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Pen Tool Mastery in Adobe Illustrator CS5

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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, schmen tool—who needs it, right? Or so I thought, when I first started working with programs like Illustrator. I thought I could just work around the Pen tool and hope that it would be obsolete in some soon-to-be-released version. But no. Even if you just want to edit someone else's paths, sometimes you'll need to touch some variant of the Pen tool (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The mighty Pen tool.

After a painful battle with Illustrator, I slowly built up a tolerance to the Pen tool and its ways. These days, I enjoy attacking a path with it. Once you understand how it "thinks" and you remember the various keyboard shortcuts, you can draw virtually pain-free in Illustrator.

This article is intended for those of us who have started working with the Pen tool and want to take it to the next level, so to speak. Here are a few things I'll cover:

  • Pen tool and path terminology
  • Pen tool keyboard commands
  • Editing paths
  • Preferences you should learn

First let's take a quick look at the terminology behind paths in Illustrator, which you'll need to understand for working with the Pen tool.

Path Terminology

There are two types of anchor points for paths in Illustrator:

  • Smooth points are where anchor points connect two line segments as a continuous curve.
  • Corner points are where a path abruptly changes direction (see Figure 2). As you draw with the Pen tool, you can create smooth and/or corner points on a path to change the path's shape and direction.

There are also many pieces to a path in Illustrator. Figure 2 shows five of the main parts of a path, including anchor points (selected and unselected), line segments, direction points, and direction handles. All play an important part in working with the Pen tool, as you'll see.

Figure 2 Path terminology in Illustrator.

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