The Pen Tool is iconic to vector creation and is often used as a symbol to represent vector elements or programs. However, it is notoriously difficult to master and can become a learning block for those wishing to get into vector. This is probably why our comprehensive guide to the Pen Tool is one of our top vector tutorials!
The Pen Tool has many functions, but it's specifically using the handle bar function which provides a road block for people. When I was first starting out, it's what held me back too. I do recommend that you keep on pushing yourself with the Pen Tool, but in case you want to relax and take it slowly, I have a little hack for you.
While creating a vector for a Tuts+ Course, I came across a hack with using the Pen Tool to create point-to-point lines and then using Live Corners to get smooth curves, therefore avoiding the use of handle bars.
Live Corners is a function available in Adobe Illustrator CC, so sadly if you've got a legacy copy, you won't be able to use this. Let me show you how to use this hack to create smooth curves.
1. Create Curves on a Closed Path
I'm going to use a stock image to trace around the shape for the face to demonstrate this hack.
Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a point-to-point line around the face. When I say point-to-point, I mean single clicks from one point to the next, around the contour of the shape.
So I've got an entire closed shape when done.
Select the shape you've just created and then click on the Direct Selection Tool (A) in the Tools panel. When this is enabled, you'll notice that around the points of the shape are small circles. These mean the corners can be manipulated using Live Corners.
You can drag on these corners with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to create smooth curves on your point to point shape.
Dragging one corner will push all the corners to the same radius. However it may not be as smooth as you wish. You will notice that new points have been added to the shape. This is because a curve has been introduced between these points, in place of your single point.
With the Direct Selection Tool (A) still selected, you can click on any individual point...
... and drag this point to push the corner further, helping you create the smooth curve you want!
I've done this throughout the shape, and thanks to the point-to-point shape and Live Corners, I've created the following smooth shape!
2. Create Curves on an Open Path
This doesn't just apply to closed paths—it works with open paths too!
I've zoomed in on the nostril to create a line using the same process. So first create your point-to-point line using the Pen Tool (P), and then select the Direct Selection Tool (A) to see the visible Live Corners icons.
Then drag the points to create a smooth curve.
It's as easy as pie!
Why Not Try it Yourself!
Why not try this hack yourself and see how easy it is to create a curved line without using the handle bars of the Pen Tool.
Those who can use handle bars will recognise that it may take a bit longer to create these curves, which is why I recommend this as a last resort. If you really can't tame the Pen Tool, this may help ease your suffering.
Like anything new you're learning, it takes time, and sometimes these little hacks may help push you into learning something new with Adobe Illustrator.
Have you got an Illustrator hack you want to share? Leave it in the comments!