Illustrator: a crash-course (ie-how to make stuff look awsome)

How to use the pen tool.

The pen tool is the single most important tool to learn and get good at to use illustrator effectively. To do this, you will need to practice - you can practice by copying photos into your illustrator document and then using the pen tool to trace shapes in the photo.

The way to use the pen tool is illustrated in the following video. Clicking from point to point will create a shape with all straight line segments. To create curved line segments, when placing another anchor point, hold down the mouse button and drag away. This will create a handle that you can use to get the right contour. If you need to move a point or change a curve later, you can use the direct selection tool to do this. When you create a curve, the tool automatically creates two handles. This will make the contour to your next point smooth. Sometimes, this is not the look you need. To remove the second handle, just click on the point you just made again. Command-Z will be useful here to step backwards.

The above video makes use of Illustrator's Smart guides feature. This feature can be useful to help place points but you may find it distracting. You can turn it on or off under the View menu.

Before you start drawing, make the options bar look like the above. This will make it easier to see what you are drawing and tracing.

If you hold down the pen tool button on the main tools palette, you will see the other pen tool options. The first two add or delete anchor points along the path. The last pen tool is the convert anchor point tool, which you can use to add handles to an anchor point.

The shape tools can also be helpful. With them, you can make standard shapes faster than you could with the pen tool. The shape options are: rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse (you can use this to make a circle by holding shift while using it), polygon, star, and flare.

Tracing a photo

To add a photo you can use the File: Place button and add the photo. The photo can later be deleted or hidden in a separate layer to keep for reference.

When tracing, it may be helpful to turn off the fill so that you can see the shape behind your drawing. It may also be helpful to zoom in close on the image you are tracing.

Tracing Examples

When searching for images to trace, it may be helpful to use stock image websites instead of google image search, because there are a wider variety of images. Try one like Getty Images.