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#36 Understanding the Pen Tool

The most commonly used vector tools are the Text, Shape, and Pen tools. Designers are always adding text to designs, be it just for mock-ups or for actual headings. Most designs contain elements to hold other objects like text and graphics, and when these standard shapes aren’t enough, you can turn to the Pen tool to create your own custom vector shapes or paths.

Of the three tools mentioned, the least understood tool is probably the Pen tool.

The Pen tool let’s you create custom shapes and paths by drawing with the mouse. It also allows you to edit existing shapes by adding anchor points. Unlike the Pencil bitmap tool, where you basically just click and drag to draw a bitmap line, using the Pen tool involves clicking the mouse to set a straight line between two anchor points (a place where the path can change direction) or clicking and dragging to create a curved section of a path (Figure 36a). Basically, every time you want to change the direction of a path, you move the mouse to the desired position and then click the left mouse button to set an anchor point.

Figure 36a

Figure 36a Click to set a straight path or click and drag to turn the path into a curve.

As you add more anchor points, Fireworks displays the path outline in blue. To stop using the Pen tool, do one of the following:

  • Close the path (create a shape) by clicking on the original starting anchor point (Figure 36b).
    Figure 36b

    Figure 36b Closing a path to create a shape.

  • Double-click on the last anchor point to create an open path (Figure 36c).
    Figure 36c

    Figure 36c Double-clicking on the last created anchor point will disengage the Pen tool.

After a path is created, you can use the Subselection tool to select and alter the location of individual anchors, thus changing the shape of the path.

To further alter the path, you can add more anchor points after the fact. Just select the Pen tool and click on the path where you want the new anchor point to appear.

Anchor points have two states: straight and curved. You can convert a straight point to a curved point by using the Pen tool to click and drag out the curve control arms, also known as Bezier control arms.

To convert a curved anchor to a straight point, just click on it once with the Pen tool. Click a second time to delete the anchor point entirely.

If you want to delete a straight anchor point, select it with the Subselection tool and press the Delete key.

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