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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of the Illustrator drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
So we know that when using the Pen tool in Illustrator, when I click once to define an anchor point, I'm creating a corner anchor point. That means that those anchor points are connected by straight lines. However, what happens when the design calls for the use of a curved line? In order to do that, we'll need to learn how to create smooth anchor points. To make things more visible inside of Illustrator as we draw, I'm going to change my fill to None. I'm going to leave my stroke set to Black. But I'm going to change my stroke weight to 4 points.
Now I'm also going to select my Pen tool. Now you already know that to create a straight line you need corner anchor points, where you click, release the mouse, reposition your cursor, click again to create that straight line. The process of creating smooth anchor points is just a little bit different. So I'm going to press Command+A and delete the path that we've just created. And I'm not going to click, but now I'm going to drag the mouse. I'm not going to click and release. I'm going to click and drag and notice what happens here. I create an anchor point, but I'm also pulling out control handles from that anchor point.
Remember the control handles are going to define the direction of that curved path. For now, let's not worry about exactly what direction that path is going in. We just want to create a curved path. So now when I pulled out the control handle to where I want it, I'm going to release the mouse. Now, as we did before, I'm going to move my cursor to where I want the second anchor point to go. Once again, I'm going to click and then drag. Notice that now I've created a curved line. I still have the same two anchor points. But now these anchor points are smooth anchor points with control handles.
And rather than a straight-line connecting these two anchor points, the control handles define a curved path that connects them. I'll press Command+A and delete these paths, and let's actually create a shape. In this document, the pentool_ exercises.ai file, I'm going to open up my Artboards panel and I'm going to double- click on smooth anchor points. In this example, we're going to create a basic round shape. Remember, the whole challenge of using the Pen tool is really figuring out where the anchor points and the control handles need to go. So I have some basic instructions that are here, which we can use as a guide just to get some comfort or level of familiarity with what we're doing.
I'll begin by positioning my cursor right here. I'm going to click and drag towards the right. By the way, what I'm doing right now is I'm also holding down the Shift key. The Shift key allows me to constrain the direction in which I'm pulling out those control handles. For example, without the Shift key down, I can pull handles out in almost any direction. With the Shift key held though, I'm constrained to 45 degree angles. So I'm going to hold down the Shift key and pull the handle out to just about here. Now I'm going to release the mouse. What I've justify defined now is a smooth anchor point.
I'm now going to move my cursor on the right side, right about over here, and once again I'm going to click, hold the Shift key down. I'm going to drag that cursor down to about over here. So let's see what we've just created now. We've created the first arch or a part of our circle. The only thing that's different here in this case is we're clicking and dragging with the mouse when we define an anchor point, instead of just clicking and releasing right away. Next, I'll move my cursor down to the bottom over here and I'll click. And then once again drag to bring my control handle to this point.
Now I'll move my cursor here, because I want another anchor point to go in this location. Click, hold, and drag upwards while holding the Shift key. And then finally, I've return back to the original point to close my path. See now that circle appears letting me know I'm about to close this shape. And once again I will click, hold the mouse, and then drag the Shift key to make sure that now I get a control handle on both sides to that anchor point and then release the mouse. And now we've created a circle inside of Illustrator. We were able to do this because we were creating smooth anchor points, not corner anchor points.
At this point we really just want to get familiar with when we want to click with the Pen tool and when we want to click and drag with the Pen tool. Don't worry if the control handles are not perfect. We can always adjust those later. But for now, it's getting comfortable learning how to use this tool. In fact, let's explore one other way to create shapes inside of Illustrator with the Pen tool. Let's create a shape that uses the change direction anchor points. Remember those are anchor points that actually are a combination of the corner and smooth anchor points, where the anchor points allow the path to completely change direction, but also I have control handles to allow a curve.
So I'll double-click where it says Change Direction Anchor Points here. And let's take a look at this exercise. Again, with my Pen tool selected, I'm not going to position my cursor right over here and I'm going to click and then drag down to this point right here. I am holding down the Shift key to ensure that my control handle is being pulled out on a straight line. Now I'll release the mouse. I'm now going to come here to this location. And I'm not going to click and drag. I am now going to click just once. Remember that when I click once, that defines a corner anchor point, not a smooth anchor point.
In other words, at this point right now there is not a control handle that's available for this anchor point that I've created. But I do want the next path to come out of this anchor point with a control handle. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to click on this anchor point right now. Click, hold the mouse button down, and then with the Shift key down as well, drag out a control handle, just to about over here. Once again I'm going to position my cursor here and I'm not going to click once with the mouse. So you see what happened here? I now have a new anchor point that I've just created which is a corner anchor point, but because in the previous anchor points, I pulled out a control handle, I've created that change direction point.
Let's do that again. Click, drag down to here, release the mouse, move my cursor here, and click once. In this way I was able to combine both a smooth and a corner anchor point to get a shape where rather than the path running straight through the anchor point, it actually stopped short at the anchor point and completely changed direction. Now working with the Pen tool requires a lot of practice, especially when dealing with smooth anchor points. So let's take just a few moments to try three different exercises that will allow us to learn more about how the Pen tool works when creating these types of anchor points.
In the Artboards panel, I'm going to double-click on Exercise_1. Using the Pen tool, I'm going to start over here and click with the mouse. You can see that even professionals make mistakes sometimes. I wasn't paying attention to my Pen tool cursor. What I needed to see was a cursor that had a little X next to it, identifying that Illustrator was ready to create a new path. You see I was still creating the path we've just created a moment ago. Illustrator thinks that I still want to continue that path, so it connected now the anchor point that I've just created with the last anchor point that I was working on.
I'm going to press Undo, and I'm going to press the Command key to temporarily change to my Selection tool. Click now on the artboard, which is going to deselect the path that was selected on the other artboard. Now when I return back to the Pen tool by releasing the Command key, I now have a cursor that has the little X next to it, which identifies that Illustrator is now ready to begin creating a new path. So now, I'll position my cursor over this point and I'll click and then drag with the mouse. I'm using the Shift key actually now, because it will constrain this to a 45 degree angle, and I'll drag it out all the way to here and then release the mouse.
I've just defined my first smooth anchor point. Next, I'll move my cursor all the way down over here. I'll hold down the Shift key once again. And I'll click and drag to this point and release. So now we've created an S-curve by creating two anchor points. The control handles pull that path in different directions to give me that S-curve. This time to make sure that I'm now going to create a new path, I'm going to press the Command key, click on a blank area to deselect the path, and now you'll see my Pen tool has the X next to it.
Let's go to Exercise_2. I'm going to double-click in the Artboards panel on Exercise_2 and let's a look at the shape that this creates. Let's start over here by step one. I'm going to click with my cursor right here. Hold down the Shift key and drag upwards. Release the mouse. And now I'm going to move my cursor here and I'm going to click and drag in the opposite direction. I'm still holding the Shift key as I do this, because I want to pull that control handle on a straight line. When I come down to this point, I'll release the mouse. So I've just created an arch. I'll move the cursor here.
Click, drag upwards, once again, move the cursor here, click and then drag down. We aren't creating any fancy shapes right now. But I've created these exercises that you should become more familiar with smooth anchor points inside of Illustrator. Let's do one final exercise. I'll come down here to Exercise_3 in the Artboards panel. I'll remember to hold down the Command key, click on the artboard to deselect the previous path, and I'll begin drawing a new path. I'll click over here and then drag down to the bottom, release the mouse. Now last time we actually clicked here and then released the mouse immediately to create a corner anchor point here, but I want to create a smooth anchor point where the path will go completely through this anchor point.
So I'm going to click and then drag in one motion down to here. Once again, I'm going to click, drag, release, click, drag, release. And now you can see that rather than the path stopping at this anchor point and changing direction, the path actually comes up over here and then travels directly through the anchor point on its way down. So hopefully, these exercises have given you some experience in using the Pen tool. You learned how to create corner, smooth, and change direction anchor points. On a basic level it's just knowing when to click and release the mouse or when to click and drag with the mouse.
With a little more practice, you'll learn to anticipate exactly where you need to place the anchor points to create the shapes that you have in mind. Once you learn to do that, you'll find that you'll appreciate the precision that the Pen tool offers in Illustrator.
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