by Terry Hemphill


August 29, 2013

The Illustrator Pen Tool

The debut of Adobe Illustrator in 1987 introduced the world to what has since become an icon of graphic design: the Pen tool.

Adobe Illustrator CC pen tools

The Pen tool was first shown widely to users in a video tutorial by Adobe cofounder John Warnock in 1987. Some users found the Pen tool difficult to master at first.

For designers used to analog tools, the new digital Pen tool in Illustrator was confounding, as it was not used to draw and sketch freely, but was used to plot and adjust “anchor points.” But for other designers who struggled to master the technical skills and techniques needed to control a traditional artist’s pen, the Pen tool in Illustrator was their new best friend, allowing them to create, edit and perfect their designs endlessly.


“The advantage of the Pen interface is it gave you absolute control over the curve. You didn’t draw a whole bunch of points and then hope the curve would look good. You could manipulate the curve to get the finest detail. It took some getting used to, but Illustrator is the tool of choice for graphic artists.”
—John Warnock


In many ways, the Pen tool is the most important tool in Illustrator. It is used to create the anchor points that form the basis for designs created in Illustrator, and to connect lines to those points that will create the curves and shapes that are the building blocks of Illustrator.

Like any artistic tool, the Pen tool takes some time to learn. But also like other artistic tools, it encourages creativity. The Pen tool is flexible and inspiring in its broad functionality.


Adobe Illustrator Pen tool icons

Want to polish your Illustrator Pen tool skills? Check out the tutorials below.

pen-tool-vector-tuts pen-tool-veerle-blog pen-tool-adobetv


  • By Mike Shoaf - 7:07 AM on August 29, 2013  

    Man, where would I be without the pen tool? It would be like a carpenter without a hammer.

    For myself, Illustrator *is* the pen tool, and vice-versa.

    • By Riccardo Espineli - 8:22 AM on August 29, 2013  

      Yeah man!! I agreed with you

  • By Shoaib Abbasi - 8:49 AM on August 29, 2013  

    I Like Adobe

  • By Shoaib Abbasi - 8:51 AM on August 29, 2013  

    I Like Adobe but not Best adobe Teacher in Pakistan

  • By Adam - 10:07 AM on August 29, 2013  

    The Pen is Mightier than the Sword!

    • By Bryan - 12:48 PM on August 29, 2013  

      Until you stick a sword into your computer.

  • By Moe Rubenzahl - 12:34 PM on August 29, 2013  

    Agreed: The pen tool changed everything.

    Not sure Adobe Illustrator’s was the first, though. Fontographer (released in 1986) used Bezier curves, I believe, and I don’t recall if the tool for doing so was a pen. When Fontographer’s publisher, Altsys, released FreeHand, it had a pen.

    Anyway, I’m being picky here. Pen tool rocks!

    • By Terry Hemphill - 1:17 PM on August 29, 2013  

      Thanks, Moe. You’re right, Fontographer
      was released before Illustrator — a year before, more or less. Not sure if it did have a pen icon, either. Would be interesting to know.

      If any readers out there remember that first version of Fontographer, please join in.

      Those were really heady times for software development; it’s hard to imagine the leaps in thinking that the product teams were making. They were truly changing design paradigms; moving the world of traditional media and design tools to digital.

  • By Harshad Khandare - 9:06 PM on August 30, 2013  

    Most important tool.

  • By Serkan - 11:08 AM on September 2, 2013  

    Thank you.

  • By Herman van Boeijen - 10:35 AM on September 6, 2013  

    My most precious illustrator skill, along with the tangency and move after placement shortcuts. I think the add, remove and modify shortcuts should come “Maya style”: Z X C, though. Really.. what professional uses Z for zoom?

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