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Chapter 4. Drawing with the Pen tool > Creating curved paths

Creating curved paths

In this part of the lesson, you’ll learn how to draw smooth, curved lines with the Pen tool. In vector-drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator CS2, you draw a curve, called a Bézier curve, with control points. By setting anchor points and dragging direction handles (controls), you can define the shape of the curve. Although drawing curves this way takes some getting used to, it gives you the greatest control and flexibility in creating paths.

Before we get started with a lesson file, choose File > New to create a new letter-sized document in Adobe Illustrator, leaving settings at the page defaults. Consider this page a “scratch” page to practice the Bézier curve.

Using the Control palette, click on the Fill box and choose the None swatch () Then click on the Stroke box and choose the Black swatch.

Click on the Stroke Weight drop-down menu in the Control palette and change the stroke weight to 1 pt.

Click and release the mouse anywhere on the page to create the initial anchor point. Then click in another location on the page (don’t release the mouse), and drag, creating a curved path.

Click and drag to create a curved path.

Continue clicking and dragging at various locations on the page. The goal for this exercise is not to create anything specific, but to get you accustomed to the feel of the Bézier curve.

Notice that as you click and drag, direction handles that end in round direction points appear. The angle and length of the direction handles determine the shape and size of the curved segments. Direction lines do not print and are not visible when the anchor is inactive.

Choose Select > Deselect.

Choose the Direct Selection tool () and select a curved segment to display the direction handles again. Moving the direction points reshapes the curves.


Anchor points are square, and when selected, appear filled; unselected, they appear unfilled, like hollow squares. Direction points are round. These lines and points do not print with the artwork.

Select anchor points to access the direction handles.

Choose File > Close and do not save this file.

Components of a path

A smooth anchor point always has two direction handles that move together as a single, straight unit. When you drag the direction anchor point of either direction line on a smooth anchor point, both direction handles move simultaneously, maintaining a continuous curve at that anchor point.

A. Anchor point. B. Direction line. C. Direction point (or handle).

In comparison, a corner point can have two, one, or no direction handles, depending on whether it joins two, one, or no curved segments, respectively. Corner point direction handles maintain the corner by using different angles. When you drag a direction point on a corner point’s direction line, the other direction line, if present, does not move.

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