Any good Illustrator pen tool (for curves) tutorials?

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by definitive, Mar 3, 2012.

  1. definitive, Mar 3, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012

    macrumors 68000


    Aug 4, 2008
    I've been using Illustrator for years, but for the life of me can't make good round curves when drawing illustrations. As of late I've been interested in doing handlettering (if anyone wants an example, just search for logotype or handlettering on, but once I scan the image and place it on the Illustrator's art board, the tracing I do with the pen tool doesn't look as round and curvy as I'd like. Is there some secret to getting the pen tool's curves looking perfectly round?
  2. macrumors 6502

    Aug 29, 2011
    #2 may have the answer you require, its a pay service (and you can access as many subjects you like) also you can stop and start as you need. has been a brilliant resource for my Photoshop needs and quite a few other bits of software plus Mac OSX as well.

    Iam purely a user of and have no association with them other than been a satisfied customer.
  3. macrumors 6502a


    Nov 13, 2009
    you might find a free trial to somewhere on the net.
  4. macrumors 65816


    Mar 22, 2010

    One tip is to use as few control points as possible. Please see the example I attached. Adding points along the curve will only flatten it out or roughen it. Just use one point before the curve and one point after.

    I'm assuming you know how to make curves and manipulate Bezier Points. Let me know if this doesn't make sense to you.

    Attached Files:

  5. macrumors 6502a

    Apple Key

    Jan 4, 2012
  6. thread starter macrumors 68000


    Aug 4, 2008
    Thank you. This should help me with what I'm trying to accomplish. I also found a few other useful tutorials and resources in case others stumble across this thread:
  7. macrumors 6502


    Feb 12, 2002
    Milwaukee, WI
  8. macrumors 604


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isla Nublar
    The pen tool is a horribly unintuitive tool which there are very few good resources on. Most of them overcomplicate everything or fail to tell you that you need to know keyboard shortcuts to get the most out of the tool.

    Its been ages since I used the pen tool since its too much work to get a simple result, but when you mentioned rounded corners, one thing I think would help you is this:

    When you want to make a rounded corner with bezier curves, you have to put the dots as if they were perpendicular to each other on an imaginary grid.

    Like this:


    If the "o" was the center of your circle, your first point needs to be to the left*, and the second point needs to be straight above the center. This will allow you to pull the curve into a perfect circle. The next point then would just follow this pattern around until you met back up with the original starting point.

    *You don't have to start left, you can start anywhere as long as you follow the "90 degree rule" so to speak.

    I hope this helped more than it hindered :eek:
  9. macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2012
    Any good Illustrator pen tool (for curves) tutorials?

    I have recently been using to learn illustrator. I have a background in audio, but am going to university for design. There is a new series out by Iain Anderson. I watched 2 so far, and I am very pleased with my progress, and the tutorials. Making a logo was a very basic course, that went into a lot of the basic functions, including the pen tool. The other was understanding objects and layers. I didn't realize how important that understanding was until I watched the videos. Next on the list is symbols and backgrounds. Good luck, I'll post if I find anything better!
  10. macrumors 6502

    Jul 9, 2008
    Been using Illustrator since v3 still struggle sometimes with the pen tool. Try the following when it all starts going pear shaped (sometimes quite literally!)

    Here's a trick when you just can't get a shape to work. Create single handle points to rough out the shape. These are quick and can have great control.

    So click for a point > let go of the mouse button > then click back into the point and drag at the same time. (This should pull out a nice single handle.) Let go and then move onto your next point and do the same.

    Once you've got them in position it shouldn't look too bad but perhaps not smooth enough. In that case use the add point (+) pen to add points either side of the original point. These will be smooth with double handles. Then use the delete point (-) pen tool to knock out the original point in the middle. Then adjust as needed.

    Don't space the points too closely and use as few as possible.
  11. macrumors 6502

    Oct 1, 2008
    Like all things...practice makes perfect. Just spend hour after hour drawing over the top of logo's. If you can find some nice examples of hand scamped type...draw over that. Im a pen pro but ive been using it for 12 years. Just draw and redraw and when you need a break don't and do some more. Its pretty easy when you understand how the curves connect, but it needs to become second nature...and that will only happen when you put in a certain amount of pen tool grinding : )
  12. macrumors 603


    Aug 5, 2010
    I'm going to expand slightly on citizenzen's comments. Illustrator paths are based on 3 degree bezier splines (as they're called in other applications) which is sort of a distant cousin to the b- spline. They're all just methods of interpolating tangent values between two points via a weighting system in order to conform to standards of positional, tangential, or curvature continuity. If you break the handle, you've got positional. They just meet there and nothing else. Spline handles of different lengths give you tangency where they meet. Equal spline length gives you a curvature continuous section.

    If you keep those things in mind, you can plot out how to create a shape by what could be turned into a span with the required smoothness by examining peaks and changes in acceleration beyond an acceptable tolerance. Remember that the more a handle extends from its end point on the curve, the more influence you're you're granting to the tangent where it originates. In general avoid spline handles that intersect the path or cross other spline handles. Try it and you'll see what I mean. Both of these cause major problems. When you go to close a path and it makes a weird shape, this is what is happening.

    In that case you can just delete and redraw those points where the path was closed. If it happens in the middle of a path somewhere, that can be resolved with more points. Maintaining clean topology over your paths so that you have points in the right places is quite important. Just remember that you can always optimize points by adding and deleting them when necessary. If the spline handles are not equal in length and you require 100% smooth curvature at that point, you can delete those points and add them back in. Another rule I tend to follow is not to apply more than a 90 degree change over any single span. It just leads to a loss of control, but if you start to recognize such guidelines, it becomes much easier. Since I mentioned 90%, if you want a perfectly circular corner, the spline handles should basically make a square. If you want a hard corner, you would just alt click to break tangency at that point.

    I guess the important things to take away would be to visually recognize what can exist as a span, understand the basic differences in continuity as influenced by weighting, and avoid crossing the streams;).
  13. macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009

    Try drawing with snap to grid turned on and the grid visible if you're drawing letterforms or want regular shapes.

    This technique will also give you a better idea of how the bezier curves work.

    The convert anchor point tool is useful, and get to know the "smooth" tool too.

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