I know quite a few people who are baffled by the pen tool so I thought I’d do a basic tutorial on how to use it. I use Photoshop CS5. The pen tool in Illustrator also works in a very similar way (although, for some reason, I personally find it much easier to use than the one in Photoshop). If you have a different version of Photoshop, don’t worry! The pen tool works pretty much the same way in most versions of Photoshop.
In the drop menu for the pen tool there are some more useful tools that I will show you how to use in this tutorial.
The pen tool does not draw lines the same way the brush tool does. Instead it draws a path which you can “stroke” with most of the tools in your tool bar such as brush (which will draw a nice smooth line), eraser, smudge, blur, etc. If you join the ends of the path to form a shape, you can also choose to fill the shape with colour or select the area inside the shape.
To use the pen tool, start by clicking the canvas and you will notice an “anchor” or “node” appear. Anchors direct the path where to go. By clicking on the anchor and dragging to the side you will notice two lines appear and the path curves. The lines act as guides for the path to travel along.
You will notice that when you have a guide line on your path pointing in one direction, it makes it a bit hard to make a hard turn on your path in a different direction.
This is when you use the “convert point tool” in the pen drop menu. With this tool you can click on the handle at the end of the guides and move them. If I want to make a drastic turn on my path I grab the handle and move it right onto its anchor which pretty much makes it disappear so that the next anchor you make will have total control over the path.
By using the convert point tool on anchors without guide lines and dragging, you can create guide lines and make a new curve in your path, even if the anchor is in the middle of your path.
Another way to use the covert point tool is by holding “command” or “ctrl”, clicking on an anchor and dragging in order to move the anchor point. To move the entire path, you can use the “path selection tool” (located below the pen tool on the tool bar) which will move the path without disturbing anything you have on the canvas.
The “add anchor point tool” and “delete anchor point tool” in the drop menu are fairly self explanatory. When using the add anchor tool, just click on any section of your already made path and an anchor will appear. To use the delete anchor tool, just click on an anchor point you don’t want anymore and it will disappear.
Finally, there is the “freeform pen tool”. To use this tool you need to draw with it as you would the brush tool and instead of drawing a line, it will make a path. By clicking on the path with the covert point tool you will be able to see the anchors used to create the path. I rarely use this tool because, unlike the pen tool, it does not create very smooth lines. However, it is a good tool to use if you need to make some rough selections or lines.
One of the handy things about the pen tool is that it creates very smooth lines and, although it can be time consuming, many use it to create lineart. Stroking your path with tools such as the eraser and the blur tools will only work if there is already something on the canvas.
When you stroke the path, the size, hardness, shape, etc of the tool you are using is taken from the settings currently on the tool you are using. So if you stroked a path with your brush then decided you want to make the line thinner you will need to undo the stroke you just made, click onto the brush tool and make the brush size smaller, then click on the pen and stroke the path again.
I hope this tutorial helps and, if you have any questions, leave a comment!