Adobe Illustrator is an important, yet often overlooked, tool for adding flair to your creative projects. This is mostly due to the fact that it can be a complex program to learn, but once you learn the basics, there’s really not much you can’t do in this venerable vector graphics program.

One of the most underused and misunderstood tools in Illustrator is the Gradient Mesh Tool. It’s an extremely powerful tool that can make your vector illustrations look nearly photographic once you master it. iStockDiary has a great starter tutorial which shows you how to create a realistic velvet curtain using gradient mesh. While it’s certainly not an in-depth piece, it will give you an idea of what the tool is capable of doing.

BittBox has a really well-written tutorial showing you how to create colorful circular shapes in Illustrator with little fuss. While they look complex, you’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be creating them after reading through this tutorial. These designs can make great background patterns and highlight items in your latest Web or print projects. The nice thing is, they are so simple to create that you can make a bunch of them and keep them on-hand as sort of your own stock library.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have to be tasked with creating a map for your client, you’ll most likely want to create it in Illustrator to keep it editable. Fortunately, this quick tutorial on how to create road maps from SpoonGraphics will get you on your way quick.

Pie charts are used in a lot of design projects such as annual reports, PowerPoint presentations and brochures. Unfortunately, there’s not much sexiness to them. PinkZap has a brief tutorial which will show you how you can quickly add some pizzaz to those boring informational pie charts using the Illustrator Pie Graph tool and a little imagination on your part.

The grunge look remains all the rage in many quarters. You see it everywhere: on posters, Web sites and T-shirts. You might think that getting that special grungy appearance requires the use of Photoshop, but think again. You can get the well-worn look right in Adobe Illustrator using from ConnectedtoChrist. The best part is, it requires very little effort, and once you’ve done it, you may find all sorts of uses for the technique that don’t even involve text.

And finally, IllustrationClass has a pile of spectacular tutorials in both English and Spanish that are a little more advanced. What I like about these tutorials is that the author takes you through the process of creating illustrations from rough sketch to finished product in most cases. Each tutorial includes snapshots of each step along with the instructions, and the final Illustrator files are available for download as well. Be warned though, the tutorials range from 5MB to over 20MB in size, so you’ll most likely want to have a broadband connection for downloading.