The Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator's Pen Tool

The Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator–as well as other similar vector illustration software solutions–have an array of Vector Tools that can help us build and modify any kind of vector graphic. These tools are very different from the brushes of Painting softwares such as Manga Studio or Adobe Photoshop, because they have been designed to build vectors based in mathematical operations, like we saw in the previous post.

Thanks to these tools, graphic designers are able to make art based in numbers, without the need of calculators, or without being a genius of math.

Let’s see how easy it is!


The Pen Tool

The Pen Tool is the star of the Vector tools set of any illustration software. With it, we are able to draw from straight lines to the smoothest curves by simply connecting dots we can create by clicking in the canvas. These dots are called nodes, or anchor points [1]

To draw straight segments, we must simply select the Pen Tool and click in the canvas once. Then, we must move the mouse and click again in a different part. Every time we click with the Pen Tool, a new anchor point will be created. The software will connect the anchor points with a solid line. If we continue clicking on the canvas, new anchors will appear, and each will be connected to the one before by the same solid straight line [2]

If we wish to connect the points with a curve instead, we will have to turn our straight line into a Bezier curve.

The shape of this Bezier curve will be defined by the anchor point and two handles that radiate from it. To draw this curves, we start again by selecting the Pen Tool and creating a first Anchor Point in the canvas. This time, instead of clicking to make a new anchor, we will click and drag the mouse, without releasing the button. As we drag up or down, left or right, we will see how the shape of the curve is affected. Once the mouse button is released, the curve will be completed [3]

Any drawn curve can be readjusted at any time, by using the direct selection tool (we will see this in a future post). It is also interesting to note that with the Pen Tool we can alternate from straight to curved shapes inside the same line, with every new anchor we create [4]

How to use the Pen Tool Step by Step

How to use the Pen Tool Step by Step

Any vectorial shape, be it open or closed; polygonal or rectangular; elliptical or an irregular curve, is based in these simple elements: Nodes and anchor points.

To fill these shapes with color it isn’t necessary to have a closed shape, although it is preferable. We should always make sure to always merge the first anchor of the shape and the last, closing the figure–unless the shape requires the contrary [5]

If the shape contour is not closed [6] the color will be applied closing the figure with a strait cut from each opening anchor.

Once the shape has been completed, we can choose to disable the contour color, by turning it invisible in the color pick of the Tool Panel on the left of the document [7]

We can also change the thickness of the contour, and even apply specific line effects. This option allows us to create line art, and technical drawings; as well as a more artistic type of strokes that simulate calligraphy, ink, etc…


Pen Variations

Variations of Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Variations of Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator

There are several variations of Pen Tool we can select.

To access them, we must click on the Pen icon for a few seconds, and the panel will expand, revealing many other options.

All these options can be accessed through the standard Pen Tool as well, by simply pressing keyboard shortcuts such as Shift, Alt and Cntrl.

The Add anchor Point Tool let us to add new anchors in an already drawn line, by inserting them into the existing contour.

The Delete anchor Point Tool option removes anchor points from the curve, allowing us to simplify the stroke by decreasing the number of points conforming it.

The Convert anchor Point Tool option is perfect for adding or removing handles to the anchor points, permitting us to turn them into Bezier points; to restore them to basic linear points; or to break the Bezier’s handle equilibrium to make sharp corners.

The Pen Tool is a very handy tool, capable of creating any form or shape we can imagine. However good, its use is very complex, and mastering it requires a lot of patience and practice.

There is an alternative tool similar to the Pen Tool, that can achieve similar vector results in a more friendly and artistic way. This tool is the Pencil Tool, and I will tell you all about it in the following post.



In this video I show you how to use the Pen Tool and explore all its options. Unfortunately, the audio is only available in Spanish. If you feel up to it, you can give it a try!




In the following post we will check Adobe Illustrator’s Pencil Tool. This tool will allow us to draw vector contours, just like the Pen Tool, but with the added feature that we can do so freehand!

Check it out!



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Sara Martull

I like helping people, making 3D illustrations, modeling and shading characters, and my wish is to become a good writer/illustrator some day

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