Using the Pen tool

Matthew Richmond

This video shows you how to draw with the Pen tool in Illustrator. You learn how to modify anchor points and handles, convert corner points, and smooth curves at anchor points.

Requirements: 

To follow along with this article, you will need the following software and files:

Watch this tutorial in the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Video Workshop.

Using the Pen tool 

  1. In Illustrator, choose File > New to create a new document.
  2. Choose the Pen tool in the Tools panel. The Pen tool is the fifth icon down in the panel.
  3. Click in three different locations on the artboard to draw a path (see Figure 1). You are starting to build an object by adding anchor points one at a time.

    Drawing a path with the Pen tool.

    Figure 1: Drawing a path with the Pen tool.

  4. Click a fourth time on the first anchor point to close the path and create an object.
  5. Click to finish the drawing.
  6. Make sure the Swatches panel is open. If not, choose Window > Swatches.
  7. Select a yellow Fill color from the Swatches panel.
  8. With the Pen tool selected, return to the artboard and draw a few anchor points to create a shape. Notice that the Fill color follows each click of the Pen (see Figure 2).

    The Fill color follows the path when drawing with the Pen tool.

    Figure 2: The Fill color follows the path when drawing with the Pen tool.

    Unlike Adobe Flash CS3 Professional, every object in Illustrator has both a stroke and a fill. Sometimes it's easier to draw shapes before specifying the Fill or Stroke colors, because the fill can get in the way of where you want to put the next anchor point or line.

  9. Choose a white Fill color in the Swatches panel.

    Pen drawings do not have to contain all straight strokes or all rounded strokes. You can combine them.

  10. To create a rounded line, click and hold down the mouse button to create an anchor point, and drag the Bezier handles that appear. Drag the handles on the next point to create a rounded line between the points (see Figure 3). This allows the soft edges and fluid shapes Illustrator is known for.

    Draw curves by dragging the Bezier handles.

    Figure 3: Draw curves by dragging the Bezier handles.

    It's easy to create shapes with the Pen tool. But it can be difficult dragging the Bezier handles to exactly the right angles when you're trying to create a specific shape. You don't have to get it right the first time, though. It's very easy to modify your anchor points and handles.

  11. Drag to create a shape with at least five anchor points. It can be any size or shape, as long as it includes curves that you've created by dragging the Bezier handles.
  12. Choose the Direct Selection tool in the Tools panel. Click any anchor point in your shape. The Bezier handles reappear (see Figure 4). Drag the handles to change the curve of the line.

    Bezier handles reappear when you direct-select anchor points.

    Figure 4: Bezier handles reappear when you direct-select anchor points.

  13. Choose the Ellipse tool in the Tools panel. Draw a circle in an empty area of the artboard.
  14. Choose the Direct Selection tool in the Tools panel, and select the circle. Notice that the circle contains the same type of anchor point with Bezier handles that you saw on your custom shape.
  15. To move an anchor point on any shape or a line that you've drawn with the Pen tool, drag its anchor point.

    Another new feature of the Direct Selection tool in Illustrator CS3 is that when you have an anchor point selected, the Control panel has more options to modify it.

  16. Select an anchor point on the circle you drew. In the Control panel, select the Convert Selected Anchor Points To Corner option. The rounded line is converted to two straight lines that meet at the selected anchor point (see Figure 5).

    Convert a curved anchor point on a circle to a corner point.

    Figure 5: Convert a curved anchor point on a circle to a corner point.

  17. In the Control panel, now select the Convert Selected Anchor Points To Smooth option. Notice that the circle no longer contains the sharp corner (see Figure 6).

    Convert the corner back to a smooth curve.

    Figure 6: Convert the corner back to a smooth curve.

  18. Click the Pen tool button and hold down your mouse button to display the other tool options. Notice the Add Anchor Point, Delete Anchor Point, and Convert Anchor Point tools. With the mouse button still depressed, click the Tearoff button to move these tools onto a tearoff panel.
  19. Hold down the Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS) key, and click the circle once to select it. You can make a selection with this shortcut with most Illustrator tools.
  20. Choose the Add Anchor Point tool in the Pen Tools tearoff panel. Move your pointer to the edge of the circle and click to add an anchor point (see Figure 7).

    Add anchor points to the circle with the Add Anchor Point tool.

    Figure 7: Add anchor points to the circle with the Add Anchor Point tool.

  21. Choose the Delete Anchor Point tool in the Pen Tools tearoff panel. Move your pointer over any of the existing anchor points and click once to delete a point.