Drawing Paths & Shapes: Pen Tool-II  E-mail
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Written by Craig Watkins   

How to really MOVE with the Pen Tool!



NOTE: if you are brand new to using the PEN TOOL in Illustrator, please see Drawing Paths & Shapes: Pen Tool-I before beginning this tutorial.

First a little prep work for what I am going to show you.... (You will need to work along in Illustrator for this part, if you aren’t already.)

In the tool bar, select the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL.Image

Now select the PEN TOOL.Image

Move your PEN TOOL to the middle of your artboard, but don’t click your mouse. Just let it sit there.


Press and release your COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key a few times. Notice how the PEN TOOL turns into the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL.




Press and release your OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key a few times. Notice how the PEN TOOL turns into the CONVERT ANCHOR POINT TOOL.




Finally, press both the COMMAND and OPTION(Mac)/CONTROL and ALT(PC) keys and the PEN TOOL turns into the GROUP SELECTION TOOL.





Okay. Now we’re ready!!!


Usually before I select the PEN TOOL to create a path, I will click on the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL so it will be the last selection tool selected. This tool allows you to select and move points individually.


If a point is solid in color, that point is selected or “active” and can be manipulated. Points that are not selected will be open or white in the middle.






Therefore, if I am making a path and I see a point that is not placed properly, I can hold down the COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key and my PEN TOOL becomes the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL and I can easily select the point I want to move and reposition it.






When I release the COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key after I have made my adjustment, the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL becomes the PEN TOOL again. At this point you will need to click on the last point you set with the PEN TOOL to continue your path. This trick will greatly increase your speed with paths because you can edit your path as you go.


If you are making a path and you hold down the OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key, your PEN TOOL becomes the CONVERT ANCHOR POINT TOOL and you can adjust the handles individually in your curves.

To make the curve handles visible, hold down the COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key (to switch to the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL) and click on the path on the side of the point that you want to adjust and the handles will appear.






Now back to holding down OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) and the CONVERT ANCHOR POINT TOOL to grab and adjust the handle.


This only works if the last selection tool used was the DIRECT SELECTION TOOLImage.


If the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL was not the last tool you used, select it from your tool bar and reselect the PEN TOOL and then click on the path near where you want to create or adjust a curve.

After you have used the handles to adjust your curve, release the OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key and you will return to your PEN TOOL. This trick will also greatly increase your speed and efficiency.



Now let’s recap all at once with a quick exercise to put this all into play:


Draw a closed shape similar to this with the PEN TOOL. (Remember to first select the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL and then select the PEN TOOL in your toolbar.)






Now hold down the OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key (to get your CONVERT ANCHOR POINT TOOL) and hold it over the top open point, click and drag it to the right.






With the OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key still held down, grab the end of the right handle and move it to change the curve.






Now hold down the COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key and click on the far right open point and move it.






Hold down the COMMAND(Mac)/CONTROL(PC) key and click on the path of the left curve to reveal it’s curve handle.






Finally, hold down the OPTION(Mac)/ALT(PC) key, click on the left curve handle and move it.






That’s a quick recap of how to use the PEN TOOL using key commands instead of changing tools using the toolbar every time you need a new tool. Remember, you can use these same techniques with each point as you are drawing your path.


Now practice, practice, practice!!!

Side Note:

I've been asked many times by beginning Illustrator users if it is better to place all of your points on your path first and then go back and adjust all of them with the CONVERT ANCHOR POINT TOOL and DIRECT SELECTION TOOL.

My answer is that it is fine to create your paths this way, and many people do while they are learning and getting familiar with the PEN TOOL. However, taking the time to learn to use the key commands to switch between tools without having to manually select each tool from the toolbar will really open up new worlds to you and greatly decrease your frustrations by speeding up the painstaking process of making accurate paths.


My advice is to take the time to learn how to switch between the tools with key commands up front. Why slow your progress? The sooner you are completely comfortable with the tools at your disposal, the sooner you will let go and see what the program and the PEN TOOL can do. Using Illustrator correctly and to it’s full potential will reveal to you how powerful the program really is. It’s like anything else, once you are comfortable enough to not have to think about what you are doing, you can really fly!

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