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Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool


Illustrator CS5 Essential Training

with Mordy Golding

Video: Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool

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.
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  1. 3m 35s
    1. Welcome
      1m 18s
    2. What is Illustrator CS5?
      1m 46s
    3. Using the exercise files
  2. 12m 37s
    1. What are vector graphics?
      6m 3s
    2. Path and appearance
      3m 42s
    3. Stacking
      2m 52s
  3. 32m 6s
    1. The Welcome screen
      2m 23s
    2. Creating files for print
      6m 7s
    3. Creating files for the screen
      2m 55s
    4. Using prebuilt templates
      2m 40s
    5. Adding XMP metadata
      4m 18s
    6. Exploring the panels
      6m 33s
    7. Using the Control panel
      3m 11s
    8. Using workspaces
      3m 59s
  4. 43m 44s
    1. Navigating within a document
      9m 15s
    2. Using rulers and guides
      7m 26s
    3. Using grids
      3m 6s
    4. Using the bounding box
      3m 37s
    5. Using Smart Guides
      5m 56s
    6. The Hide Edges command
      3m 22s
    7. Various preview modes
      3m 47s
    8. Creating custom views
      4m 3s
    9. Locking and hiding artwork
      3m 12s
  5. 28m 46s
    1. Using the basic selection tools
      8m 50s
    2. Using the Magic Wand tool
      5m 22s
    3. Using the Lasso tool
      2m 28s
    4. Selecting objects by attribute or type
      3m 37s
    5. Saving and reusing selections
      2m 15s
    6. Selecting artwork beneath other objects
      2m 13s
    7. Exploring selection preferences
      4m 1s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. The importance of modifier keys
      1m 52s
    2. Drawing closed path primitives
      11m 38s
    3. Drawing open path primitives
      5m 47s
    4. Understanding anchor points
      3m 43s
    5. Drawing straight paths with the Pen tool
      7m 37s
    6. Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool
      9m 47s
    7. Drawing freeform paths with the Pencil tool
      5m 33s
    8. Smoothing and erasing paths
      3m 8s
    9. Editing anchor points
      7m 21s
    10. Joining and averaging paths
      10m 9s
    11. Simplifying paths
      4m 55s
    12. Using Offset Path
      2m 17s
    13. Cleaning up errant paths
      2m 32s
  7. 48m 26s
    1. The Draw Inside and Draw Behind modes
      7m 34s
    2. Creating compound paths
      5m 56s
    3. Creating compound shapes
      8m 0s
    4. Using the Shape Builder tool
      10m 28s
    5. Using Pathfinder functions
      8m 6s
    6. Splitting an object into a grid
      1m 16s
    7. Using the Blob Brush and Eraser tools
      7m 6s
  8. 49m 1s
    1. Creating point text
      4m 2s
    2. Creating area text
      8m 13s
    3. Applying basic character settings
      7m 44s
    4. Applying basic paragraph settings
      4m 24s
    5. Creating text threads
      8m 25s
    6. Setting text along an open path
      6m 29s
    7. Setting text along a closed path
      6m 24s
    8. Converting text into paths
      3m 20s
  9. 18m 55s
    1. Create a logo mark
      11m 26s
    2. Add type to your logo
      7m 29s
  10. 42m 42s
    1. Using the Appearance panel
      8m 21s
    2. Targeting object attributes
      4m 42s
    3. Adding multiple attributes
      4m 25s
    4. Applying Live Effects
      5m 18s
    5. Expanding appearances
      4m 42s
    6. Appearance panel settings
      4m 33s
    7. Copying appearances
      4m 51s
    8. Saving appearances as graphic styles
      5m 50s
  11. 34m 0s
    1. Applying color to artwork
      5m 57s
    2. Creating process and global process swatches
      8m 54s
    3. Creating spot color swatches
      3m 19s
    4. Loading PANTONE and other custom color libraries
      4m 49s
    5. Organizing colors with Swatch Groups
      3m 31s
    6. Finding color suggestions with the Color Guide panel
      4m 24s
    7. Loading the Color Guide with user-defined colors
      3m 6s
  12. 50m 23s
    1. Creating gradients with the Gradient panel
      8m 12s
    2. Modifying gradients with the Gradient Annotator
      4m 37s
    3. Applying and manipulating pattern fills
      5m 33s
    4. Defining your own custom pattern fills
      9m 13s
    5. Applying basic stroke settings
      5m 22s
    6. Creating strokes with dashed lines
      3m 41s
    7. Adding arrowheads to strokes
      2m 45s
    8. Creating variable-width strokes
      4m 35s
    9. Working with width profiles
      2m 36s
    10. Turning strokes into filled paths
      3m 49s
  13. 32m 46s
    1. Creating and editing groups
      8m 18s
    2. Adding attributes to groups
      12m 17s
    3. The importance of using layers
      5m 9s
    4. Using and "reading" the Layers panel
      7m 2s
  14. 12m 13s
    1. Creating and using multiple artboards
      7m 52s
    2. Modifying artboards with the Artboards panel
      2m 2s
    3. Copy and paste options with Artboards
      2m 19s
  15. 31m 10s
    1. Moving and copying artwork
      3m 55s
    2. Scaling or resizing artwork
      6m 47s
    3. Rotating artwork
      2m 44s
    4. Reflecting and skewing artwork
      2m 34s
    5. Using the Free Transform tool
      2m 15s
    6. Repeating transformations
      3m 39s
    7. Performing individual transforms across multiple objects
      2m 10s
    8. Aligning objects and groups precisely
      4m 27s
    9. Distributing objects and spaces between objects
      2m 39s
  16. 35m 40s
    1. Placing pixel-based content into Illustrator
      5m 14s
    2. Managing images with the Links panel
      4m 49s
    3. Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace
      8m 44s
    4. Making Live Trace adjustments
      6m 9s
    5. Controlling colors in Live Trace
      6m 4s
    6. Using Photoshop and Live Trace together
      4m 40s
  17. 14m 42s
    1. Managing repeating artwork with symbols
      4m 38s
    2. Modifying and replacing symbol instances
      3m 8s
    3. Using the Symbol Sprayer tool
      6m 56s
  18. 16m 57s
    1. Cropping photographs
      1m 59s
    2. Clipping artwork with masks
      3m 22s
    3. Clipping the contents of a layer
      3m 31s
    4. Defining masks with soft edges
      8m 5s
  19. 25m 52s
    1. Defining a perspective grid
      7m 48s
    2. Drawing artwork in perspective
      8m 46s
    3. Moving flat art onto the perspective grid
      9m 18s
  20. 25m 8s
    1. Printing your Illustrator document
      3m 26s
    2. Saving your Illustrator document
      6m 39s
    3. Creating PDF files for clients and printers
      7m 30s
    4. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Microsoft Office
      1m 4s
    5. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Photoshop
      2m 31s
    6. Exporting artwork for use on the web
      3m 3s
    7. Exporting high-resolution raster files
  21. 2m 18s
    1. Additional Illustrator learning resources
      1m 36s
    2. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Illustrator CS5 Essential Training
10h 37m Beginner Apr 30, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Setting up a new document based on the output destination
  • Using rules, guides, and grids
  • Making detailed selections
  • Drawing and editing paths with the Pen and Pencil tools
  • Creating compound vector shapes
  • Understanding the difference between point and area text
  • Applying live effects
  • Creating color swatches
  • Transforming artwork with Rotation, Scale, and Transform effects
  • Placing images
  • Working with masks
  • Printing, saving, and exporting artwork
Mordy Golding

Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool

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_ 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.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Illustrator CS5 Essential Training .

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Q: Despite clicking the rectangle icon on the toolbar, as shown in the video, the other tool shapes are not accessible in Illustrator. The rectangle is usable, but the star, ellipse, etc. are not, and do not appear anywhere in the toolbar. What is causing this problem?
A: These tools are grouped together, so to access them, click and hold the mouse for a second until the other tools appear. If that isn't happening, reset the Illustrator preferences file. To do so, quit Illustrator and then relaunch the application while pressing and holding the Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys. Once the Illustrator splash screen appears, release the keys and that will reset the preferences file.
Q: In the video “What are vector graphics,” the author states that if he creates a 1 inch x 1 inch Photoshop file at 300ppi image, there are 300 pixels in that image. Is that correct?
A: This statement is by the author was not totally correct. If the resolution is 300ppi, it means that there are 300 pixels across one inch, both vertically and horizontally. That would mean you'd have 90,000 pixels in a 1 inch x 1 inch image at 300 ppi.
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