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Day 5: Drawing with Pen Tool

The Path Tool will be the hardest tool to learn in Illustrator. It usually take weeks to learn and beginners always end up in frustration while figuring how it works. So don’t give up and practice it every day and soon you will be able to draw any shape.

Drawing Straight Lines

Select the Pen Tool and click once to add the first anchor point. Move your mouse to the next position and click again to create the second point. The two anchor points will be connected together. Continue doing this to create a W shape as shown.To draw a new line, click the Selection Tool(The Black Arrow Icon) and click back the Pen Tool again.

pen tool in illustrator

Closing a Path

To close a path, click back the starting point to close the shape.

Closing a path

Drawing a Curved Line

Click and drag to put out the handles to create a smooth anchor point.

pen curve

Changing Path Directions

Click and drag to create a smooth anchor point. Without releasing your mouse, hold Alt/Option and drag the handle up to change the path direction.

pen curve

Drawing a Circular Path

Click and drag to create a smooth anchor point. Continue adding points and click back the starting point to close the path.

pen circle

Adding Anchor Points

With the Pen Tool selected, go near the path where you want to add a new anchor point. A plus sign will appear next to the pen, click on the path to create a new anchor point.

add anchor points

Removing Anchor Points

To remove point, move your Pen Tool close to an anchor. A minus sign will appear next to the pen. Click on the anchor point to delete it.

removing anchor points

Converting Anchor Points

To convert a smooth anchor point to a sharp anchor point, move your Pen Tool near the anchor and hold Alt/Option and your Pen Tool will change to an arrow shape. Click on the smooth anchor to convert it to an anchor point. Click and drag on the anchor point again to change it back to a smooth anchor point.

convert anchor points

Moving Anchor Points

Select the Direct Selection Tool and click and on anchor you want to move. Click and drag to change positions.

Changing Anchor Directions

With the Pen Tool, you can quickly change the anchor directions. Hold Ctrl/Command to quickly change the Pen Tool to Direction Selection Tool. Select the anchor point you want to edit. The anchor handle will appear. Now release Ctrl/Command and hold Alt/Option to change it to Convert Anchor Tool. Click and drag the handles to change the direction.

change anchor handle

Drawing an Old Key

After learning the concepts of how the Pen Tool works, we will apply what you have learnt to create this ancient old key shape. For the right angles, hold Shift before adding anchor point to constrain it to 90-degree.

old key

old key 2

Final Illustration

This is the final illustration.

final key

Tips for Using Pen Tool

  • Use as little anchor points your need to create your shape
  • Add anchor points where there is a change in direction of the line/curve
  • Use shortcuts like Alt/Option or Ctrl/Command to quickly swap to other tools to edit your path
  • Hold shift to lock your path while adding new anchor point for 45-degree increments.

More Training for Pen Tool

I have included more exercises for tracing using Pen Tool. Save it to your desktop and place it in illustrator by going to File>Place. Select the image and make sure Template is ticked. The image will now be faded and placed as a template. Now you can start practicing and don’t give up.

basic shapes

complicated shapes

For a more comprehensive guide on using Pen, read this article.

Next Lesson: Using Brushes
Back to Illustrator Training Course

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About The Author: Tony Soh

Hi. I'm the founder of Vector Diary. Illustrator is my passion and I have written numerous tutorials on illustrator helping people learn illustrator. My most popular tutorial on learn illustrator has been a hit. It makes learning illustrator so easy and has benefited more than 20,000 people worldwide. Also, I've revealed some of my secret techniques in the premium tutorials. So don't forget to check it out!

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  1. Gravtar for Candy
    Candy July 19th

    This is amazing. Thank you so much for doing this. I have a question though – when drawing an eye – should I just make 2 (left/right) points, then click and drag the handle to make the curve? or should there be like 3 points (one on the top, I mean)?
    Hope that made sense.

  2. Gravtar for iStockdiary
    iStockdiary July 19th

    Hi Candy, 2 or 3 points are fine. No strict rules, it depends on your preferences. I prefer drawing with 3 points, easier to make it symmetrical by controlling the 3rd point at the top. Try it and you will get what I mean.

  3. Gravtar for Candy
    Candy July 20th

    Alright, I’ll try that. Thanks a lot.

  4. Gravtar for LadyAngora
    LadyAngora July 23rd

    wow! i love this illustrator walk-through tutorial… i’m learning new stuff about almost every tool so far. today, i learned how to change path directions. i’ve been doing work-arounds that are not nearly as nice. thanks so much!

  5. Gravtar for Julius
    Julius July 28th

    Thanks a lot for this pen tutorial. I’ve been working with photoshop for a few years now but never really understood the whole pen thingy, anyway, keep up the good work. I’m really enjoying the illustrator tutorials!

  6. Gravtar for Liya
    Liya July 29th

    Hello,
    I’ve tried to practice drawing the shapes above. But I don’t know how to make the left and right part of the symetri shapes exactly same size and shape. For example the love shape, how to make left and right to be symetri? Could you pls advice…thanks in advance :-)

  7. Gravtar for devabby
    devabby July 29th

    don’t understand at all……….can record as a video and put on site like youtube, it will be more easy to understand
    thank

  8. Gravtar for Brian
    Brian August 5th

    Wow, my key sucks, hahaha. But I’ll keep trying with the basic shapes.

    Thanks a lot for this!

  9. Gravtar for ArtConch
    ArtConch August 6th

    Wow this was so much fun, I am getting the hang of this pen tool, loved the extra practice sheets and the method for turning them into templates, so useful, thanks again for another superb lesson
    I thought I’d share my results of my hands with you teach!
    http://i79.photobucket.com/albums/j144/chellesky62/Illustrator%20Classwork/pen_hands_csky.png

  10. Gravtar for LadyUranus
    LadyUranus August 18th

    I don’t see the ticker to make it a template? Is this a CS3 issue or am I just blind?

  11. Gravtar for iStockdiary
    iStockdiary August 18th

    Hi LadyUranus, Go File>Place. When the window pops up select the jpg you want to make as a template. You can see a checkbox with template under the file name. Should work in Illustrator 10 and above if I’m not wrong.

  12. Gravtar for Leroy Simpson
    Leroy Simpson August 26th

    jah rasta blood claat man dis a good lesson aswell

  13. Gravtar for Richard
    Richard September 6th

    I have been dabbling with Illustrator for ages and never relly got the hang of paths, this is the first time I have got my head round it – thanks.

    Quick question, is there a way to add points to the end of an open path once it has been finished, ie. to extend it?

    Cheerss

  14. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary September 7th

    Hi Richard, A quick way to continue adding point is to use the Pen tool and click once on the last anchor and you can continue to extend your path from there.

  15. Gravtar for Richard
    Richard September 8th

    Brilliant, thanks for that.

  16. Gravtar for Al
    Al September 12th

    This is a great tutorial. I could never wrap my head around the Pen tool and then while i was working on this key everything just clicked! I have made the bone and the heart!
    :D

  17. Gravtar for Kate
    Kate September 13th

    This is such a brilliant tutorial, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I have never used illustrator before and find this really useful. However I am kind of stuck now on the pen tool. I can create an anchor point and then another eventually close my square but if I got to make drawing a circular path but when I tried to close the path it would delete the starting anchor point. Any assistance as to what I might be doing wrong would be greatly appreciated.

  18. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary September 13th

    Hi Kate, make sure the last anchor point is still selected before you click the starting point to close it. Or you can reselect the last point again and click the starting point to close it.

  19. Gravtar for PoLaR
    PoLaR October 5th

    What an amazing tutorial, Pen Tool is no more a mystery to me! :)

  20. Gravtar for .GT
    .GT October 10th

    Wow , really wow. This is a real turning point for me. And all thanks to the tutorials and template I’m actually learning the hellish pen tool O.O Easier than I thought as well. The templates are a real big help in learning, so much thanks for providing them. I don’t care how old this is .. it literally rocks regardless.

    Much thanks and I hope to learn more as I follow more of the tutorials =)

  21. Gravtar for dan
    dan October 21st

    Thank you so much, i have never really understood illustrator, but am now finally getting the hang on this! wish i had this when i was still at uni!!

  22. Gravtar for Danikun
    Danikun October 23rd

    This tutorial is being very useful for me, thank you for taking the time!

    Is there any chance you could upload a video on how to draw rounded figures with the pen? I still don’t get it right… for me it seems to be going the opposite side all the time, am I right?

  23. Gravtar for lunamedia
    lunamedia November 21st

    After putting it off so long I am finally getting the hang of the pen tool, thanks to this – my basic shapes are ok and actually look like what they are supposed to.

    Thank you!

  24. Gravtar for Karina
    Karina November 30th

    this is a great tutorial and i’m finally getting the pen tool more than i ever had in the past!!!! imitating the shapes is kind of difficult but i bet after more practice i would be good to go.

    This site is wonderful by the way!!!! I love all that you’ve done

  25. Gravtar for Erin
    Erin December 19th

    Thank you so much for this tutorial, you have a wonderful teaching “voice”!! Now back to practicing…

  26. Gravtar for Kathy
    Kathy January 7th

    oh gosh, i desperately need to practice more of this pen tool. it keeps me in the darkness whenever i failed to do it. but i am re-learning illustrator right now. have to do it perfectly this time. THANKS A LOT!!!!

  27. Gravtar for joey
    joey January 15th

    Excellent tutorial, i appreciate you taking the time to go over these basic things. im pretty comfortable with the ps pen but this is a little more difficult imho. i have one question i hope you can answer. whenever i move onto the next point, the previous curve i made disappears until i release the mouse button. is there anyway to always see the curves i make the whole time? thanks in advance.

  28. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary January 15th

    Hi joey, most probably your stroke is set to none. That’s why you don’t see the curve you drawn. Try setting a black stroke to your lines.

  29. Gravtar for allen
    allen February 3rd

    hi there. nice tutorial! but is there a tool in illustrator where you can predict the path that will be made before you really make it? example, the “rubberband” option in photoshop’s pen tool. thanks!:)

  30. Gravtar for David
    David February 4th

    Great tut. Most of the stuff I knew from practicing with the Pen and Photoshop, but having the templates at the end really helped to force me to practice with Illustrator (still a relative newbie to Illustrator).

    Practicing this really helped me to understand the ‘magnetizing’ ability of the anchor points better.

    Here’s my result with the Basic shapes:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/30175756@N05/3251244633/

    I’ll work on the complicated shapes later.

    Keep up the site!

  31. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary February 4th

    Hi Allen, there’s no such tool. Instead before you release your pen, you can tell what shape it will take before you release.

  32. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary February 4th

    Hi David, Learning fast.. Keep it up

  33. Gravtar for Mars
    Mars February 26th

    Awesome! Thanks for this tutorial, it really helped a lot. I don’t know anything about the basics of Illustrator and with your tutorial you made it easy to understand and I acknowledge you when someday I’d be good in this.

  34. Gravtar for Emma
    Emma March 8th

    Hi, thank you so much for this tutorial, you’ve explained everything very clearly, and I feel like I’m progressing really fast! I think I’ve got the hang of drawing images with the pen, but is there any simple way to make what I’m drawing symmetrical?

  35. Gravtar for Lola
    Lola April 9th

    I’m stuck at drawing a curved line :/

  36. Gravtar for claudia
    claudia April 12th

    Thank you for the information, i am learning a lot, regards from Guatemala city :D

  37. Gravtar for rashin mohamadi
    rashin mohamadi May 3rd

    hi . thank you so much,you’ve expained very well

  38. Gravtar for moshen
    moshen May 8th

    this is great stuff i get to learn some basic stuff that i was not aware of and i just love it
    big ups

  39. Gravtar for preeti resham
    preeti resham June 6th

    I am learner who is 40+ and was not very much confident weather i have chosen wrong path for expressing creativity. After going through your tutorial i am at ease. Thank you.

  40. Gravtar for Vectordiary
    Vectordiary June 6th

    Great to hear that you are still learning at 40s. It’s never too late to start. Keep it up! =)

  41. Gravtar for Kira
    Kira June 23rd

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! I am just beginning to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator, and this has been very helpful. However, I’m kind of lost because I’m working on a windows PC environment, and I don’t have the “OPTION” key, can someone please tell me which key to use instead? Thank you!

  42. Gravtar for Tony Soh
    Tony Soh June 23rd

    For PC it is Alt key for Option.

  43. Gravtar for Dinara
    Dinara June 23rd

    WOW… Thanks a lot for this tutorial! I just love it! You rock!

  44. Gravtar for eris
    eris July 21st

    Ej there, sory for my english becouse i’m a albania guy but your tutorials are very god. They help me to go bihaind in illustrator!
    Thanx Sir!

  45. Gravtar for Heather
    Heather August 4th

    Great tutorial! Thank you so much!!!

  46. Gravtar for Krystle
    Krystle October 3rd

    I need to learn Illustrator in the shortest time possible for work, and your tutorials are really helping me. Thank you!

  47. Gravtar for Cornhollio
    Cornhollio October 8th

    this stuuf suck i hate it your stuuf sucks get a ife

  48. Gravtar for Meladori
    Meladori November 3rd

    Love your tutorials, thanks lots!

  49. Gravtar for DearAi
    DearAi January 6th

    Where is your voice??!!!!! And It’s so dificulf… to me.
    Only 2 picture. I need more pictures.

  50. Gravtar for Brigette
    Brigette April 17th

    Thank you, thank you thank you! These tutorials are GREAT!!! I have been looking for a simple way to learn the basics of Illustrator. I have a book (purchased) that made it seem so hard! Thank you for providing this information and not charging an arm and a leg for it.

  51. Gravtar for Truly Yours:
    Truly Yours: April 29th

    Great walk through, really enjoyed the basic practice exercise..

  52. Gravtar for yellowww
    yellowww May 19th

    absolutely awesome!!! Great work pal. Many thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge.

  53. Gravtar for Almare
    Almare July 12th

    I don’t get it at all, am I stupid? :( This program is too hard for me, I can’t even do the beginner tutorials. :( I can’t draw shit with this program, and this is not the first tutorial I try! :( It’s so demotivating…

  54. Gravtar for Kamran
    Kamran July 17th

    Very simple Language use in tutorial Thanks a lot for this tutorial!

  55. Gravtar for blueberry
    blueberry July 22nd

    Learned* Learnt is a completely different, off-topic word. Thanks though.

  56. Gravtar for Prabhu
    Prabhu July 29th

    With the Pen tool, how to draw outline only by without filling the color, while practising with the Shapes at some point the shapes are not visible though… pls help me.. anyway thanks for the tutorial..

  57. Gravtar for jade
    jade August 19th

    Thanks for this tutorial! Trying to brush up on my illustrator skills, and this has really helped! Really simple and easy to understand, brilliant!

  58. Gravtar for JJ
    JJ August 25th

    Wowza. This tutorial is AWESOME. I’ve let all my fellow students and tutors know about it it’s just that good!

    I do have one thing I’m stuck on though… How do I add extra handles? Sometimes I only get one and it makes it harder to manipulate the line :(
    Using CS4 by the way :)

    And well done again, you are LEDGEND.

  59. Gravtar for Zain
    Zain August 29th

    wowwwwwww…..at last with hours of practice i almost garbbed the pen tooool……thanks man
    god bless you

  60. Gravtar for Coringa ismael
    Coringa ismael September 7th

    Olá muito bom esse tutoriais to tentando aprender (to apanhando bastante) mais com o tempo e pratica só ñ consigo mexer com os pontos no Ai pois trabalho com corel o dia inteiro a mais de dois anos com pratica e fuçando aprendi a mexer bem vou fazer o mesmo com AI obrigado pelos tutoriais

  61. Gravtar for Claiton
    Claiton November 11th

    Really excellent.. I had been searching for long time.. Thanks for this post..

  62. Gravtar for MichaelV
    MichaelV November 29th

    DAY5: Well, looks like it’s time to roll the sleeves up and actually do something a bit trickier….. Was sort of confusing at first but I’m getting the hang of it s-l-o-w-l-y I might be stuckon this page for quite some time until I become proficient (?) at all this anchor stuff. Obviously can’t move forward till I do….so here we go.
    PS: Noticed in a comment earlier that someone said they were 40+ and trying to learn this – well, I’m 56 and willing to give it a go. What a trip this is….(so far)

  63. Gravtar for Slerharlemo
    Slerharlemo December 2nd

    Hello!

  64. Gravtar for weiner sack w. bush
    weiner sack w. bush January 4th

    aahhhhh yes hhhhhhhaaaaaaahhhhh yes :)

  65. Gravtar for Ninja Crepes
    Ninja Crepes January 19th

    Thanks dude. these are great tips on using the pen tool!

  66. Gravtar for Julia Greenwood
    Julia Greenwood February 19th

    This is a great tutorial. I have only been using Illustrator for 2 days .. and today I got a digital tablet so I am struggling with a double whammy, but I am slowly getting the hand of it. Can do the key now, but have been struggling with the heart for about 4 hours now. I guess it is all a matter of practice … hours and hours of it.

  67. Gravtar for Joy
    Joy March 20th

    Actually i have a problem in pen tool. Hope, i have no problem in this tool now. thanks, for the real live tutorial.

  68. Gravtar for Anna Clark
    Anna Clark May 29th

    In the step “Drawing a Curved Line” (3rd step into the lesson), the instructions are to “click and drag”, but it doesn’t say with what. Do I use the Selection Tool or the Pen Tool or something else? Nothing seems to work for me. (I try to click to something different and the whole object disappears.) Also, is Path Tool (mentioned at the top of the article) and Pen Tool the same thing? Btw, I’ve looked at many different AI tutorials, and this is HANDS DOWN the BEST! You did a really good job putting this together and it is appreciated!

  69. Gravtar for ye daw
    ye daw November 11th

    nameen?

  70. Gravtar for Kristal name changed 4 protection
    Kristal name changed 4 protection November 18th

    our teacher used this to teach us and i find it fun and easy to use

  71. Gravtar for Ale
    Ale December 4th

    I’m just stuck at the curves lines… seems I can’t draw nothing on the right side, only left. Help! Nothing seems to work… Should I continue with the other days or master this first?

  72. Gravtar for Akhil gopinath
    Akhil gopinath January 22nd

    It easy to learn and it very useful for beginers of illustrator. Note:should use pentool everyday thats make pentool easy.

  73. Gravtar for Eric
    Eric January 26th

    Where do I download the Basic and Complicated Shapes?

  74. Gravtar for Eric
    Eric January 26th

    Nevermind, I figured it out…

  75. Gravtar for fadly
    fadly June 22nd

    thank dude, u’re cool !

  76. Gravtar for Austin
    Austin July 30th

    Any time I get towards the middle anchor point the plus sign or add anchor point shows up so I click it. But then it always tells me please use the add anchor point tool on a segment of the path. I’m so lost when it comes to step three. Does anyone know why it keeps telling met that? And would anyone be willing to explain in layman’s terms in a even more step by step how to do step 3? (PS this site is crazy helpful, thank you for puttin it up!)

  77. Gravtar for dlunsford
    dlunsford December 10th

    I have a question about the Pen tool regarding some of your steps, above- I think I missed something somewhere. You say hold down Alt / Option for things like adding or deleting an anchor, and convert anchor point. I am confused about how one keystroke can do all of these- how does Illustrator know which one of the options you want, of Alt / Option does all three? Is there a way to pull up a sub-menu somewhere that I overlooked?

  78. Gravtar for Aamir Ahmad
    Aamir Ahmad December 26th

    sir your tutorial is very simple i m complete illustrator in 15 days thankyou somuch sir

  79. Gravtar for gilbertpison
    gilbertpison December 30th

    Tony, you are awesome. I’ve never had any formal training in illustrator, so all the work I’ve done so far has been guess-and-learn, but this is such a great foundation. Thank you!

  80. Gravtar for tyler
    tyler January 15th

    holy crap this stuff is insane my teacher makes this stuff look easy

  81. Gravtar for nai
    nai May 4th

    oh teri,,,,,,,,,,,teri ma ka saki nakaaaaaaaaaaaaa……..kya baaaaaat hai beduuuuuuuuu………….

  82. Gravtar for nai
    nai May 4th

    oye lole , saley tu lola he raheo……….

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