How Using the Pen Tool Creates Cool Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

The Pen tool is one of the most basic components of Adobe Illustrator. You use it to draw straight and curved lines, forming the foundation of almost anything you’d want to include in an infographic.

When you open Adobe Illustrator, on the left side of the window is a thin row of tools called the toolbar. The fifth tool down the toolbar is the Pen tool, which looks like the nib of an old-time fountain pen.

Just click the Pen tool to activate it. It will turn dark to show that it’s highlighted and active.

You can also press P (on your keyboard) to select the Pen tool.

Now have some fun. With the Pen tool selected, try a few clicks on the empty artboard to the right. You’ll probably end up with a random shape, filled with black and surrounded by blue lines and dots. The lines are paths, and the dots are anchor points, which all have handles. The handles on the anchor points allow you to change and control the bend in the line.

To begin drawing Uncle Sam, select All on your artboard by choosing Select→All on the main menu or pressing Cmd+A (Mac) or Ctrl+A (Windows). Then hit Delete to clear any experimental points you just made.

In this example, the Pen tool was used to draw the hat brim, stripes, and top. In the first example (left), they are filled with white to show the shapes. In the second, the shapes are filled with color.

Perhaps you want to outline your shape. You can choose Stroke to outline the edge of your shape in any width and color you’d like. Both commands are accessible from the Tools panel.

You might also wish to do one of the following:

  • Fill your shape with a different color (or none).

    There are several ways to add a color. You can click a color in the Control panel, the Color panel, Swatches panel, Gradient panel, or the swatch library. Additionally, you can double-click the Fill box and then select a color from the Color Picker.

    You can also fill your shape with no color by selecting the check box with the red hash mark through it in the lower left.

    Use the Pen tool to outline your shape.

    Use the Pen tool to outline your shape.

    If you fill your shape with None and then click anywhere outside of the shape, it will simply disappear. Don’t panic, though — your shape is still there. It’s just not filled or stroked (discussed in a bit) with a color.

    To find it again, you can choose Select All, and the shape will appear as points and borders. Or, you can use the selection tool to draw a box around the area where you believe the object to be. It will show the points and borders.

  • Add a stroke to your shape.

    • a. Reselect your drawn shape.

    • b. Go to the color fill menu as before and select the box shape under the color fill box. This is the Stroke color box.

      You can toggle between Fill and Stroke color by pressing X on your keyboard. This will save you time clicking the actual color boxes.

    • c. Click the little black box in the lower-right corner of the color menu to stroke your shape with a black color.

  • Make the shape a closed image.

    • a. Use the Pen tool and click one of the handles with the Pen.

      A small hash symbol appears near the tip of your Pen tool. Now the Pen is ready to add to your existing shape.

    • b. Select that point and then go to the opposing end handle with your Pen tool.

    • c. When a small circle appears at the tip of your Pen tool to show that the additional point will close the shape, click there to close the shape.

  • Edit your shape.

    • a. Click and hold the Pen tool.

      Four tools choices appear: the Pen tool, the Add Anchor Point tool, the Delete Anchor Point tool, and the Convert Anchor Point tool.

    • b. Move any point in your shape. Activate the Direct Selection tool (the second arrow down from the top of the Tool palette: a hollow, NW-pointing arrow) to move the points.

      With this tool, just select and drag points to edit the shape as you like.

    • c. (Optional) Choose the Delete Anchor Point tool to delete points you think are unnecessary for your artwork.

    • d. (Optional) Try using the Convert Anchor Point tool to add arches or curves to your art by simply clicking and dragging the point you wish to be curved.

      Use this tool to turn a corner point to a curved line. It works from the center of the point and curves the line outward. It takes a little practice to master this tool.

Use these quick keys to toggle between Pen tool options:

P Pen tool
+ Add Anchor Point tool
Delete Anchor Point tool
+C Convert Anchor Point tool

Continuing with the Uncle Sam drawing, you can add stars to his hat by either drawing them with the Pen tool (by clicking and adding anchor points in a star shape) or by using the Shape tool. This tool is in the tools palette farther down than the Pen tool.

The star Shape tool resides under the Shape tool icon (a square box). Click and hold the Shape tool and a fly out menu will appear. Scroll down to the star Shape tool. Simply click and drag the star shape onto the artboard. (See this figure.)

Use the Shape tool’s star shape rather than using the Pen tool.

Use the Shape tool’s star shape rather than using the Pen tool.

The rest of the hat can be completed by drawing curves with the Pen tool. Here’s how to draw curves:

  1. With the Pen tool, click the artboard.

    That creates an anchor point.

  2. Moving slightly to the left or right, click and drag.

    The line creates a curve.

  3. Move slightly again and complete the arch with a single click.

  4. You can repeat these actions over and over to complete the hat brim or to add curves to the stripes in the hat.

Always save your artwork every time you think of it. The computer, the program, and your work are all built by humans. Glitches can arise at a moment’s notice, so saving your work is imperative.