Illustrator Pen Tool


Working with the Pen tool in Adobe Illustrator is an invaluable skill to develop. We help you to master this tricky tool in our Adobe Illustrator courses.

The main use of Illustrator is as an illustration program, and whilst it’s not compulsory to be adept at drawing by hand, the Pen tool is an indispensable ally in the creation of vector-based graphics. Right-click on the Pen tool in the toolbox to reveal other tools associated with it. These are the Add Anchor Point, the Delete Anchor Point and the Convert Anchor Point tools. First create a new file, and then set your colours to the default of black Stroke and no Fill. To create a geometric path simply clicks on various random points around your page; this creates an object consisting of straight lines and sharp corners. You can hit Control + Z to undo the last commands (Mac: Command + Z). Note that you have unlimited undos, unlike in Photoshop where you have to go into the History panel for multiple undos.

To create a more organic form click and drag on various spots around your page – as you click and drag you are creating anchor points and handles. Your image does not have to be perfect first time though. You can later go to the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) to either move the anchor points or adjust the lengths of the handles. Moving the former will reposition the curve, whilst moving the latter will adjust the curvature of the line. A general rule of thumb is to keep the handles fairly small in size, and also roughly equal in length – this will result in smooth regular curves. If you wish to create a perfect Sine wave, for example, you could turn on the Grid function in View, Show, Grid. The gridlines can be adjusted in Edit, Preferences (Mac: Illustrator, Preferences), Units and Increments. By default these are set to inches – you can change them here to cm or mm. A common set of values would be gridline every 10mm, subdivisions 2. Then hit View, Snap to Grid, for your pen points to adhere to the non-printing grid lines.

You could also place a photo or scan of a sketch to trace around (File, Place). Then after tracing round it discard the imported image. By default the line weight will be 1 point – there are 3 points to a mm. Change the line weight in the top Control panel. You can also change the colours of the fill and stroke after the object has been created.

Modifying lines drawn with the Pen tool is easy too. To make a shape more complex, use the Add Anchor Point tool to add extra points which can later be moved with the Direct Selection tool. Or, conversely, to simplify a shape use the Delete Anchor Point tool to take away unnecessary points. To make an organic shape more geometric click on the points with the Convert Anchor Point tool – the points will become sharp corners. Alternatively, to make a geometric shape more organic click and drag on each anchor point with the Convert Anchor Point tool to pull out the handles. These can later be further manipulated with the Direct Selection tool.

As with many features of Adobe Illustrator, the best design practice involves experimenting with various combinations of tools and effects. The only real limits are the boundaries of your imagination!

Tom Gillan has been training Adobe Illustrator to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. Visit our website for more information:

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