck, a flyer, or even simple slides for an Instagram carousel, you may encounter the need to apply bullets and numbering in Adobe Illustrator.
But if you’re watching this video, you most likely already know that Illustrator doesn’t have an inbuilt option for bullets and numbering, which can be quite disappointing considering it has a pretty powerful text engine.
Granted when it comes to large volume text formatting and layout design, you will be better served using Adobe InDesign. And some would argue that Illustrator is well, for illustration. But sometimes you find yourself in this unique spot where it still doesn’t make sense to involve a whole lot of application just for a few lines of text. That’s like throwing a grenade at the house fly. It might get the job done, but it’s too much hassle for one so little.
So in this video, I’ll show you how to create multilevel lists in Illustrator. It might seem a bit complex and counterintuitive at first, but it’ll all make sense once you understand that replicating bullets and numbering in Illustrator is really just about controlling two things, the indents, and tab spacing.
The only difference to word processes like InDesign or Microsoft Word is that there are tools that automate and simplify this process.
So in the first part of this video, I’ll demonstrate the various factors that come into play when creating numbered lists, and if you stick with me to the end, I’ll show you the quickest way to create accurate multilevel lists using only the paragraph panel. So let’s get into it.
Typical List Structure (01:49)
First let’s look at an example of a typical list structure. It’ll be our reference going in. The first thing to note is that the list is indented from the left margin. The indentation doubles as the list progresses to higher levels.
We also see a space between bullet points and the list content. Now we just need to find out where we can control these options within Illustrator.
You’ll find them in the paragraph and Tabs panels. If you don’t already have them open, you can activate them on the window type.
Remember to set the document units to points. The quickest way to achieve that is to activate the rulers with Control or Command R, then right click on the top left where the horizontal and vertical rulers intersect and choose points.
Now I’ll draw a text box and paste in my sample text. I’ll also set the size to 16 points.
I have the bullet represented by a star symbol. What we’re going to do is replace all instances of the star symbol with a bullet and Tab spacing.
Rendering a Bullet (03:33)
This brings me to the next tip. If you use a keyboard that includes a dedicated number pad, hold the Alt key and type in 0149 on the number pad. Again, that’s Alt 0149 and you should instantly see a bullet. If you’re on a Mac, you want to press Option eight, then hit the Tab key.
Remember on Windows, this use usually works with the number part located on the right side of your keyboard. Now you can copy and paste these across the document. If you don’t have a full keyboard, do not fret, there’s another way which I think is even more efficient.
First select all portions of the text with the star symbol. Go to edit, find and replace.
In the first field, impute the text you wish to replace. In this case, the star symbol. Then in the second field, ideally you should input the bullet symbol and Tab spacing, but let Illustrator handle it in its own way.
Click on the drop down menu with the Alt symbol and choose bullet character. You should see two characters appear in the box, a carrot and the number eight. Don’t worry, it’s the way illustrator represents a bullet.
Click to deselect the characters and open the drop down again. This time use the Tab character. This will produce a carrot and a lower case T.
Now click find, replace all. Done.
You should now have bullets and tabs in place of the star symbols.
Manipulate the Indents (05:22)
Now that we’ve got the bullet points and tabs in place, we can begin to manipulate the indents and tab spacing. Make a selection of the list portion of the text.
Go to the paragraph panel and click on the menu button on the top right of the panel. Then reset panel. This will clear out any preexisting settings that could cause problems.
For the left indent, type 40 points. This will be our coding number. You’ll see why shortly. You should notice the selected text jump 40 points from the left margin of the text box.
For the first line left indent input, type minus 20. The idea is to always type in the negative half value of whatever number you set for the left indent.
So if we had typed say 50 points in the first box, we would set the first line left indent to minus 25 and so on. Our list is starting to take shape.
Perfectly Aligning the List (06:25)
Now go to the Tab panel, make sure you still have your list selected. With the alignment set to left justified tab, click anywhere along the ruler, then set the value above to 40 points, same as the value of the left indent.
Now your list should be perfectly aligned from the left. If this is exactly what you want, you can stop here and go do a happy dance. Just don’t break something.
Working with Multilevel Lists (06:53)
But what if you need to create a multilevel list like in the example before? What if the list item has a child and grandchild item?
It’s simple, you just need to adjust the indent and tabs for the concerned list items.
Select the items you wish to extend and in the paragraph panel, add 40 points to the value of the first line indent. Remember 40 is our golden value.
This time you don’t have to touch the second box. In the tabs panel, click again anywhere along the tab rulers, then set the value above to 80, same as the first line indent.
The next level of your list should now be perfectly indented from the left. If you still need more levels, just repeat the previous steps by adding 40 to the first line indent, creating a new tab stop, and setting it to the value of the first line indent.
Simpler Method (07:55)
All that was to help you understand what goes on in the background and have more control whenever you need to apply numbering to your text.
But if you don’t want to mess with tab stops every time you need to create a list, just set your coding number to a multiple of 18.
In this case, I set it to 36 so I get the extra indentation required to push the list further from the left. And of course, the first line left indent would be minus 18, the negative half of the first line indent.
From here on out, you just need to keep adding 36 to the existing value of the left indent whenever your list needs another level and it should align perfectly.
I’m not so sure why 18 points works so well, but in my research I noticed 18 was the default value for setting up bulleted lists in InDesign so I applied it here and what do you know? It fit perfectly.
So there, that’s how you apply bullets and numbering in Illustrator.
If you have any questions or difficulties, be sure to let me know in the comments. Remember to like, share, and subscribe so you don’t miss out on any future tips and tutorials.
Thanks for watching.