How to Scale an Image with Adobe Illustrator

How to scal an image with adobe illustrator (the right way)

One of the beauties of Adobe Illustrator is the power of vector art. Since vector art is resolution independent, art created in Illustrator can be re-sized for nearly any use without being concerned with the resolution (aka quality of the final reproduction). With the wide use of appearance effects and transparencies in Illustrator images, it is important to understand how to scale in Illustrator correctly in order to ensure the highest quality reproduction of your artwork. Unlike basic vector elements (take a simple circle for example), objects using transparencies, drop shadows, or even a simple stroke should be sized appropriately, based on their intended use, prior to combining with other elements outside of Illustrator or sending to a print provider for reproduction.

Let’s walk through a few basic options when wondering how to scale in Illustrator. It’s not complicated, but there are a few options you need to be aware of.

Basic Way to Scale an Image in Illustrator

The Scale Tool allows you to easily resize in Illustrator. You simply select an object and then click and drag.

Adobe Illustrator - scaling tool

Just select the tool, click on your object, and drag to scale. Here are some tips to help you understand how the scale tool works:

  • Dragging anywhere in the document window will scale relative to the object’s center point.
  • You can change the default reference point (the object’s center) by first clicking where you want the reference point to be and then dragging to scale your object.
  • Holding down Shift as you drag will maintain the object’s proportions as it scales.
  • Holding down Shift as you drag vertically or horizontally will scale the object along a single axis only.
Another option for basic scaling in Illustrator is the Free Transform Tool.

Another option for basic scaling in Illustrator is the Free Transform Tool.

Like the Scale Tool, the Free Transform Tool allows you to scale any object you have selected as well as rotate the object. Just like the scale tool, the free transform tool will constrain proportions when you hold down the shift key and you can set the reference point by clicking.

Unlike the scale tool, the free transform tool requires you to select a node to click and drag in order to scale in Illustrator. If you just click and drag anywhere on the artboard, you will rotate the object.

Also unlike the scale tool, the Free Transform tool DOES NOT have any options to scale effects. Why is this important? Let’s dive into advanced image scaling to see!

Advanced Image Scaling in Illustrator

The Scale Tool offers some advanced options such as scaling by percentage, and the ability to scale strokes and effects. These options are accessible through the scale options dialog box that you can access by double-clicking on the Scale tool, or alt/apple clicking with the scale tool selected. Here’s a screenshot of the Scale options dialog box:

screen shot of the Adobe Illustrator Scale options dialog box

Note the Scale settings:

  • You can manually enter in a scaling percentage
  • You can choose to scale an object uniformly, or non-uniform.

Note the Options settings: (this is where the “magic” happens when you have effects applied to an object!)

  • Scaling corner options will keep your rounded corners proportional to the original settings. With this UNCHECKED rounded corners will appear to shrink when you scale up your object.
  • Scale Strokes & Effects will scale these items proportional to the original object. With this UNCHECKED a stroke will appear to shrink when you scale up your image.

Let’s take a closer look at these magic settings…

Scaling Object Effects (aka How to scale in illustrator, the right way)

By default, strokes and effects do not scale in Illustrator along with the object they are attached to. However, with the Scale Tool, you can turn on the option to “scale strokes & effects”. This is the perfect solution to ensure your drop shadows and other effects have the same effects on your object at any size.

Here’s our original circle, a clone of it scaled Uniform to 50% WITHOUT scaling strokes and effects checked, and another clone of it scaled Uniform to 50% with “Scale Strokes and Effects” option checked. 

Adobe Illustrator - options to scale an object with a stroke applied

Notice how the stroke appears to be larger on the object in the middle? The stroke is actually the same point size, but since when we didn’t scale strokes & effects, the same sized stroke appears fatter on the scaled down image.

The object on the right was scaled in Illustrator with strokes & effects option checked meaning the drop shadow and stroke were proportionally scaled. The results is a perfectly scaled version of our original object.


You can change the default settings to scale in Illustrator with strokes & effect check by default in Edit > Preferences > General (Windows) or Illustrator > Preferences > General (Mac OS), and select Scale Strokes & Effects. But I recommend that you scale strokes and effects on a case-by-case basis with the Scale Tool options.

Now, when you go to resize images in Illustrator, you can choose how to scale them not be surprised when your effects and strokes didn’t scale the way you thought they would!

Looking for more Adobe Illustrator Training?

Take a class (with a real live person!)— If you are in the Denver area, you can learn more about Adobe Illustrator from the same wonderful lady who taught me—Marti Wedewer, owner of Visual Persuasion Adobe Training! Marti has Adobe Illustrator classes for marketers, PR directors, and small business owners. You can learn more about her Adobe training classes and sign up for the next in-person session at her site here: Adobe Illustrator Training in Denver, Colorado.

Master image resolution—Image resolution can be a confusing thing. “Everything You Need to Know About Image Resolution” explains all the details, including the difference between raster and vector art and how the can play nicely together.

Grab a cheat sheet— This cheat sheet for Adobe Illustrator contains some useful shortcuts and a full listing of keyboard commands!

Get the latest version of Illustrator— Sign up for a Creative Cloud account to get access to the latest version of the latest version of Adobe Illustrator CC, Photoshop, and more.

Get Web Savvy—If you are wondering how your images will react in modern website design, check out our guide to understanding adaptive and responsive layouts.

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