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The Pencil Tool Reborn

Many times I'll speak in front of a crowd and ask for a show of hands on who uses the Pencil tool. Maybe 1 in 100 people raise their hands. And that's usually because they create their signature with it (that's me).

Well, no more. The much-maligned Pencil tool has been reborn over the past few versions of Illustrator CC. Let's take a look at the improvements to the tool.

Before you draw with the Pencil tool, it's a good idea to double-click the tool in the Tools panel and set a few options in the Pencil Tool Options dialog (see Figure 9). Set the Fidelity to control how smoothly or accurately to draw paths; smoother usually means fewer points, and more accurate usually means more points. Select the Option Key Toggles to Smooth setting if you want to “smooth” paths as you draw them.

Figure 9

Figure 9 Smooth paths with the Pencil tool.

The Pencil tool also draws straight paths now. This change is amazing because the only path you could create previously was very organic (which is why I used the Pencil tool to create a signature for use in my PDF signatures). With the Pencil tool, you click and drag to create a path. As you draw, press the Option (Mac OS) or Alt (Windows) key to create a straight line in any direction (see Figure 10). To create a straight line constrained to 45 degrees, press the Shift key instead as you drag to create the path.

Figure 10

Figure 10 Create straight lines with the Pencil tool. (From Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 Classroom in a Book, Lesson 5.)

As you draw, or after you finish drawing the path, you can press the Option (Mac OS) or Alt (Windows) key and drag across portions of the path to smooth it out (see Figure 11). This action typically removes anchor points.

Figure 11

Figure 11 Smooth paths with the Pencil tool.

To close a path, simply drag the pointer close to the starting point of the path; when a circle appears next to the pointer, release the mouse button (see Figure 12).

Figure 12

Figure 12 Close a path with the Pencil tool.

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