Grid-based design in Illustrator — need help setting up a grid!

I’m trying to explore grid-based layout design in Illustrator to help me create mockups for prototypes. I was wondering if anybody here could help me set up a grid based layout easily in Illustrator CS6? I was hoping to find step-by-step directions but I can’t seem to find anything when I look online!


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Method 1

Just use objects

Guides are fine but I prefer lines and rectangles. I keep them isolated on their own layer for easy activation/deactivation. Smart guides will make it extra simple to snap to these objects.

I set up my basic grid unit and position it in one corner of the layout. Then I use a Transform each to tile it out to a full grid. That is, if you’re using a uniform grid.

Grid-based design in Illustrator -- need help setting up a grid!

It also works well for grids with complicated geometry. Here’s one I used recently for a branding project. Switch your smart guide angles to match your grid and you’ll be loving Illustrator 😉

Grid-based design in Illustrator -- need help setting up a grid!

The Grid builder script for Scriptographer

This is a really cool solution (if you’re not on CS6). It generates your baseline grid as well as columns based on variables you fill in.

Grid-based design in Illustrator -- need help setting up a grid!

Preview mode by layer

Also keep in mind the fact that you can change between Preview mode and Outline mode in Illustrator at the layer level. This means, if you build your grid as shapes on a dedicated layer as described above you can switch to outline mode to make the objects more guide-like. Then you can switch back to a color coded or solid shape view just as easily. I often find this helpful on grids like the complicated example above.

Method 2

Here’s a few resources on creating grids in Illustrator that I found helpful:

Both articles explain step-by-step how to setup a grid in illustrator CS6 by using the in-built option in the Illustrator menu. After selecting an object (i.e. a rectangle of the same dimensions as your art board), from the menu select “Object” then “Path” and finally “Split Into Grid” to see it.

While it is entirely possible to use just shapes and transforms and have a grid without guides I find guides superior as they can still be moved to separate layers (by the way, the option above doesn’t necessarily mean that you must make guides — it creates plain lines first which can then be made into guides by right-mouse click on the object(s) and then choosing “Make Guides”). Guides are faster to turn on and off than layers as well.

Method 3

I often set up new grids when starting a project. I’ll draw “Guides” for a two, three and four column grid. Vertical breaks I base on content and screen size. I found I have the greatest flexibility if I set the vertical breaks when laying in the content.

  1. If I’m designing a document that will be 8″ x 11.5″ I’ll set the art board that size
  2. I’ll determine the margins I want. For half inch margins I’ll make a new top layer, I name it “Guides” and in there I draw a rectangle that is 7.5″ x 10″, center it on the art board and copy it.
  3. Select the rectangle and then Object>Path>Split Into Grid. Make it 2 columns with with an appropriate gutter, like 1/3″. Select the 2 columns and set them no fill and 1pt, inside stroke. Color the stroke your favorite guide color, something contrast-ey, mine are usually bright green and purple.
  4. Edit>Paste In Place the original rectangle, select it and split it into a grid of 3 columns, make them a different color. Repeat the process for a 4 column grid if you need it.
  5. Lock the top “Guides” layer.

These are your guides. Because they’re on the top layer you can toggle their visibility.

Have “Snap To” on and your elements will jump to the guidelines. For text I zoom All the way in and nudge the letter forms until they just touch the line.

When setting the grid lines you can easily put in rows too to get horizontal breaks, but like I said, those become obvious. With this method the art board can expand vertically, allowing layout of very long pages.

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Here’s my typical top layer when starting a project. I have full width, 2 column and 3 column. If I need 4 I turn that on and turn off the others because the guides begin to look messy. I keep a couple horizontal break guides floating.

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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