The Pen Tool for Adobe Illustrator: A Beginner’s Guide
Let’s cut to the chase. We love the Pen Tool. And if you’re a graphic designer, you should too. For a logo artist, there is no more important tool in your design arsenal. It is the ultimate weapon at your disposal for illustrating world-class mascots.
A logo designer without the Pen Tool is like… Batman without the Batmobile. A Jedi Knight without his lightsaber. Thanos without the Infinity Gauntlet. Mastering the Pen Tool for Adobe Illustrator is an essential, required skill for any aspiring designer in the esports, gaming, or corporate world. Every logo designer-in-training should put in the time and effort to learn the ins-and-outs of this useful little tool.
But where to start? A quick google search reveals a dizzying array of blogs and tutorials, many of them unqualified, misleading, or vague. That’s why we put together this short guide – a beginner’s guide to wielding the Adobe Illustrator Pen Tool, plus our favorite resources for honing and perfecting your skills. Combining years of know-how, pro-tips, and wisdom from our ace squad of logo designers.
So let’s get started, shall we?
What is the Pen Tool Used For?
The Pen Tool is a powerful, built-in tool within the Adobe Illustrator client. Its primary uses include:
- Laying anchor points
- Creating paths and shapes, and…
- Controlling curves within those paths and shapes
While the Pen Tool is a handy resource for all your illustrations, mascot logo designers will find it particularly useful. In time, and with lots of practice, this tool will allow you to sketch out rich, flowing logos with unparalleled precision.
If you’re even moderately-familiar with Adobe Illustrator, you’ve probably noticed the icon located in the Toolbar – it looks like this.
The Basics: Using the Illustrator Pen Tool
Let’s start with the basics. With the Pen Tool selected, simply left click to lay an anchor point. Think of anchor points as adjustable ‘corners’ which allow you to manipulate shapes and geometry. Now move the cursor in any direction and left click again to lay a second anchor point. Note that you have now created a path connecting the two anchor points. It is through this simple procedure that you will begin crafting more sophisticated paths and shapes.
At any time while creating your path, you can left click on the original anchor point to close the path. You now have the option to fill that path with a color, a stroke (ie, visible outline), or perhaps even both. This is your first opportunity to get creative, so play around with effects, fill patterns, and different shapes. Over time, your confidence and skill will grow, so don’t rush – start basic and slowly work your way up to more complex designs.
Pro-Tips: Keyboard Shortcuts and Deleting Anchor Points
Let’s briefly discuss some of our favorite ‘advanced’ Pen Tool tips for Adobe Illustrator. Mastering these nuances will make your life much easier, adding depth to your mascot logos and speeding up design time.
Every Pen Tool pro should be aware of at least a handful of keyboard shortcuts. These shortcuts will not only save you valuable time, they’ll help maintain your creative momentum – eliminating the need to scan toolbars and navigate dense menus. Here are some of the most important and useful:
- Holding SHIFT will constrain your path to any perfect 45 degree angle
- Holding ALT and clicking any anchor point not on a curve will allow you to drag out handles on that corner to turn it into a curve
- Holding ALT and clicking any anchor point on a curve will immediately turn that curve into a straight edged corner
- Holding left click to lay an anchor point and holding ALT at the same time will allow you to drag one handle out before placing the next anchor point
This is just a brief list of our favorites – you’ll likely come across a few keyboard shortcuts of your own via design forums, tutorials, and simple experimentation.
One last tip before we hand you the reins. At some point while creating paths and shapes, you will likely need to add or remove anchor points from your path. This is accomplished by left clicking any anchor point with the Delete Anchor Point Tool or the Add Anchor Point Tool selected. These can be found behind the Pen Tool itself in the Adobe Illustrator toolbar. To access them, just click and hold the Pen Tool icon until the dropdown menu appears. It will look something like this:
Practice, Practice, Practice
We’ve shown you the ropes, now it’s time to get your hands dirty. One of the best ways to improve your Pen Tool skills is to run a quick Google search with the terms ‘Pen Tool Exercises’. Through these tutorials and interactive courses, you’ll get hands-on practice and become more familiarized with the tool’s mechanics and nuances. Follow along with some of the exercise images you find there, within your own Illustrator.
Our favorite training resource however, is ‘The Bezier Game‘. This interactive, easy-to-use demo will help get you past the initial steep learning-curve of creating Bezier Curves. It remains one of the most popular and powerful training materials for grasping the Pen Tool, and we couldn’t recommend it more.
So there you have it. A brief, beginners’ guide to the Pen Tool. If you’re looking to enter the world of logo design, or simply improve your Adobe Illustrator skills, we hope this guide proves a vital resource.
Stay determined and don’t get discouraged – the Pen Tool is one of the hardest skills to master for an aspiring logo designer, but the payoffs are huge. With time, your mascots will develop a professional touch and you’ll begin illustrating logos with the best of them. We wish you the best of luck, and our team of designers is always available via Discord to answer any questions.
Here at VBI, our pro logo illustrators have spent years honing and perfecting their Pen Tool abilities. It is a vital skills we look for when hiring new mascot designers, and each of our team members has demonstrated best-in-class creative prowess. You can browse our catalog of available mascot logo designs, with new items added weekly. Or, you can drop us a line via our custom stream design portal for a more personal, branded look.
Until then, may the Pen Tool’s figurative ink never run dry, and may your paths stay true.
– Team VBI