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CE4: Battle of the pen tool

January 25, 2010

Working on the assignment given here, tracing a variety of shapes with the notoriously counterintuitive Pen Tool in Illustrator. It doesn’t draw lines as such; it draws math: you set point A and point B as “anchors” and bend the line between them by pulling on little gravity wells called “handles”. Each anchor has two handles, one for the line segment trailing it, one for the segment ahead. So each line segment is influenced by two handles, one at each endpoint.

The pen tool in its native habitat

(how to take a screenshot on a Mac: Cmd + Shift + 3 for whole screen, +4 to mouse-drag a selection)

First two “easy” pictures, one done in class, one that evening. The battery was mostly done by clicking anchors very close together instead of curving the lines… not an efficient method.

Battery outline

Pipe outline

(How to color the line that the pen makes: go to the Color palette and make sure the solid square is slashed out, [ / ], and the hollow square that looks like a picture frame is colored.)
(How to fill in a pen trace: go to the Color palette and change the solid square from [ / ] to a color.)

Next began the all-out battle to make those lines bend the way I wanted them to bend. Figuring out which of the two handles on each anchor did what, by trial and error, experimentation, and begging advice, took about eight hours and several separate sessions. Thanks to Avery in the anime club, and to the pen tutorials on Veerle’s design blog here.

The first boat image has had the underlying picture layer removed. The second boat image shows how much edge was left around the imperfect pen tracing.

Boat outline

Boat outline with edge showing

The second of the Moderate level images, the boat anchor, took less than an hour. This image has NOT had the underlying picture removed, yet it shows almost no leftover edges at all. Finally I’m getting the hang of this.

Anchor outline

(How to cut out the windows and holes in a pen-traced image: ….still working on that part as of Feb 8 )

(Video tutorial on using Pathfinder to cut out shapes: here )

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