The Pen Tool

How to make the most of this simple yet powerful tool

If you are familiar with vector graphics, then it's almost certain that you know what the Pen Tool is and how to use it for creating paths.

In this comprehensive guide, we decided to give you some basic tips on this amazing essential tool and a tutorial on how to use it in Vectornator. In the following tutorial, you'll become comfortable using all of the Pen tool’s features. From learning how to add anchor points to using bezier curves to create beautiful illustrations, everything will be made simple.


The Pen Tool: Short Definition

Much More Than a Pen - Unlike the name suggests, the Pen Tool does not draw wherever you drag like the Pencil tool. Instead, it creates Bézier curves (or paths) in order to draw shapes. 

You can use the Pen Tool to create, curve, edit and close paths.

What is a path?

Paths and Bézier Curves are used to create curves that can be scaled infinitely. Their direction and angle are determined by the position of the node handles.

bezier curve

There are many types of Bezier curves, depending on the Node Type: Single (1), Mirrored (2), Asymmetrical (3), Disconnected (4).

How to use the Pen Tool?

In the following paragraph, we will show you how to use the Pen Tool. In terms of the graphic design software needed for demonstration , we will use Vectornator. You can get Vectornator for free on your iPhone, iPad or Mac. Note that these explanations on how the Pen Tool works could also be used in other illustration software, so be sure to continue reading even if you don’t use Vectornator (yet).


On Vectornator Pro, you can activate the Pen Tool by using the shortcut “P”. Also, be sure to check out our list of all supported keyboard shortcuts directly inside Vectornator Pro by going to Help > Keyboard Shortcuts.

Creating Straight Lines

Tap on the canvas to add a corner point. Multiple taps will create a straight path with “sharp” corners.

When selecting the Anchor Point, there will be no handles in this case.

pen tool
Note: To help you create a horizontal/ vertical path, you can activate the Snap to Grid feature.

Creating Curve Paths

Tap and drag your finger (or Pencil) on the canvas to add a corner point. This creates asymmetrical direction handles (3), as seen highlighted at the top of the Style Tab where the CAO "Node Types" appears, and you will obtain curved edges.

pen tool

In Vectornator, there are 3 useful gestures combo to help you define the Node type, and so, change the curves. Try the following:

  1. Holding the canvas with a second finger, while dragging the Pencil, will change the Node into “disconnected” type. In this way, you will be able to move handles independently and change the direction of the next curve.
  2. Holding the canvas with 2 fingers, will enable 45º snapping on both handles. If you use a Mac, shift-click to constrain the angle of the segment to a multiple of 45°. 
  3. Additionally, holding the canvas with 3 fingers, will enable 45º snapping on one handle.
pen tool

How to Edit Handles

Tap on the Anchor Point and drag your finger above the Adjustment Point to change the direction of the handle.

To turn a curve back into a straight line, first, tap on the Anchor Point. Then, change the Node Type by switching from 4 different types in the panel inside the Style Tab.

pen tool

Show Handles When Multiple Anchor Points Are Selected

To show the handles of multiple anchor points, you need to activate the Node Tool and select them by dragging an area on your canvas that contains those points or simply tap on each point (by activating the multiple selection tool). 

This option displays the Vectornator handles of points immediately and helps you to figure out what the node types are. Otherwise, the handles are not displayed.

Check out here to learn more.

How to Set Up Different Preferences

You can access the preferences that affect the use of the Pen Tool, and other related tools, by going to the Document Settings inside the Navigation Bar (top left).

  • Snap to Grid: Activating the Snap to Grid can be an easy way to create beautiful geometric composition or simply help you create a horizontal/ vertical straight path.
  • Snap to Point: Activating the Snap to Point will help you to snap your next (or existing) point to another point. This can be really helpful when creating complex illustrations or beautiful lettering design.

You can also watch this video tutorial from Will Paterson to create your next lettering using the Pen Tool in Vectornator.

Pen Tool Game - a fun way to practice your Pen Tool skills

If you want to practice the Pen Tool more, you should definitely check out The Bézier Game, which is a free online game. In different stages, you will learn how to master the pen tool. Especially for beginners, this is a great practice and a much easier way to learn than just using the tool inside a graphic design software.

Create Your Own Typography! - Pen Tool Exercise 

Another awesome way to improve your Pen Tool skills is to create your own typography. While lettering, you will really dig deep into the different node types and how to curve paths carefully.

Be sure to check out Scott Smokers IGTV videos where he shows his lettering process in Vectornator. 

Conclusion

Working with the Pen Tool is not really a natural process. But, it does provide major help in making incredible designs. Unlike the Pencil Tool, you can create your path by adding points and manipulating handles to shape them accordingly. This allows you to partake in the typical process of working with a vector-designer.  Vectornator, with its unique native mobile feeling, will help you improve your design process, and so, making the use of the Pen Tool easier and faster.

One last thing! Remember, the fewer points, the smoother a path will be!


Share your designs with us, we would love to see what our awesome community is up to! ♡

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