How to Select Shapes in Illustrator Without Touching Them

If you’re new to using Adobe Illustrator to work with the digital craft supply you buy online for your small creative business, then you’d want to keep your life as simple as possible while manipulating those graphics to create new designs for sale.

One thing you can do towards keeping your design life as simple as possible is to select shapes without touching them. Yes, you read me right. No hovering over your shape then clicking it. Instead, you’d select it from the distance.

Why would you want to do this?

When working with complex art work made of several layers and/or sub-layers, it’s safer to select shapes without touching them because it reduces the risk of inadvertently misplacing things, creating a mess that you’ll then have to fix.

Because you won’t be using Illustrator to create complex art work, I assume that you’d rather stay away from having to fix things and instead focus on the basic manipulations you need to create a brand new design or composition for your business.

Selecting shapes this way is very quick and easy. In this tutorial, I’ll teach you how.

What You Need to Take This Tutorial

  • Access to Adobe Illustrator
  • Prior knowledge of how to navigate the panel area (how to open and close panels, how to move them around and deck them – I recommend you research this online first if you don’t already know it)
  • Basic knowledge of basic navigation in Adobe Illustrator

Step 1 – Know How to Recognize When Something Is Being Selected

Before we dive into selection without touching shapes, I’d like to show you how you’ll know that your shape is being selected so you can be 100% sure about whether or not you got it right once you get practicing.

When an object or a mark – mark means a dot or a line, no matter how tiny or small – is being selected in Adobe Illustrator, it gets a coloured bounding box like in the below photo.

The blue box with tiny squares on each of its 4 sides is called a bounding box.

Think of the bounding box as a container to fit your shape in.

This bounding box comes in the colour that gets given to the layer when you create a new layer:

By default, every new document is given a layer with a random colour. This colour is visible at the start of the layer row (vertical bar).

If you create a new layer, this layer will get a new layer colour and, as a result, anything you place on this new layer will have a bounding box of the same colour. As a rule, different layers tend to get different colours.

I created a Layer 2, as you saw above, and added a purple star to it. Here’s the bounding box for our star shape:

So, how do you know that you have indeed selected your shape? It will display in a bounding box on screen.

Step 2 – Bring up the Layers Panel

We saw above what layers are displayed as in Illustrator (rows and sub-rows in the Layers panel). But where exactly can you find this Layers panel?

Well, it typically sits on the panel area on the right hand-side of your Illustrator working space:

To the right of your screen you’ll always see your panel area (the columns you see on the above photo). This is where a good number of Illustrator tools and functionalities will be decked for you to use in your design work. By default, you get a basic panel area set up for you when you first open Illustrator but know that this panel area can be customized as you wish. The panel area is always on the right.

There is more to navigating and displaying things in the panel area, so I recommend that you pause for a little while and research this if you need it. Typically, a specific functionality/tool (panel) will display as an icon (my Layers panel icon above is circled in red). To display the panel itself click the icon (window to the left of icon). To close the panel, click the double arrows in the top right corner.

Because I use Illustrator a lot, my Layers panel automatically shows up on my panel area. If you can’t see the Layers icon on yours, you can go and find it on top menu Windows. Click it and it will display the full list of panels. Just click the panel you need to open it. Now anchor your cursor on top of your panel – right after the actual Layers tab, on the darker grey area – and move it to the right. Finally dock it to the panel area.

Step 3 – Selection From the Layers Panel

Once your Layers panel is open, reveal the full composition of the layer you’re working on by clicking the arrow at the start of the layer. This will tell you whether the layer is made of sub-layers. Generally speaking, Illustrator will give each new shape or mark its own sub-layer. In my case, above, I added two stars to Layer 2. They come in different colours but have the same red bounding box because they both sit on a red layer.

How do I select the green star? By clicking the little circle at the end of its sub-layer.

Clicking this tiny circle would show your star in selected mode. Finally, it will mark the sub-layer and layer with a tiny square of the same colour as that of the layer:

And that’s how you’d select a shape or mark without touching it! You basically do so from the Layers panel.

From there, you’d be able to re-color or scale down without touching anything on your canvas for instance. And once you’re done, you’d lock that sub-layer or layer, as relevant and move on to work on a different layer or sub-layer.

I hope you can now see how this selection method is safe and easy for crafters.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and share it around if you did!

Alex of Log & Mitten

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