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A professional race car driver doesn't drive their rig straight off the showroom floor. They modify it to suit their own personal and demanding needs. Likewise, you don't need to use use Illustrator's factory presets just because everybody else does. Here are a few mods to get you in the fast lane and let you break away from the pack.

(NOTE: While the examples in this article are specific to Adobe Illustrator CS2, the concepts can be applied to any vector program. Also, this is not meant to be a comprehensive Illustrator tutorial. For more information, consult the extensive Help files that come with the application.)

Maximize your fuel efficiency

Have you looked at your workspace lately? Candy wrappers and fast food boxes all over the floor, too much junk in the trunk — it's slowing you down, man. Do you really need that Type palette on your screen? Or the Attributes palette? SVG Interactivity? Do you even know what they're for? CS2 offers a new way to free up valuable space on your screen. It's called the Control palette and it's contextual. Which means, it reads your mind. Well, almost — the Control palette displays tool functions only when you need them. For example, it shows type options when you're using the Type tool, or displays the alignment icons when you've selected two or more objects. To change the kinds of options that appear in the Control palette, select or deselect them from the flyout menu on the far right of the palette—it's that easy. You'll wonder why they didn't think of it sooner.

Also, don't you hate it when you get your car back from the mechanic, and he's readjusted the mirrors and moved the seat back so far you can't reach the pedals? Don't you wish you could click a button and put everything back the way you had it? Illustrator can do just that. Go to Window > Workspace and save your arrangement. You can even have different workspaces for different kinds of jobs. And if anybody ever messes it up, simply choose the saved workspace from the menu, and it will return to its pristine state, just the way you like it.

Add a custom paint job

An easy way to give your illustrations a personal look is to create a set of colors that is uniquely your own. Don't know where to begin? Look around you. Is your environment filled with lush greens, or do you live in a place that has 20 different words for "snow"? Take some snapshots of your surroundings and sample colors from them. You can also pick and choose from the many color libraries built into Illustrator. These are located under Window>Swatch Libraries. Once you've settled on a palette that reflects your dynamic personality, you can save it as a Swatch Library by clicking the flyout menu on the Swatches palette. Better yet, if you want all new documents to open with these swatches, save a custom startup file.