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Pen Tool Mastery in Adobe Illustrator CS5

Article Description

Have you been ignoring Illustrator's Pen tool? Brian Wood, contributor to Adobe Illustrator CS5 Classroom in a Book, wasn't crazy about working with the Pen tool, but after a bit of experimentation he has come to rely on it. Tune in here to learn some of Brian's best Pen tool techniques.

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Pen Tool Tips

Pen Tool Tips

Now that you've experienced some Pen tool functionality, I want to talk a bit about ways to draw successfully with the Pen tool. I get the same questions all the time, so I'll address a few of them here.

  • How do you know where to add a point? Anytime there's a change in direction for the path, you can add a point. Drawing with the Pen tool takes practice and time! Eventually you'll get a feeling for when to add anchor points. Try placing an image in Illustrator (File > Place), lock it into position (Object > Lock > Selection), and then trace its outline with the Pen tool. You'll learn pretty quickly when to add points.
  • How far should I drag and in what direction? If you're creating a curve, think of it this way: When you create an anchor point with direction lines (to make a curve), the trailing direction line controls the previous part of the curve, and the leading direction line controls the next part of the curve (see Figure 4, top). You typically click and drag from a point, paying attention to the previous part of the curve first, and then focusing on the next part of the curve (see Figure 4, bottom).
  • Figure 4 How far should you drag, and in what direction?.

  • Too many points. Here's a quick way to minimize the number of points on a path. Select the path and choose Object > Path > Simplify. In the Simplify dialog box, the greater the Curve Precision, the more points you have (see Figure 5).
  • Figure 5 Simplify a path.

  • Path preferences. You can set a few preferences to make your life easier. Choose Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Illustrator > Preferences (Mac). In the Selection & Anchor Display category, you can make the anchors bigger and change the appearance of the direction handles in the Anchor Point and Handle Display properties. You can also turn on "Show handles when multiple anchor points are selected" to see the direction lines for multiple points at once (see Figure 6).
  • Figure 6 Setting path preferences for easier Pen tool manipulation.