Draw Better and Faster with Illustrator CC
Illustration by John Hersey

Drawing complex shapes using round corners


Draw Better and Faster with Illustrator CC

with Deke McClelland

Video: Drawing complex shapes using round corners

In this movie, I'll show you how to draw using round corners.

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Watch the Online Video Course Draw Better and Faster with Illustrator CC
1h 52m Appropriate for all Apr 02, 2014

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Illustrator CC does something that few updates to the program have done: It promises to change the fundamental way that you draw. Yes, there was the Pen tool in Illustrator 1, Pathfinder operations in Illustrator 5, and dynamic effects in Illustrator 9. But Illustrator CC changes the entire nature of the game. Deke's not exaggerating; the things he's about to show you are that big. Learn about the "new" Pencil tool, on-the-fly corner rounding, and freeform curve bending. 3 features in 3 short chapters that will change the way you see Illustrator. Then Deke shows how to combine them all in a real-world Illustrator project that proves his thesis: drawing has never been faster, better, or easier than this.

Topics include:
  • Drawing effortless arcs, paths, and lines with the Pen tool
  • Selectively and dynamically rounding corners
  • Drawing complex shapes with round corners
  • Bending segments with the Pen tool
  • Beveling and enhancing artwork
  • Drawing multiple lines at the same time
Deke McClelland

Drawing complex shapes using round corners

In this movie, I'll show you how to draw using round corners. And we're not going to draw something goofy like this either. We're going to take this pencil sketch that I created, and scanned in, and set up as a template layer, and then we're going to turn it into this final chess piece silhouette. Right here. So, I'll go ahead and start off in my template document. I'll zoom in as well. Make sure, if you're working along with me, that the drawing layer is active, because, you won't be able to draw on the Lot Sketch layer. Then I'll press Ctrl+R or Cmd+R on a Mac, to bring up the rulers.

And I'll drag out a guide, a vertical guide, that will serve as my center guide. Now, obviously it's not in the center of my document quite yet, but I'm going to make it so by pressing Ctrl+R or Cmd+R on a Mac to get rid of the rulers. I'll go up the the View menu, choose Guides, and then choose Lock Guides to turn it off. And then I'll go ahead and Marquee that guide with a Black Arrow tool, not the White arrow. Then go up to the Control panel, click on the align icon. Set it to Align to artboard, and then click on Horizontal Align Center.

And then I'll put the guide right there and in the center of the document, and then go back to the View menu < choose Guides and choose Lock Guides to lock the Guide down. Alright, now what we want to do is select the Pen tool, but I'm not going to be drawing any control handles whatsoever, so no smooth points, no cusps, just a bunch of corner points. And so I'll click right about there, on that guide, in order to set my first point, and then I'll Shift+click right here. I know I'm not exactly tracing the template, but it's a little off.

And then I'll Shift-click there, and out here. So these are all Shift-clicks so far. Then I'll click, this time not pressing the Shift key. Then I'll Shift-click, and the reason I'm Shift-clicking, by the way, is so that I'm creating exactly vertical or horizontal segments. Shift-click there, Shift-click right there. Click out here, then click over here. Then click down around, about there. And then Shift-click beyond this edge. So you want to click at an extreme because you're going to be rounding inward. And then click down here, click right about there and then there.

And I'm going to go ahead and zoom in on things so that I can better see what I'm doing. I think this point wants to come out a little bit, so I'm pressing the right arrow key to nudge it out. I could also switch back to the white arrow tool for a second, and just kind of drag it so it snaps into alignment with that point up there, and then just press Shift down arrow, and up arrow, a few times, whatever, just nudge it around to get it to the right place. Alright, now press the P key to switch back to the Pen tool, click on that point to make it active again, Shift-click right there, we want to click out here.

Click in here. So, some of these corners are not going to get rounded. They're going to stay corners. Click way out here, then click down here some place. Now you can zoom out quite a bit and click, I don't know. Right about there is probably going to work well. And then click here. So, you can see. Now we don't have to set that many points. I'm just clicking at the extreme outer corner, then clicking on a corner that we'll be keeping, click out here, click there, let's say. And then I want to Shift-click right there, Shift-click down closer to the bottom here.

Actually want to extend this. I kind of ran out of paper on my pencil sketch. I press the down arrow key a few times to nudge that down. And then finish things off by shift clicking over here at the guide, and that didn't work because I deactivated my pass, so I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z on a mac. Click there in order to extend the path, and then Shift-click right there in order to finish it off. Alright, let's give the path a stroke by switching back to the Black Arrow tool, which you can do by pressing the V key. I'll click on the path to select it so that the entire path is selected in other words.

Then, go up to the stroke setting here, change it to black, and I might as well take the line weight up to two points, let's say. Alright now, I'm going to scroll up, and I'm going to zoom in again. And I'm doing that by Ctrl+Spacebar clicking by the way, that's a Cmd+Spacebar click on the Mac. And now if I were to grab my White Arrow tool by pressing the A key. And if I were to drag one of these little rounding controls in order to round all of the corners, you can see that I can't round them very far, and that's because most of these corners are very tight, and we don't have a lot of room to maneuver.

So, I'll press Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z on the Mac to undo that change. I don't want to change all of the corners, so I'm going to click off the path to deselect it, and I'll click at this corner right here to select it, and I'll round it as much as I can, so that we get a nice, smooth arc right there. Then I'll click this corner and round it to right about there, so it more or less matches the template. Both of these corners want to be rounded to the same extent. So I'll click on one, shift click on the other and round them off to about there, lets say. Click on this guy and round him to about that location.

Really up to you how you want to work. Click here and go ahead and drag inward. And I want you to notice something. For those of who are comfortable with control handles, which is probably just about all of you, if you click off the shape and click on it, so just click on one of these rounded segments, you will see that you do have control handles. And you've also got that roundness control right there. If you move one of the control handles, if you drag it around, you're going to lose your roundness control. However, you may want to do that. There may be times where you want to manual control over an arch that you've created.

In my case, I don't, because I've kind of ruined the alignment, as you can see right there. I've got a little bit of an elbow. So, I'll press Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z on a Mac, and that brings back my roundness control so that I can play with it some more if I so desire. Alright, now I'll move down here, click on this point, and I'll bring it in like so. Round it to, well, pretty far. Actually, you know what I want to do? For this specific eye, I'll double click on the corner control to bring up the corners dialogue box, and I'll change the rounding to relative. So it pokes out a little bit. Then I'll click OK.

Alright, now click on this corner and drag it in. So, you're probably getting the idea by now that this is just like the most useful control on the face of the planet, it's just so great you can do this. Alright, now I'm going to take the waist of this piece here, click on this anchor point right there, and I'm going to drag its control way, way out. And I might even go further with it, I'll go ahead and zoom out a little bit. And take it off into the paste board, because I want a nice fluid arc right there. And you can even go farther with it if you want, I might. Actually, that looks really good.

All right, now, zoom back in, click on this corner, drag it in like so. I'm dragging it too far, as you can see. Then I'll double-click on the little control right there and change the rounding to relative so it pokes out a bit. Click OK. That went in a little bit too far, so we'll take it out some more, like so. And then I'll select this corner and drag it in, in order to create this kind of arc right there. Now this one wants to kind of taper in and then come back out like this, so I'm going to take manual control over it.

First of all, drag this all the way in, now, well, that's as far as it can go. And then I'm going to click off this point, and click on it again to select it. Now, I think I only have one point, that's a good thing, and I'm just going to move this guy down, and then drag this control handle outward and drag this one down,as well. So, any of these rounded corners can serve as a starting point for your own manual manipulations. Now, I'll go ahead and select this corner and drag its control handle in.

And that should take care of it, folks. Now, I'm going to go ahead and zoom out. And you can see, I only drew half of the shape, because after all, I want it to be symmetrical. So, I'll press the V key to switch to my Black Arrow tool; go ahead and select it there. And I'm going to scroll down to the bottom of this object. And I'll select the Reflect tool from the Rotate Tool fly out menu, and I will Alt or Option click right there on that guide in order to bring up the Reflect dialog box. The axis should be vertical, and because my preview check box is turned on, I can see everything's looking good, so I'll click the Copy button.

In order to create a copy of that shape and then I'll go ahead, marquee the two shapes with my black arrow tool and I'll go up to the Object menu, choose Path and then choose Join. Or you can just press Ctrl+J or Cmd+J on the Mac, and that's going to fuse everything together and I can just check to make sure that's true by dragging that point. Looks great. And now, go ahead and scroll up to the top of my chess piece here, and it looks like I've got a gap, that kind of stuff happens sometimes, so I'll Marquee these two endpoints. Go up to the Object menu, choose Path, and then choose Average.

Make sure Both is selected, click OK, and that'll go ahead and move them together, and now I'm going to press that keyboard shortcut that brings up the Join dialog box. Which is Ctrl-shift+Alt+J or Cmd-shift+Option+J on the Mac, because I want to join these guys as a smooth point. And click OK. And that is pretty much it. Actually, I deselected the shape; that's not what I wanted to do. I'll press the V key to switch to the black arrow tool. Select the shape like so and then press Shift+X in order to swap the fill and stroke attributes. And now go ahead and turn off the template because I'm done with it, and I'll go up to the view menu choose Guides and choose Clear Guides just because I don't need that center guide anymore.

And I just press Ctrl+0, or Cmd+0 on the Mac, to zoom out. And now I'm going to scroll up using the scroll wheel on my mouse, and that Is one of many ways to draw by setting up a base polygon using the pen tool, because that's the easiest way to work. And then adding your rounded contours, your arcs, using the new Round Corner control that's available to you in Illustrator CC.

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