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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.
The next drawing tool that we are going to cover inside of Illustrator is the Pen tool. But before we learn how to use the tool itself, we have to understand what the Pen tool creates. You see at the very core of vector graphics is something called an anchor point. These anchor points are connected by paths. However, when we use the Pen tool we don't really draw paths at all. What we end up doing is plotting where these anchor points go and Illustrator then connects these dots by drawing the paths. When we use the primitive shape tools, for example, the Rectangle tool inside of Illustrator, we are just drawing the rectangle and Illustrator automatically creates both the anchor points and the paths for us.
But when we use the Pen tool we are free to draw any shape that we desire and we do so by plotting these anchor points. The analogy that I would like to use when thinking about how the Pen tool works is something called string Aart. It is where you take a block of wood and you tap these nails into the wood but you leave parts of the nails sticking out of the wood and then you take string and you wrap the string around those nails. In that example, each of the nails would be anchor points and the thread that you put around those nails could be the path. When drawing the Pen tool in Illustrator, imagine you had a hammer in your hand and you were tapping these nails into the wood.
You're not drawing the paths. You're not working with the string. You're just creating the structure for where those paths are eventually going to go. So let's talk a little bit more about these anchor points. First of all it is important to realize that there are really two different types of anchor points inside of Illustrator. The most basic and simple one is something called the corner anchor point. This is where two or more points are connected by a straight line. For example, as you see here a rectangle would have four different anchor points and Illustrator would connect all those anchor points with straight paths.
When we start working with anchor points, you will also notice that when an anchor point is a filled solid, that means that it is currently selected. Hollow anchor points, however, indicate that those are not selected. Now corner anchor points are used to create straight lines. But what happens when you want to create a curved line? Well, an anchor point that has a curved line running through it is called a smooth anchor point. When you are using smooth anchor points, Illustrator doesn't connect those points with a straight path. Rather it connects them with a curved path. These smooth anchor points have an additional attribute called the control handle.
The position of these control handles control exactly how that curve is drawn between the anchor points. To get a better idea of how that works, imagine as if these anchor points were actually connected with straight lines. The control handles act as if they have some kind of magnetic or gravitational pull. By adjusting these control handles, you can specify exactly how each curved line connects to each smooth anchor point. Another thing to note about smooth anchor points is that the path travels directly through the actual anchor point itself and the anchor point acts as a tangent to that curve.
As we start using the Pen tool, we will learn two things. First of all, it will take some practice to figure out exactly where we should be plotting the anchor points. Second, we will learn how to adjust the control handles to get the curve to match exactly what we are looking for. So we know what a corner anchor point is and we know what a smooth anchor point is. However, there's also one other kind of anchor point, which is called a change direction anchor point. That's where you have a curved path that enters the anchor point, but when that path leaves that anchor point, it is traveling in a completely different direction.
It's really actually kind of a hybrid between a smooth and a corner anchor point. It acts as a corner anchor point because the path changes direction, yet it acts like a smooth anchor point because it has control handles to help you define a curve to that path. Now that we know all about anchor points and control handles, we are ready to start drawing with the Pen tool.
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