5 Quick Tips For Using the Pen Tool

Becky Kilimnik

So, you've decided to finally try out that pen tool thing in Adobe Illustrator. Here are 5 quick tips to make using the pen tool a little less dreadful.

Tip #1:
Be a determinist

You create drawings using the pen tool by putting down points (called anchors or anchor points) and connecting them with lines or curves (called paths). However, you don't let your path set its direction after you put down anchor points—you determine that path's fate before you even put pen tool to artboard.

The handles before and after anchor points determine the curve of your path. Therefore, it's important for you to know where you're going with your pen tool before you go there.

here's a picture of what I'm trying to illustrate. If you don't see a picture I'm sorry

If you're just getting started using the pen tool, it's quite likely you've discovered handles by accident. Don't despair—they're actually quite useful. But they're not intuitive and they never will be. (Sorry.)

Tip #2:
Drag the handle of your first anchor point before you release the mouse button

If you plan to create a curvy shape, pull the handle on that very first anchor point as demonstrated above. In other words, click and drag on the first anchor point before releasing the mouse button.

Here's how:

See? You control the curve—don't let it control you.

Tip #3:
Be very careful where you put your anchor points

There's two things to remember when choosing the location of your anchor points:

drawing of a leaf

Take a close look at where the anchor points are, and where they aren't. Every anchor point you put down has the potential to change the radius and direction of your curve, so you want to limit them to places where you actually want to change the radius and direction of your curve. I mean, it makes sense, right?

Tip #4:
Turn off Smart Guides when you're creating organic shapes

Smart Guides certainly serve their purpose. But I find they are usually in my way unless I'm doing something super technical (like drawing circuits). When I'm trying to make my pretty leaf, they're just a pain in the tuchus.

You'll know you have Smart Guides on if "help" keeps popping up on your screen and looks something like this:

Smart Guides image

In my experience, users just now trying to get a handle on the pen tool (no pun intended) find Smart Guides to add an extra layer of frustration. So I always advise to turn them off.

To turn off Smart Guides, go to View in the top menu and scroll down until you see "Smart Guides." If you see a checkmark beside the words "Smart Guides," it means Smart Guides are on. Click once on those words to turn Smart Guides off.

Tip #5:
Close your paths

Closing your paths are a good idea for a variety of reasons:

To close a path, hover your cursor over the first anchor you put down until the little white box that is your cursor turns into an even bigger white box. This is your cue that the next click of your mouse will close the path.

And there you have it! A pretty leaf.

a pretty picture of a leaf



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Rebecca Rule Kilimnik | © 2017 | kilimnik.com