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Adjusting the behavior of the Pencil tool

From: Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing without the Pen Tool

Video: Adjusting the behavior of the Pencil tool

At first glance the Pencil tool inside of Illustrator looks very simple; however, there are some pretty powerful features hidden inside of it. Let's actually discuss a few of those here by trying to lay down some paths here for Mister Zee. I'm working on this document called drawing.ai and basically all I've done is create a template layer there with a new artwork layer that I am going to start using to draw some paths. I am going to zoom in maybe on this hind leg here of Mister Zee because maybe I want to draw this curve right over here. So I am actually going to zoom out just a bit. That looks really good.

Adjusting the behavior of the Pencil tool

At first glance the Pencil tool inside of Illustrator looks very simple; however, there are some pretty powerful features hidden inside of it. Let's actually discuss a few of those here by trying to lay down some paths here for Mister Zee. I'm working on this document called drawing.ai and basically all I've done is create a template layer there with a new artwork layer that I am going to start using to draw some paths. I am going to zoom in maybe on this hind leg here of Mister Zee because maybe I want to draw this curve right over here. So I am actually going to zoom out just a bit. That looks really good.

Centre that on my screen and now I am also going to go ahead now and choose my Pencil tool. I can start to click and drag. Normally, we might think that if we want to have a very smooth and fluid path, we would need to click and kind of go very quickly. But it's going to be very hard for you, because your hand is probably somewhat removed from the screen, because it's a little bit hard, you are watching the screen but your hands are on a tablet that is on the ground. If you have one of the Wacom Cintiq tablets, those are the monitors that are also integrated into the tablet. So you are like drawing right on the monitor.

It's a little bit easier to do this. However, you still might find yourself saying well, that doesn't look really good. I am going to hit Command+Z to undo and then try to lay down another path and keep working with it that way. I found that it's a lot easier to actually to start out and go pretty slow. If you are going to add a jagged path or lots of anchor points, don't worry about that because it's so easy to clean it up later. So for example, what I might start doing is clicking and dragging and kind of following along the path here. By slowing down a little bit, it's a lot easier for me to follow now that count toward the path.

One of the things that we find when working with a real Pencil tool on real paper is that many times when we are starting to work on a sketch, we are kind of lightly drawing with these really light lines that as we kind of get happier or we get a better idea of where we want our drawing to go, we start to kind of darken in the lines a little bit. While when working in a digital workflow, like we have right here, there's really no such thing as kind of light lines and darker lines because when I laid down my path, I mean that's my path. It's not like I am going to have my darker path and say yeah, that's what I want to have.

We find that sometimes we feel the need to lay down that perfect path each time, but the reality is that Illustrator has a very interesting function built into the Pencil tool that kind of helps us. For example, if you look towards right now the top part of the path here, I didn't really kind of meet this exactly. So what I could do is I can just draw over my existing path. Just take my Pencil icon now and click and drag over it to kind of go a little bit more to the right and you can see how Illustrator now modified my path. In fact, it can do that in many places. If I wanted this to kind of loop down a little bit, I will just kind of click here and kind of continue the path that way where I can kind of draw over it and kind of get a better idea of how I want my path just by drawing over the path itself.

This is a feature that Illustrator calls Edit Selected Paths. Because right now when I first created my path it still stays selected, as I drove over the path Illustrator thinks that I want to modify the look of it so it lets me quickly just modify the path by drawing on top of it. However, there may be times where this becomes a problem. For example, let's focus here on the tail here in the back. I am actually going to zoom in just a little bit closer right here to this part of the sketch. And let's say I want to kind of lay down some paths here. So I am just going to draw a line over here and that looks okay. Maybe not that great and maybe we want to make it a little bit smoother.

Well, how would I do that? Well, if you look over here underneath the Pencil tool, there's something here called the Smooth tool. Now I can choose to select the Smooth tool and kind of draw over it, which we've done before in previous chapters. However, it's a pain to keep switching between the Pencil tool and the Smooth tool. So there's an important keyboard shortcut to note, that when you have the Pencil tool active, if you hold down the Option or the Alt key on your keyboard, again that's Option for the Mac, Alt on Windows, you are going to see that your tool toggles to become now the Smooth tool.

So just now I drew a path which I'm not that happy with. I am happy with the overall shape, but it's just not smooth enough for me. So now I can hold down the Option key, now I switch to the Smooth tool, and now I can draw over it to kind of smooth out that path. Great! So I am happy with that path. Now I want to start a new path going this way. So I am going to click over here. Again, I'm letting go now the Option key so I am back to my Pencil tool. Now when I draw back over here, whoa, what just happened? Illustrator thought that I wanted to modify my path because it was still selected.

So now that I went ahead and I started drawing a new path, Illustrator modified the path instead. So Illustrator is kind of second- guessing me here and that becomes a problem when you work very quickly inside of Illustrator. Rather than Illustrator dictate what should be happening, you as a designer should be dictating how Illustrator should behave. So I am going to press Command+Z to undo to go back to my path here for a moment and there are two ways to solve this problem. One way is to actually here double -click on the Pencil tool itself. That brings up the Pencil Tool Options dialog box where you can uncheck the Edit selected paths option.

In doing so, you're now disabling Illustrator's ability to modify the path. However, I'll tell you that I have a problem with that, because I like the feature and I want to be able to edit paths by drawing over it. I just want to make sure that Illustrator does it when I want it to, not when it gets in the way of what I'm trying to do. So what I can do is I can take this checkbox here that's called Keep selected, and I can uncheck that option. Now I am going to click OK and you will notice that when I draw a new path-- let's actually delete this existing path. When I draw a path right here, it's not selected anymore and now when I draw a new path, Illustrator is not modifying that path.

So now I have the ability to draw a path this way without that feature getting in the way. However, I will also tell you that if I now want to go ahead and smooth out that path, I have to find a way to select it. Of course, I can always press the Command key and then select that path and now if I draw over it, it will redraw that path or I can hold down the Option key and smooth it out. You can also, by the way, use this exact same method to solve the problem as well. Let me show you. If I am going to go back here to my Pencil tool and double-click on it, let's keep the Keep selected option turned on and the Edit selected paths turned on as well.

This is the default setting inside of Illustrator. I am going to hold my Command key and click and drag to just select this path and just delete it. Let's start from scratch again. I draw a path over here. I want to smooth it out. So I will Option+drag or Alt+drag on top of it so that it's smooth. I want to draw a new path here, but I don't want Illustrator to accidentally get rid of this path and modify it. So now I am going to Command+click off of the path. Now that it's deselected I don't have to worry about that problem anymore, but it would mean that each time that I draw a path, I would have to manually Command+click off of it to now draw a new path.

So it's up to you how you want to handle it but I just want to make sure that you are aware of the settings. When working with the Pencil tool, you can use the Option or the Alt key to toggle between the Pencil tool and the Smooth tool, which can be very helpful, and you can also use the Command key or the Ctrl key on Windows to either select or deselect the path to control whether or not Illustrator modifies your existing path or draws a new one.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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  1. 7m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 21s
    2. The evolution of vector drawing
      3m 46s
    3. Getting the most out of this training
      1m 30s
    4. Using the exercise files
      27s
  2. 39m 2s
    1. Plotting points vs. drawing paths
      5m 36s
    2. Drawing artwork vs. building artwork
      7m 59s
    3. The keyboard shortcuts you HAVE to know
      8m 52s
    4. Groups and layers really do matter
      3m 11s
    5. Taming Smart Guides and the Bounding Box
      10m 53s
    6. Do you need a drawing tablet?
      2m 31s
  3. 47m 51s
    1. To sketch or not to sketch?
      2m 32s
    2. Setting up a template layer for your sketch
      3m 37s
    3. Optimizing default settings for drawing
      5m 27s
    4. Using the primitive shapes tools
      5m 7s
    5. Mastering the modifier keys
      2m 8s
    6. Mastering the transform tools
      6m 37s
    7. Creating curves with the Reshape tool
      6m 44s
    8. Using the Smooth tool
      3m 35s
    9. Using Simplify to create smooth paths
      3m 2s
    10. Recording an action for the Simplify command
      5m 2s
    11. Mirroring art for speed and accuracy
      4m 0s
  4. 50m 18s
    1. Deconstructing the Pathfinder panel
      1m 56s
    2. Using the Shape Modes functions
      12m 4s
    3. Using the Pathfinder functions
      13m 4s
    4. Understanding how compound shapes work
      11m 45s
    5. Understanding why compound shapes exist
      7m 32s
    6. Exploring additional Pathfinder options
      3m 57s
  5. 52m 51s
    1. Why Live Paint was created
      10m 45s
    2. Creating a Live Paint group
      4m 21s
    3. Using the Live Paint Bucket tool
      7m 8s
    4. Using Live Paint with open paths
      5m 6s
    5. Detecting gaps in Live Paint groups
      3m 42s
    6. Adding paths to a Live Paint group
      5m 34s
    7. Using the Live Paint Selection tool
      6m 28s
    8. Releasing and expanding Live Paint groups
      2m 59s
    9. Understanding how Live Paint works
      6m 48s
  6. 27m 37s
    1. Why the Shape Builder tool was created
      4m 18s
    2. Focusing on the big three: Add, Subtract, and Divide
      2m 27s
    3. Using the Shape Builder tool to add and subtract artwork
      9m 50s
    4. Using the Shape Builder to divide artwork
      3m 48s
    5. Building and coloring artwork at the same time
      3m 50s
    6. Using Gap Detection with the Shape Builder tool
      3m 24s
  7. 23m 2s
    1. Understanding how variable widths work
      8m 25s
    2. Modifying width points along a path
      7m 9s
    3. Saving time with width profiles
      5m 14s
    4. Turning variable width strokes into filled paths
      2m 14s
  8. 28m 21s
    1. Understanding how the Pen and Pencil tools differ
      4m 41s
    2. Adjusting the behavior of the Pencil tool
      7m 5s
    3. Using the Path Eraser tool
      1m 17s
    4. Drawing with the Calligraphic Brush tool
      5m 43s
    5. Drawing with the Blob Brush tool
      5m 53s
    6. Using the Eraser tool
      3m 42s
  9. 3m 44s
    1. Looking at the VectorScribe plug-in
      2m 16s
    2. Next steps
      1m 28s

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