How to use the Pen tool in Adobe Illustrator?

Sriti Chamola
May 15, 2019 · 5 min read

The Pen tool is one of the most useful tools in Adobe Illustrator and if you are new to Adobe Illustrator, I suggest you start with learning the Pen Tool first.

What is the Pen Tool?

The Pen Tool creates vector paths or shapes by defining anchor points, creating curves or straight line segments just by manipulating the handles associated with these anchor points.

You can create different kinds of paths just between two anchor points.

With just two anchor points, you get a straight line, a wave or S-shaped curve, and an arc or C-shapes curve.

What are the vectors?

Vectors are composed of paths derived from a mathematical formula that tells how the path is shaped, it’s fill colour, it’s stroke colour and weight, and other properties.

Since the vectors are defined by mathematical formulas, they retain their appearance regardless of their size. Hence, they can be scaled infinitely. They are best suited for logos, flat and gradient-based illustrations, or any kind of artwork which doesn’t make use of images.

File formats for Vectors: .AI, .EPS, .SVG, .PDF, .DXF etc.

Vector Illustration Made in Adobe Illustrator.

How to activate the Pen Tool?

The shortcut for Pen Tool is ‘P’. It is located in the toolbar.

Pen tool in the toolbar.

Draw shapes or paths with the Pen Tool

Draw straight line segments with the Pen tool

The simplest path you can draw with the Pen tool is a straight line, made by clicking the Pen tool to create two anchor points. By continuing to click, you can create a shape made of straight lines joined by anchor points.

  1. Select the Pen tool (P).

2. Click to define the first anchor point (do not drag) and then click again where you want the line to end. You will get a straight line.

Creating a straight line with the Pen Tool.

3. Continue clicking to set anchor points for additional straight lines.

4. Close the path or the shape by clicking on the first anchor point. You will get a closed vector shape.

Making an arrow using just straight lines.

Hold down the Shift key to constrain the Pen Tool to multiples of 45°.

Move the anchor points with ‘Ctrl/Command’

One of the cool things about the pen tool is, you can change the position of anchor points if you don’t quite get it right in the first try.

  1. Select the path and then select the Pen tool (P).
  2. Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (macOS) the point that you want to reposition.
  3. Move the point to the new position.
Re-positioning anchor points with Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (macOS).

Draw curves with the Pen Tool

The curves are controlled by handles. The handles control the degree and intensity of the curve. You can rotate the handles to set the desired angle of the path. Making the handles longer and shorter will make the curve bigger or smaller.

  1. Select the Pen tool (P).

2. Click to define the first anchor point and drag to set the angle of the curve and then release the mouse button.

Making a curved path.

3. Now move the Pen tool where you want the curve to end.

  • For an arc or a C‑shaped curve, drag in the opposite side of the previous handle and release the mouse button.
A C-shaped curve.
  • For a wave or an S‑shaped curve, drag in the same side as the previous handle and release the mouse button.
An S-shaped Curve or a wave.

Press Command/Ctrl while dragging the handles of a smooth point, to make them unequal in length when drawing the curve.

Using Ctrl/Command for different lengths of the handles.

Use Alt / Option to control the handles

  1. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (macOS) to convert a corner anchor point to a smooth point and drag outwards. You will get a curve.
Introduces the handles by converting a corner point to a smooth point.

2. Break the handle pairing by Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (macOS) the handles. Now, you can move the handles around the anchor point individually.

Breaks the handles so they can be controlled individually.

3. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (macOS) to convert a smooth anchor point to a corner point.

Removes the handles by converting a smooth point to a corner point.

4. Alt-click-drag (Windows) or Option-click-drag (macOS) a straight line to convert it to a curve.

Create a simple curve quickly by Alt-click-drag (Windows) or Option-click-drag (macOS).

Things to remember while using the Pen Tool.

  1. For smooth curves, both your handles should be in a straight line.

2. Hold down the Shift key to constrain the Pen Tool to multiples of 45°.

3. Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) introduces the handles, breaks the handles and removes the handles by converting the anchor point from a corner to curve and vice versa.

4. Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (macOS) the anchor point to reposition.

5. Always remember to select the pen tool (Shortcut : P) while re-working the paths.

6. Try to have as few anchor points as possible, this will ensure faster display.

Try ‘The Bezier Game’.

This game will help you master the pen tool.

So, there you go! Practice the Pen tool and you’ll get a hang of it in no time.

About Me

I am a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator located in Bengaluru, India. I believe in Creating order out of chaos and committed to creating beautiful experiences for people with the design. The motto is ‘Eat, Sleep and Design’.

Follow me on Instagram. 😇

Sriti Chamola

Written by

Creating order out of chaos and committed to creating beautiful experiences for people with the design. The motto is ‘Eat, Sleep and Design’.

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