Drawing Tutorial: Using the Pen Tool in Illustrator

Here’s a tutorial on the basics of Adobe Illustrator’s Pen Tool. The pen tool is probably the most essential device used in any vector based illustration/drawing software. You could get away with using brushes or pencils, but the pen tool allows you the most efficient control over your linework. For rookie illustrators using the software, it appears to be a daunting task, but after playing around with the mechanics of it, the Pen Tool will become your best friend. For the examples below, I will use Adobe Illustrator, since its generally viewed as the industry standard – other software such as CorelDraw and FreeHand offer the same type of controls with their pen tools, so you can apply the same knowledge you’ve learned here to those programs.


Here’s how it works.
To use the pen tool effectively, the key is to master the control of the way paths can bend and curve.

1) Try clicking on your screen. You will create a dot – this is an anchor point.
This point acts as a base and depending on where you place your second point, will allow you to modify the line segment between.

2)Now click anywhere else on your screen and you will create a second anchor point
– notice there is a line segment connecting the two points. This is the basis for creating lines using the pen tool.002

3) Now click and hold at another location and slowly move to the left or right and you will notice a pair of arms that extend from your anchor point. These lines are known as ‘handles’ and are the tools used to modify the curve of your line segment in between your anchor points.

003As you hover over certain areas of your line segment, you will see the pen cursor change depending on the function it is able to perform.
For example: if you hover over an anchor point, you should see a minus sign beside the pen head. This indicates that if you click with the mouse you will subtract that point.


If you hover over any other portion of the line, you will see a plus sign appear. This indicates that you are able to add an anchor point at that specific location if you click the mouse button.


If you have made a series of line segments and anchor points and want to close the shape, hover your cursor over the first anchor point you made when creating that linework, and a small O will appear. This indicates that you will close the shape if you select that point. These are the basic functions of the pen tool – addition/subtraction/closing

Now if you hold down the ALT (option for Mac) key and hover over your anchor point, you will see the cursor change into an arrow head. This tool allows you to modify the anchor points by creating a set of handles if you click and drag away from the point. These handles allow you to modify the linework that is attached to that particular anchor point. You can create smooth, flowing paths called Bezier curves by altering the linework with the handles.

If you hold down the CTRL key (Command Key on the Mac) you will receive the white arrow or selection tool. Click and hold on any one of the anchor points and you can move the point around to the position of your choosing.


Try this exercise:
1) Select your pen tool and make four points
2) Select your starting anchor point to be your fifth point to close off and create your shape.
007 3) Hold down the ALT (or Option) key and select one of the anchor points. Click and drag outwards until you have created handles for your Bezier curve.
4) Select the endpoints of the handles and modify them by moving them around in different directions. Get used to how the movement works.


5) Hover over one of the anchor points and subtract it.
008 6) Hover over any part of the line segments, and add an anchor point.
7) Hold down the CTRL key and click and hold on an anchor point. Move it to another area and watch the shape modify.


That is the basic gist of the Pen Tool. The next lesson will show you how to effectively trace an outline of an image as reference, using the pen tool. Grab yourself an image of an item you’d like to attempt to trace and check out this tutorial (number 6 on the list) on creating vector tracings.

9 thoughts on “Drawing Tutorial: Using the Pen Tool in Illustrator

  1. Pingback: Drawing Workflow Basics Part 3 - Shortcuts | idrawdigital - Digital drawing tips, tricks, tutorials and workflow

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  3. Pingback: 6 of the Best – Adobe Illustrator Pen Tool Tutorials — Invisible Ink Web Design Blog

  4. I would like to know…once I have my page lay out, how do I import my lineart files into each panel ? Opening a file in photoshop will open another separate document, which I think cannot be nicely added to the different pnels in the page layout in another “document”. Sorry, if this sound just plain stupid, but I hve not been able to figure this one out on my own, and I can find the answer anywhere.
    Please, let me know how is done ! Thank you in advance for your time and your kindness !

  5. In many ways Illustrator’s release was a gamble: the Macintosh did not have high market share, the only printer that could output Illustrator documents was Apple’s own LaserWriter (also very new and expensive), and the drawing paradigm of B?zier curves was novel to the mainstream user. Not only did the Macintosh show only monochrome graphics, but display options were basically limited to its built-in 9″ monitor. Illustrator helped drive the development of larger monitors for the Macintosh.,

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