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Drawing a custom path

From: Up and Running with Illustrator

Video: Drawing a custom path

In this exercise, I'm going to show you how to create a fairly complex path using a combination of the Pen and White Arrow tools. And hopefully this will give you a sense for how to approach your own path outlines as you work away inside Illustrator. I'm working inside of a file called Completed collar.ai. If you're working along with me a couple of things I want you to do upfront. First bring up the Layers panel and click on the one unlocked layer the Shirt layer to make it active. That way you can actually draw on that layer. Then let's change a few Fill and Stroke attributes here, notice that the Control panel says No Selection.

Drawing a custom path

In this exercise, I'm going to show you how to create a fairly complex path using a combination of the Pen and White Arrow tools. And hopefully this will give you a sense for how to approach your own path outlines as you work away inside Illustrator. I'm working inside of a file called Completed collar.ai. If you're working along with me a couple of things I want you to do upfront. First bring up the Layers panel and click on the one unlocked layer the Shirt layer to make it active. That way you can actually draw on that layer. Then let's change a few Fill and Stroke attributes here, notice that the Control panel says No Selection.

That means that nothing is selected in the artwork and any changes to the Fill and Stroke attributes are going to affect the next path outlines we draw. So click on the Fill Swatch and change it to None, and then go ahead and select that Stroke Weight value right there and change it to 2, and now we're ready to work. I'm going to zoom in on the bottom of the left sleeve of this artwork here and we are going to be tracing, by the way, we're going to be tracing around the entire body of the shirt. I'll go ahead and grab my Pen tool, and then I'll click on this point right there in order to establish the first point in the path.

I'll click again in order to join those two points with a straight segment. Then I'll go ahead and scroll down inside my artwork, notice that I'm spacebar+Dragging. As soon as I release the spacebar though my path outline is still active, I can tell that because I'm not seeing an X, next to my Pen tool cursor. And I'll go ahead and click at this location to create yet another straight segment. Now I'm going to zoom out a little bit. This time around we want to create a curved segment, so of course I need to add some control handles, I'll do that by dragging out from that point and you can see as I do a control handle emerges.

Now I'm going to move over to the right -hand point and I'm going to drag from it, and I'm dragging to the right and I went ahead and invoked a little bit of an Auto-Scroll, because I dragged past the edge of the illustration window. Notice that I am dragging to the right and the whole reason I'm doing that is because I'm trying to stick with that consistent direction that I mentioned in the previous exercise. I'd established that I'm drawing the path outline in a counterclockwise direction, could have just as easily started clockwise, but I didn't, because I started counterclockwise I need to stick with this counterclockwise approach.

So I'll drag away from the point to the right, another control handle emerges to the left, so for the moment, I have a smooth point. Now notice that the curvature of the segment doesn't exactly match that at the template. So I'm going to go ahead and switch to my Direct Selection tool that White Arrow tool, and I'm going to go ahead and drag these control handles, until I get a better match, and that looks pretty good to me. Now I'll switch back to my Pen tool and this time I'll just do it from the keyboard by pressing the P key. Notice because I switch tools, that is, I manually switch tools my path outline is no longer active and I'm seeing an X next to my pen nib.

I need to reactivate the path, and I can do that notice by moving my cursor over the anchor point, and again that cursor is talking to me. I'm seeing a pen with a little line next to it and that shows me that if I click or drag at this point I will reactivate the path and continue drawing it. Now in my case I don't want to drag, because I really don't want a smooth point here I want a cusp. I want an intersection between a curving segment and a straight segment. So I'll just go ahead and click at that point to lop-away that next Control Handle, the one over here on the right-hand side of the window.

That will ensure, because I no longer have a Control Handle associated with the next segment that will ensure that my next segment is straight. Now I'm going to go ahead and scroll up click under the arm in order to create that straight segment. Click right there in order to add another straight segment. The next segment needs to curve, so I'm going to drag forth a Control Handle from that last endpoint I created. Now I'll drag another Control Handle, and this time I'm dragging away from my anchor point, that is to the right of it, and that would be of course continuing in that counterclockwise direction that I mentioned a moment ago.

Notice again I don't have a good match between this curving segment and the template in the background. So I'm going to access that last Arrow tool that I used by pressing and holding the Ctrl key or the Command key on the Mac. So as long as you have the key down you temporarily select that last selection tool you used, in my case the White Arrow. I'll go ahead and drag this Control Handle down a little bit and it looks like we have a good match. As soon as I release the key, that is the Ctrl key or the Command key on the Mac I return to the Pen tool and notice the path outline is still active.

Because I didn't manually switch to a different tool I just temporarily switch to it with the Ctrl key or Command key. Now if I click at some random location here, notice what I get, I get this kind of strangely curving segment that has one Control Handle from the exit point right there, but the point that it's entering, the segment is entering this anchor point we don't have a Control Handle. And as a result we don't get consistent fluid curvature, we get a flattened edge. A rule of thumb that you want to stick with when you are creating path outlines inside of Illustrator is either the segment is straight in which case it gets no Control Handle, or it curves in which case it gets two control handles one on either side, you don't want a segment with just one Control Handle like this.

In my case, I want a straight segment, so I don't want any control handles. So I'll press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac, and now I'll go ahead and click at that endpoint in order to lop-away that Control Handle. Now I could click right there to create my next point and I do want to point at that location, but if I click I'll go ahead and join these two path outlines together, because they are both open paths Illustrator fuses those two open paths into one. That's not what I want, I don't want the short outline connecting to the collar. So I'll press Ctrl+Z, Command+Z on the Mac to undo that change.

Here is something I could do. I could go ahead and switch back to my Selection tool, like so, and I'll partially marquee these two collars to select both of them. And then I'll go up to the Object menu, choose Lock and choose Selection, and that will lockdown those two paths so that I can't modify them, and so I don't accidentally join to them. Now I'll go ahead and click on the big shirt path in order to select it once again and I'll switch back to my Pen tool. Now I need to reactivate the path, I'll do so by clicking on this anchor point, then I'll click at this location, notice I'm not joining it to the collar anymore, I'll drag in order to add a Control Handle.

I'll drag from this location in order to create a smooth point I'll click in order to lop off that Control Handle for the next segment, because it wants to be straight. I'll click in order to create that straight segment. I'll drag from this location and add a Control Handle. I'll drag here to create a smooth point. The next segment is straight, so I want to lop off that Control Handle by clicking at that location, and then I'm going to click here in order to create that straight segment. All right, now to finish things off I'll go ahead and drag out to create a Control Handle.

I'm moving in this direction away from the shirt, because after all I'm tugging the curvature of the segment to the left. And now I'll move my cursor down to the first point in the path. Notice that I see that little O next to the cursor that shows me that I'm about to close that path and I'm dragging in the opposite direction that I'm creating my Control Handle, because I need to stick with that counterclockwise motion. And I'm moving that Control Handle inward, because the sleeve curves to the right, and then I'll release in order to complete that path outline.

If I wanted to fix things up a little bit, I would switch back to my White Arrow tool and I would go ahead and drag these control handles as needed and that completes the path. Only one more thing to do here. I need to go ahead and fill the path with that Hawaiian tile pattern. So I'll switch back to my Black Arrow tool I'll go ahead and click on the path outline to select the whole thing. That way I can see my Fill Swatch up here in the Control panel. I'll click on it, and then I'll select this Flower Swatch that I've created in advance. The shirt covers up the collar details, so I'll press the Escape key in order to hide that panel.

I'll right-click inside the shirt choose Arrange and then choose Send to Back, and we end up with this effect here. And that friends, is how you go about creating a relatively complicated path outline using a combination of the Pen and White Arrow tools here inside Illustrator.

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This video is part of

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Up and Running with Illustrator

26 video lessons · 19941 viewers

Deke McClelland
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