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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.
In learning about the Pen tool, we've come to understand that when we use the Pen tool, we're actually plotting anchor points and Illustrator automatically connects all those anchor points with the path. And it really requires us to imagine where those anchor points are going to go. However, there is another tool inside of Illustrator. It's called the Pencil tool. And it works in the exact opposite way that the Pen tool works. In other words, it allows us to draw the paths and then Illustrator automatically figures out where the anchor points need to go. In other words, the Pencil tool really mimics the way that you currently interact with the pencil on a paper.
Let's take a look at how the Pencil tool works. I'm going to create a new document. I'll use a Print profile and I'll click OK. And I'm going to switch now to the Pencil tool, which you'll find right over here inside of the Tools panel. Now I'll be honest with you. If you're trying to use the Pencil tool and you have a mouse in your hand, it can be very difficult to get good results. That's because you're not really used to sketching with a big object in your hand. Usually, you have a very slender thing like a pencil for example. For this exercise, I'm actually going to use a pressure-sensitive pen tablet by Wacom. Now the way that you use the Pencil tool is you put your cursor somewhere on the page, and then you click and drag to draw the path.
Illustrator now automatically figured out where the anchor points in that path need to go. But there's some really cool functionality that's built-in to the Pencil tool. You know, normally as an artist, if you think about having a pencil in your hand and sketching something on a piece of paper, you don't always draw things perfectly the first time. Sometimes you'll sketch out basic ideas very lightly in pencil and then you'll go over that sketch again and again with the pencil making darker lines. Well, with Illustrator's Pencil tool, once you create the path, it's there. However, if you want to make small modifications to it, you can simply take your cursor and draw over that part of the path that you want to modify.
And Illustrator will automatically update it as you draw over it. If I wanted to add a little bit of curve here to the end of the path, I could simply come here and drag over to make that happen. If I were making some kind of a flower with some leaves on it, for example, I might draw a stem line down at the middle here and I may create some kind of a leaf here, and if I wanted to now adjust the way that this edge looks for the leaf, I can simply draw over it to make it look a little bit different. Let's say something like that and then I want to create the other part of the leaf on this side. But watch what happens if I try to drag too close to this one. Notice that it replaces that path with the new path that I just created.
That's because Illustrator thought that I wanted to modify my existing path. To understand how to fix this problem, let's take a look at some of the preferences for the Pencil tool. I'm going to go to the Pencil tool directly and double-click on it. That brings up the Pencil Tool Options dialog box. Now the first two settings here for Tolerances, both for Fidelity and Smoothness, help me control how smooth my line is. If you're using a mouse, you might want to increase the Smoothness somewhat so that Illustrator smoothes out any bumps in the path. If you've got a pen tablet though, you might be able to afford to go with something a little bit lower.
More importantly though are the options here towards the bottom. There were two settings that are turned by default in Illustrator. One is called Keep Selected. This means that when I draw a path, that path remains selected. Second, there's a setting here called Edit selected path. This is the feature that allows me to draw over a path and change its shape in doing so. That feature kicks in whenever my cursor is within 12 pixels of the path as defined right here. I'll be honest with you. I really don't want to give up that feature. I like the ability to draw over a path to make a modification to it.
However, I want to have full control of when that happens. As such, what I'm going to do is I'm going to do deselect the Keep Selected option. Now only the Edit selected paths option is turned on. So I'm going to click OK. Now whenever I draw a path, the path is not selected. That means I can very easily draw other paths right near it without any worry about me making modifications to the path. Now let's say I created a path over here and I realize I want to change how that looks. I'll hold down the Command key, which is the keyboard shortcut to temporarily return me to the Selection tool. Now, I'll select this path.
And now that it's selected, I can draw over it to modify its appearance. When working with Illustrator though, we know that there are two types of paths we can create. Both open and closed paths. Everything we've been creating here so far has been an open path. However, when you're trying to create close paths, it can be very difficult to do that with the Pencil tool. You'll notice that right now next to my cursor, there's a little X. That identifies that now the next shape that I draw is going to be a brand-new shape. Similar to the Pencil tool, when I'm about to close the shape, a little O will appear. So if I wanted to create some kind of a shape that was closed, I might come over here and start drawing.
And notice now that as I come close to where I started drawing that might turn into a little O. However, it's really hard to get over that spot and make it appear as if it's closed. So to do so inside of Illustrator, when you're drawing with the Pencil tool, you can hold down the Option key. The Option key tells Illustrator, make sure the path is closed. And if I don't really even come close to where that area is when I release the mouse, or in this case I stop drawing with the pen, Illustrator automatically draws a line to connect and close the path. Now on one level, you might think to yourself, why deal with having to worry about what kind of anchor points there are and where to position the anchor points with the Pen tool, when I could simply draw whatever I want with the pencil tool? The answer is that that Pencil tool itself draws free-form paths, but it's very difficult to control exactly what those paths are going to look like.
If you wanted to create a shape of an exact size, it's hard to eyeball it as you're drawing on the screen. However, with the Pen tool, you can be very precise and click in very specific areas. Due to the nature of most vector graphics that are usually very precise, you'll end up using the Pen tool a lot more often than the Pencil tool. However, when you're drawing something more freeform, the Pencil tool is a great way to get some paths into your design inside of Illustrator.
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