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Mastering the Pen Tool

The Pen tool is the most powerful tool in Illustrator. It allows you to define your own anchor points, as well as adjust the curve associated with those anchors, simply by manipulating two control points associated with each anchor.

When you click and hold down the Pen tool icon in the Illustrator toolbox, the Pen tool flyout displays a set of Pen tools (see Figure 2). We’ll explore the other tools in the Pen tool flyout later on in this article, when I show you how to adjust anchors. For now, let’s focus on the Pen tool itself.

Figure 2

Figure 2 The Pen tool and the Pen tool flyout in Illustrator CS3.

The best way to start using the Pen tool is to generate line segments. Note that terminology: You generate line segments (paths)—you don’t draw them. In other words, to create a line, you first define two anchor points. Resist the intuitive impulse to click and drag!

To generate a straight line with the Pen tool, click once where you want the line to begin, and then click at the point where you want the line to end. Additional clicks add more line segments. As you generate anchors, the Pen tool remains active until you close the path. If the path isn’t closed, you can add points anywhere in your drawing simply by clicking.

Here are two ways to end a line segment path:

  • Select another tool, or Command-click (Mac) or Ctrl-click (Windows) anywhere on your drawing.
  • You can also end a series of line segments by closing the path. To do this, move the Pen cursor over the original anchor point and click. As you move the cursor over the starting anchor point, the cursor displays a circle (see Figure 3).
Figure 3

Figure 3 To close a path with the Pen tool, move the cursor over the starting anchor point and click.

Once you’re comfortable creating anchors with the Pen tool, the next step is learning to control the smoothness of the anchors. By default, the Pen tool generates sharp-angled anchors, not smooth anchors. After you have more experience with the Pen tool, you’ll probably define curvature as you position anchors. But the best way to learn that trick is to divide the process into two steps. You just learned how to generate anchors; now let’s focus on how to define the curves associated with those anchors.

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