The Pen Tool

Today we will practice using the pen tool. We will use the pen tool throughout the year in both Illustrator and Photoshop. We will begin with a demonstration of how to use the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator.

After the demonstration:
  • If you have never used the pen tool, or feel like you never quite got the hang of it, you will complete the vector practice tutorial
  • If you consider yourself a pen tool expert, you will trace over a photograph in Illustrator, creating realistic shadows and highlights.

Pen Tool for Beginners: Vector Practice Tutorial

  1. Download the “” file here.
  2. Unzip the file.
  3. Open the .ai file in Illustrator.
  4. Trace over each shape with the pen tool. (They are numbered from the simplest to the most complex.)
  5. Save your file as a PDF. (File -> Save as -> PDF).
    Remember where you saved your file! If you don’t know where you saved your file, the teacher certainly won’t.
  6. Create a new blog post. Upload the PDF containing the vector images you have traced and describe any difficulties you had with the pen tool.

Pen Tool Review for Experts: Tracing over a Photograph

You will create a vector illustration of a raster image by using the pen tool in Illustrator to trace over part of a photograph. For example, I turned a photograph of chocolate chip cookies into a vector illustration:chocolate_chip_cookies vector_cookies

  1. Download a photograph.
  2. Create a new file in Adobe Illustrator. Open Illustrator, (File -> New Document) and place the downloaded photo in that file. (File -> place)
    DO NOT try to open your downloaded image in Illustrator! This will cause strange things to happen.
  3. Create a new layer by clicking on the “new layer” button at the bottom of the layers palette on the right side of the screen. new_layer_button
  4. Trace over your first shape. (You may need to decrease the opacity of this layer so you can see what you are tracing. You can do this by clicking on the transparency icon transparency_icon on the right side of the screen and decreasing the opacity so it is below 100. transparency_window)
  5. Bring the opacity back 100% and adjust the color if necessary.
  6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you are happy with your vector illustration. Click here for more information on how to create shadows and highlights in Illustrator.
  7. Save your Illustrator file, and then save a version as a .pdf
  8. Create a new blog post. In this post, upload your source photo and the .pdf of your vector illustration. Write a brief paragraph describing your image. Include any difficulties you had creating the image, and how you worked through them. Credit the source where you got your photo, so you don’t wind up in trouble like Shepard Fairey:

Today we will:

  • practice using the pen tool by completing one of the following tasks:
    • newbies – complete the vector practice tutorial
    • experts – create a vector illustration of a photograph, complete with shadows and highlights
  • create a new blog post with the following:
    • a PDF of the work we completed today
    • a few sentences describing any challenges you faced when working with the pen tool, and how you worked through them

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