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What is Pen Tool: Everything you need to know about.

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The world has evolved and moving faster towards the digital lifestyle. In this era of transition, the form and the techniques regarding art has also been evolved from hand made to the digitalization. Different software invented different tools to help the artists, designers and logo artists to create the art using modern and digital tools. In such a quest, two friends, “John Warnock” and “Charles Geschke”, started a company together and they, in this journey, on December 1982, laid the foundations of Adobe. This very company revolutionized the word of art and brought it to the digital level. Here, however, the question, which is more important and is under the limelight, is that, what is pen tool: And how this amazing tool actually works?

What is Pen tool?

This is a tool to draw various symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes, curves and drawings of every type. The main purpose of this tool is to give the graphic artists an ease of work by which he or she may design freely whatever they like. Especially in Adobe Illustrator, the pen tool acquired a significant place because of its utility, importance and functionality in the creation of illustrative art. By this tool, one can easily draw different kind of geometric shapes and then convert them into the desired designs.

As described earlier, pen tool is an important tool in Adobe Illustrator, because we can create the best graphics and illustration by using this amazing tool. Following are some methods explaining how to use pen tool in the Adobe Illustrator.

Methods to access the tool:

There are two very distinctive methods to get pen tool in Adobe Illustrator before starting to work with it. Most people, use the first and direct method for their convenience and the ease of its use, but it is not necessary to use only direct method. At beginner’s level, you need to use the mouse to get access to the tool from the toolbar on the right side of the Adobe Illustrator’s interface. (Fig 1.2)

First Method:

This is the method to get pen tool by using its short key from the keyboard without using the mouse. This method is preferable but to use this method, you need to memorize its short key which is p. Whenever you press “p” on your keyboard while using the Adobe Illustrator, you will activate the pen tool. The pen shape figure (fig. 1.1) will appear instead of an arrow or any other tool that you were using before stroking the p key on your keyboard.

Pen tool Image (Fig 1.1)

Second Method:

The second method favours the beginners who have just started to use Adobe Illustrator. This is more of an intuitive and traditional method involving the use of mouse. In this method, all you have to do is to take your mouse and find the above shown icon (fig 1.1) on the illustrator’s toolbar (fig 1.2) on the right-hand side toolbar and click it to take the pen tool from the other tools available.

(Fig 1.2) Selecting Pen Tool from Tool bar

By selecting the pen tool from above shown right-hand side toolbar (fig 1.2), you will have the access and that enables you to create your art with an amazing tool.

Keep an eye on your CAPS LOCK:

It is very important when creating art work with the pen tool to keep a vigilant eye on your Caps Lock because if you left your caps lock on, the pen tool wouldn’t work at all. Instead of its cursor symbol, a “cross” will appear, which hampers you to work and restricts the pen tool to draw anything.

Nevertheless, if this happens, there is no need to panic because there is a simple fix. Yes, just turn your caps lock off and once again, you are ready to create amazing art or the graphics you are working on.

How to use Pen Tool on your art board?

Let’s suppose you want to draw a straight line, but you have just opened your Adobe Illustrator for the first time. How would you draw your first line segment using pen tool? The common mistake that majority of beginners do is that they keep on dragging it after clicking it for the first time. This is the wrong way to deal the tool. The correct way is to drop the first ‘anchor point’ and then release the tool by not dragging the mouse along it. In other words, leave the left button of your mouse after clicking it for the first time. It will create the first anchor point and the place on which you will click for the second time, it will be its second anchor point.

Importance of the SHIFT key:

While creating graphics or any work of art, you are always needed to work with the straight lines. Here is the place where the SHIFT key of your keyboard comes in handy. If you want to make a line, a true straight line, then it is compulsory that you should hold the SHIFT key while draw your line. Adobe Illustrator will make sure, despite your hand movement, to draw a straight line.

However, if you want to draw a diagonal, it is equally fine not to use the shift key. Just follow the basic principle of dropping the first anchor at one point and the other where you want the line to end.

How to draw curves using Pen Tool?

This is the portion where the things get tricky but interesting. The freedom of drawing whatever you want makes pen tool significant in the entire collection of the wonderful tools of Adobe Illustrator. The creation of curves, and I mean any type of curves, made really easy with this tool in the illustrator. Though, it needs a lot of practice and patience but once you mastered the technique to control the pen tool then, really, sky is the limit.

Same method but slightly different:

Follow the same method of dropping the first anchor point and release the left click button of your mouse. This will free the tool on the art board. It is important to remember, when ever you are drawing the curves, or tracing the image, do not release the left click button of the mouse after dropping the second anchor point or after the second click. Instead, drag it to draw curves. Practice? Sure, but the more you do, the easier it became for your muscle memory to remember the pattern of working the curves. It will get better and better with the passage of time.

The direction of the Curves and the direction of the mouse works in the opposite manner:

This is the way the curves works in the Adobe Illustrator. If you drag your mouse after clicking for the second time, you will notice a curve, but if you drag your mouse towards upwards, the movement of curve became downward. Similarly, when you drag the mouse downward, the movement of the curve goes in the upward direction. The same is the case with the right and the left side in creating the curves with it. It always works in an opposite direction, remember that, as it is an important and professional tip to remember.

Usage of Smart Guides with Pen Tool:

Smart guide is not the part of the pen tool, but it works perfectly if used together. It has become one of the oft-used practice in the graphic designer’s circles that they work and recommend to work while the smart guide is on. Like pen tool, smart guide is also an important tool in the Adobe Illustrator, it guides you all the way on the creation of your design by predicting the possible direction in which your tool is moving.

To get its access or to turn the smart guide on, there are two methods. Those two methods are as follows.

First Method:

As mentioned earlier, it is a separate tool in the illustrator, so it has its own short key. The purpose of the short key is to opt the tool just pressing the keystroke on your keyboard. Similar to the pen tool’s short key, you can turn the smart guide on by pressing the u on your keyboard. After that, you will notice some magenta lines guiding you and predicting the possible direction. You will know when you see, but after pressing the u.

  • Important Tip: Do not forget to turn the smart key on.

Second Method:

The second method of activating the smart guide is to take your cursor to the above main menu of the illustrator and click on the “window” option. Select the smart guide and a check mark will appear at the start of the option. This is how you can turn the smart guide on without using the first method.

Working with Fill and Stroke:

So far, we have covered the bare basics of the pen. However, it is important to remember the difference between the fill and the stroke in the Adobe Illustrator. As the term explains, fill is used to fill in the paths, whereas the stroke only covers the outline of the design.

  • Important Tip: When you work with the pen tool, try to use only stroke and not the fill.

Handles in the pen tool:

Handle in pen tool is something that you will notice when you draw lines or curves with the pen tool. As there are many anchor points in a shape, similarly there are handles connected with the those anchor points. The main purpose of these handles is to manipulate the shape according to your design. You can easily change the shape while changing the position of these handles. This is extremely useful when drawing different versions of the same shape or creating a logo design with some variations.


Pen tool is the backbone of the Adobe Illustrator because one cannot draw any illustration, design, shape, logo or anything related to the visual art without using the pen tool. So, in nutshell, if you are looking to be a good graphic designer, you need to invest a major portion of your time and efforts into practising the pen tool. This will not only enable you to control the pen tool, but also gave you the mastery over other related or even unrelated tools of Adobe Illustrator.

Also Read: Illustration and its importance in your art

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