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A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

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The Illustrator Pen Tool: Tips and Tricks

The Illustrator Pen Tool: Tips and Tricks

Tired of watching Pen Tool tutorials on YouTube and in need of a good guide on how to use Illustrator’s Pen Tool? Look no further! The following guide has all the answers to your questions.

Tired of watching Pen Tool tutorials on YouTube and in need of a good guide on how to use Illustrator’s Pen Tool? Look no further! The following guide has all the answers to your questions.

Whether you are a beginner or a well-seasoned illustrator – the Pen Tool will always be one of Illustrator’s most powerful tools.

Even after using Adobe Illustrator’s design program for many years and discovering new drawing features and tools, you will always need to use the Pen Tool to create excellent graphics one way or another. 

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This essential tool can even help you turn dull objects into cool graphics in seconds. Well, not precisely seconds, but you get the idea. 

If you have never used the Pen Tool before or have started exploring it but are unsure how to use it, the following guide will be spot on for you. 

If you have used the Pen Tool for quite some time but need a refresh or want to see how you can use this tool to its full potential, you might find the following guide helpful as well!

So, what will we cover in this short and to-the-point guide? 

We will start by exploring the Pen Tool and showing you a step-by-step guide on using it. Then we will go through some of the most frequently asked questions about the Pen Tool and answer them one by one.

In the end, we will give you an alternative to Illustrator’s Pen Tool that is more intuitive, easier to use, and is offered for free.

Eager to start learning more? Let’s do it!

What Is The Pen Tool? 

The Pen Tool is a neat feature that is one of the foundational tools for creating vector graphics. It allows you to create shapes with freeform curves. Found in the Toolbar, the Pen Tool is probably the most powerful drawing tool you can find in Adobe Illustrator. 

If you need to replicate any curves, you can do so with the Pen Tool. You can also use it to create and edit anchor points and paths. 

But before we go into more detail, it is essential to mention that Pen Tool is much more than a simple pen. If you have never used it before, remember that it does not work like a regular pen – drawing wherever you drag the “pen.” 

What it does, however, is it draws vector paths. So let’s explore the anatomy of a Vector Path.

A path is defined by a start and endpoint. A part of the path can be other points, angles, curves, etc. Therefore, a path can be anything from a simple line to curvy shapes.

To be more specific, let’s look at Bézier Curves, which are mathematically defined curves. Four points define these types of curves: 

  • The initial position of the curve (also called an Anchor)
  • The terminating position of the curve (also called an Anchor)
  • And two separate middle points (also called Handles)

To alter the shape of the curve, all you have to do is move the handles. You can find the Adjustment Point at the end of each handle of any selected Anchor Point. 

Once you pull on it, the Handles will pull the path outward into a curve. The further you drag, the bigger the curve will become. 

Why do you need path creation, path segments, and these vector shapes and curves, you may ask? 

Well, if you want to create any illustrations, be it simple or complex, you can use these paths to generate any illustration of your choice or replicate an already existing drawing and give your spin to it. The possibilities are endless.  

You can also use the Pen Tool to trace outlines, make clipping masks, and create logos. You can also use it for the creation of vector objects and much more.

It is not one of the core tools for nothing, right? However, even though this tool might sound easy to use, it can be quite complicated at first. If you need it to trace outlines, it will take you more time to figure out how it works.

Nevertheless, with a bit of practice, you will get the hang of it and will be able to create smooth path segments and smooth curves. Once you have a few months of practice under your belt, you will feel more confident using it. 

How To Use The Pen Tool In Adobe Illustrator

As mentioned earlier, the Pen Tool is all about the Anchor Points you connect to create lines – be they straight lines or curvy lines. To start using the Illustrator CC Pen Tool, go to the Toolbar and select the Pen Tool (P) to begin drawing. 

Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut ~key~ P ~key~ to select the Pen Tool. In the following, we will look at how you can create a path using either straight lines or curve lines. 

How To Draw Straight Lines 

A straight line is the simplest path you will ever have to create with the Pen Tool. 

Again, if this is the first time exploring the Pen Tool, keep in mind that while your first thought would be to draw an actual line, the reality is that all you need to do is to create a straight line by using Anchor Points.

To make it easier to follow, here are three steps you need to take to create a straight line: 

Step 1 – Select the Pen Tool (follow the instructions above).

Step 2 – Click and release on your Artboard to create the first Anchor Point (also known as the original Anchor Point).

Step 3 Click and release anywhere else on your artboard to create another Anchor Point.

If you want to create perfectly straight lines, all you need to do is hold Shift while following Step 3 instructions. 

Now, let’s further create a path using straight lines. To do that, follow the next steps:

Step 4 – Depending on the path you want to create (be it a precise path, a sharp corner, a solid square, and so on), keep clicking and releasing on your Artboard to create continuing Anchors linked with one another. 

Step 5 If you want to use these paths to create a particular shape, you must close the entire path by connecting the last anchor point to the original anchor point. 

Once you do that, the ending point will be filled black, making it easier for you to know the point where you started and where you finished. 

How To Draw A Curved Path 

Drawing curved lines is not as easy as drawing simple straight line segments. However, it will be helpful to know how to use this feature if you want to create silhouettes and shapes, make a Clipping Mask, and so on. 

Knowing how to draw a curved segment with the Pen Tool will be helpful in various ways. 

Here are the steps you need to follow to create a curve segment: 

Step 1: Select the Pen Tool.

Step 2:  Position the pen tip on your Artboard (where you want the curve to begin) and hold down the mouse button.

Step 3:  Once you do that, the first Anchor Point will appear. You will notice that the pen tip will change to an arrowhead.

Step 4:  Now it is time to drag handles to set the slope of the curve line you want to make and extend direction lines while keeping the mouse button pressed.

Step 5:  Release the mouse button. 

Note – When you need to curve a particular path, clicking and releasing won’t be enough.

You will have to repeat the steps above and remember to drag the arrowhead to create a direction handle before releasing and eventually creating a curved line. 

Step 6: To adjust the curve, click on the handle and move it around until you are satisfied with how the curve looks. 

How To Edit The Lines Using The Pen Tool

Instead of starting over, you can simply edit the curve lines you have created in various ways. We will now look into how you can improve your lines and save time in the process. 

Editing Lines

Remember that you can always edit paths using the Anchor Point Tool, which is perfect for editing paths. 

You can find the Anchor Point Tool right below the Pen Tool icon. Select the path and the Anchor Point tool to edit the curve you have created. Then, click and drag on the anchor point to edit. 

Once you are satisfied with the new look of the curve, you can release it. 

Adding Curves To A Straight Segment 

The Anchor Point Tool is perfect for mixing things up and adding a few curves to straight lines. 

For instance, you can turn a corner to curve segments or change geometric shapes and turn them into custom shapes.

Adding Or Removing Anchor Points

Adding and removing anchor points is super easy with the Pen Tool. All you have to do is select the Pen Tool with a plus sign to add Anchor Points, or the one with the minus sign to remove anchor points. 

Here’s a brief step-by-step guide on adding or removing Anchor Points. 

Step 1: Select one of the paths you have created. 

Step 2: Select the Pen Tool. 

Step 3: Click on the path with the plus sign to add new Anchor Points, or the one with the minus sign to add or delete existing anchor points.

Another way how to achieve the same result when you want to delete anchor points:

Step 1: Select the Pen Tool.

Step 2: Hover on an existing anchor point. Once you do that, the Pen Tool will automatically change to “Delete Anchor Point Tool.” You will soon notice the minus sign next to the Pen Tool. 

Step 3: Click on the anchor points that you want to remove.

Step 4: Admire the newly created shape!

How To Use The Pen Tool In Vectornator

Did you know that you can use the same tool for the same functions in Vectornator? 

As one of the most intuitive and precise Illustration tools out there, we aim to make graphic designers’ and illustrators’ lives easier by offering easy-to-use and intuitive alternatives to popular tools such as Adobe Illustrator. 

Therefore, if you are a beginner or already testing a few tools, you can try using Vectornator as a free alternative to Illustrator before purchasing any tools. Since we explored how to use the Pen Tool in Illustrator, let’s look at how you can use the same tool in Vectornator. 

We will demonstrate how you can use the Pen Tool on the iPad in the following sections. If you need to check out how the Pen Tool works on other devices, such as Mac and iPhone, you can refer to our Learning Hub section.

Drawing Straight Paths

To create a basic path (a simple line), you must first tap on the canvas. This will allow you to make the first Bézier Node (which is highlighted in green color). Then, tap anywhere else on the canvas to add a second Node. Once you do that, a line will appear.  

Want to continue the path? Simply continue tapping and creating new Nodes as you go. This way, you can create any shape you desire.

Closing Straight Paths

Need to close the path you have created? All you have to do is position the Pen Tool over one of the two endpoints and tap once. Then, to create a closed path or closed shape, tap again over the other endpoint. 

If you want to leave a path open, double tap over the End Node (the one marked in red color), or select a different tool.

Creating Curved Paths

Like Illustrator, creating curved paths in Vectornator involves dragging the Direction Handles. Here’s a short step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Tap once on the canvas to set the Start Node.

Step 2: Drag your Pencil or finger to determine the path direction and the arc of the curve you want to create.

Step 3: Lift your Pencil or finger off the canvas.

Step 4: Choose the direction of the second Bézier Node. 

Step 5: Tap and drag your Pencil or finger to determine the direction of the curve. 

Step 6: Experiment with the handles until you are satisfied with the result.

A Few Tips: 

1. Keep an eye on the handles. They will determine how shallow or deep the curve will be. 

It is always recommended to experiment as much as you can to understand how the handles work and how to create various shapes using curved paths. 

2. If you just tap and drag paths, Vectornator will automatically generate an Asymmetrical Node. 

Any curved paths that have different distances from the Bézier Node but share the same angle are called Asymmetrical Nodes. 

There are four different types of Nodes in Vectornator:

  • The Single Node
  • The Mirrored Node
  • The Asymmetric Node
  • The Disconnected Node
To read more about each of them, check out Vectornator’s guide on Node types.

Closing Curved Paths

There are various scenarios and ways to close curved paths using Vectornator’s Pen Tool. One way is to complete the shape by simply tapping once on the very first node you created. 

Another way is to combine the Node and Pen Tool. This is useful if you have a current open path that you wish to close. First, you need to select the entire path using the Node Tool and activate the Pen Tool. 

After that, tap on one of the two Nodes you want to close. Once you do that, you can go ahead and tap on the other closing Node to close the path. 

Ready To Master The Pen Tool?

We hope that our guide was helpful and made it clear to you how you can use Illustrator’s Pen Tool and why you need to master this essential tool. 

If you have not started practicing it yet in Illustrator, feel free to use all the above scenarios to get started and feel more comfortable using it. In case you have started practicing with Illustrator but need a more intuitive alternative, then Vectornator’s Pen Tool is the answer.

The above suggestions are just a preview of what you can do with Vectornator’s Pen Tool and how easy it is to use via iPad and iPhone devices. 

Curious about how to edit a curved path in Vectornator? Or how to change the Node Type? You will find the answers to these questions, as well as an entire section on Pen Tool practice in this Vectornator Pen Tool guide. 

Have a project in mind that requires you to use the Pen Tool? Then please message us on Social Media once you are done with it. 

We always love to see what our users come up with. It is also a way for us to find new talents out there and promote your work through our social media channels. So don’t be shy, and feel free to send us your artwork.

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