Drawing In Illustrator, Part 3: The Pencil Tool

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Drawing in IllustratorSo far we’ve looked at the Line Tools and the Shape Tools. Today we’ll look at one of the more intuitive drawing tools – the Pencil. As the name suggests, this is very much like using a real pencil for drawing paths. You can draw open or closed paths with the pencil and use the Smooth tool to remove some of the wrinkles!

Drawing With The Pencil

1. Select the Pencil tool image0012 from the tool box (or press N for the shortcut).
2. Click where you want to start your path and then drag and draw.


You’ll notice that as you drag, a dotted line appears behind the pointer. An anchor point will appear at the start and end of your path and also at several points along it. When you finish dragging, the path will take on whatever stroke and fill attributes you have set.


To draw a closed path with the pencil tool;

1. Select the Pencil tool.
2. Start dragging to draw your path.
3. Now, hold down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key. This basically lets illustrator know that you want to create a closed path. You’ll see that the Pencil tool displays a small circle which indicates that you’re creating a closed path. This means that you do NOT have to position the cursor over your starting anchor point to close the path. Illustrator will close the path for you.


4. Release the mouse when you’ve drawn the shape you want and then when the path closes, release the Alt/Option key.

When you’re drawing with vectors, a good rule of thumb is to use as FEW anchor points as possible. The fewer the anchor points, the smoother the curves and lines. One of the downsides of the Pencil tool is that it has a tendency to create paths with unnecessary anchor points. The Smooth tool smoothes the appearance of paths by removing excess anchor points.

Let’s say I’ve drawn the path below using the pencil. It’s a bit more ragged than I would like, so I’m going to smooth it out.


1. Select the object or path that you have just drawn.
2. Select the Smooth tool image0112 from the toolbox, or hold down the Alt/Option key to quickly switch from the Pen tool to the Smooth tool.
3. Drag the tool along the length of the path segment you want to smooth out. You don’t have to drag it around the whole object.

4. Continue smoothing until you’re happy with the path.

Used together, you’ll find the Pencil and Smooth tools to be a good combo for drawing. Tomorrow we’ll look at one of the most feared tools for beginners -– the Pen tool.

Related Reading:
Illustrator Drawing Tools, Part 1: The Line Tools
Illustrator Drawing Tools, Part 2: The Shape Tools

Jennifer FarleyJennifer Farley
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Jennifer Farley is a designer, illustrator and design instructor based in Ireland. She writes about design and illustration on her blog at Laughing Lion Design.

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