A couple of years ago, I had a bunch of sketches I wanted to reproduce in Adobe Illustrator. It was really difficult and frustrating, because I didn’t know how to use the pen tool.
I searched for tutorials on Google and YouTube for videos but wasn’t able to find anything that good enough.
As a beginner, this was tough to deal with.
So I made a promise that, if I ever mastered how to use the pen (vector) tool, I was going to make a FREE and easy to understand tutorial.
Fast forward to November 2017, I have become an expert at using to pen tool to draw virtually anything I want.
If you don’t have an idea how the pen tool works or you’ve been struggling to master the pen tool, then you have reached your last stop. You will not believe how easy it is to master the pen tool.
I will take you through, step-by-step on how to get going and become a wizard at using the pen tool.
Without further ado, let’s get into why we are here.
For this tutorial, I will be using Sketch but if you use Adobe Illustrator, do not worry, the principles are the same. Just follow along as I layout everything from start to finish.
Launch Sketch and create a new Artboard for this exercise.
It will be nice to know a few short keys in Sketch to help speed up our learning process. So first:
Know Your Keys
- Press the V key to select the pen/vector tool.
- Use the Enter or Return key to exit the pen tool.
- Use Backspace to delete an existing anchor point or handle.
- Use the Shift key to constrain/lock anchor point placement to 45°, 90°, 180°, 135°, 270°, 315°.
- Numeric keys 1, 2, 3, 4 are used to select point types, while the pen tool is active.
Understanding Point Types
For every anchor you add with the vector tool, there are 4 point types to choose from. Each point type describes the behavior of the bezier curve. To see the point types, add an anchor point (press V and click).
This point type allows you to add straight lines at any angle, by placing two or more anchor points apart from each other.
The “Mirrored” point type consists of two bezier handles that are always parallel to each other, in opposite directions. This means that each time any of the handles is adjusted, the curve produced on the left half will be mirrored on the other half (right).
“Disconnected” point type also consists of two bezier handles which can be used to adjust one half of the curve, while the other maintains its position. It’s best for sharp edges.
“Asymmetric” point type consists of two bezier handles as well. Its function is similar to that of the “Mirrored” point type. The difference being that each handle can have different lengths.
Now that we know our keys and understand how what each point type does. It’s time to go dive into something practical.
So let’s keep it moving.
Step #1: Draw a Straight Line
Drawing a straight line with the pen tool is the simplest and most basic thing anyone can do. So let’s draw a straight line from point A to point B.
- Press the V key to select/activate the pen tool.
- Click to add an anchor point A on the artboard.
- Hold Shift to constrain the movement of the next point.
- Move the mouse to the right and click to add a point B.
- Release the Shift key and press Enter.
There you have it!
A straight line using the vector tool.
***Repeat the same process but this time constrain the angle of point B to 45° and 315°.
The result should look like this (below):
Step #2: Learn to Draw Curves
We will be making use of the “mirrored” point type (numeric key 2) to draw part of a sine wave (image below).
Once you get through this example, you will be able to complete the rest on your own.
- Turn on the artboard grid (crtl+G) or click “View” at the top right corner and select Show Grid.
- Activate the vector/pen tool (press V key)
- Add a starting point A (0, 0)
- Place another point B at a angle of 45° at coordinates (5, 5) and hold it down — see image below,
- While holding down your mouse click, hold down shift (to constrain the angle to 90°), then drag the handle 3 points to the right.
- Release the mouse and shift key.
- Place a point C at coordinates (10, 0)
- Press Enter to exit
That was very easy, wasn’t it?
***Repeat the process one more time to complete the second cycle of the sine wave.
It’s fun 🙂 🙂 🙂
This exercise requires using the “disconnected” point type
Try this “Surf” wave, here are the steps:
- Repeat steps 1 through 5 from the previous example (sine wave).
- Release the shift key and press numeric key 3
- Drag the bezier handle downward to the 90° angle from the previous point
- Place a point C at coordinates (10, 0)
- Press Enter to exit
Now that we know how to handle curves, it will be nice to do something more interesting. We will be combining all the skills we’ve learnt in the previous examples to trace other drawings.
In this exercise, we will trace the letter S.
Step #3: Trace or Draw an Object
- Download the image below and copy it into Sketch.
- Expand the image, if it’s not large enough or zoom in to a comfortable view.
- Reduce the opacity of the image to about 10 –15 percent.
- Lock the image to the artboard
- Start tracing from point A. Follow the guidelines, as shown in the image below
Note: As you trace, the angle and drag points on your handles may differ slightly. That’s totally fine, as long as you are getting the required result.
Repeat this process for the word GO
You can download the sketch file Pen Tool Tutorial. I have already prepared the necessary thing you need to get going.
Trace until you are satisfied with the results.
You can tweet me your result, when you are done, would love to see them 🙂
Now that we understand how the pen/vector tool works, we can take this to another level and do something more interesting. I downloaded the image below and traced every bit of it with the pen tool.
It may seem difficult at first glance, but trust me, it’s not.
As long as you apply all the principles you’ve learnt in this tutorial, this will be breeze for you.
Hope you’ve been able to understand how easy it is to master the pen tool. It’s so powerful, you can draw or trace almost anything.
On this note, I will be signing off.
Till next time, happy learning 🙂 🙂