Why You Should Stop Using The Pen Tool In Illustrator

The pen tool was first introduced to the world in 1987 with the first version of Adobe Illustrator. Rather than freehand drawing, the pen tool was used to plot and manipulate anchor points on line segments. Designers were excited about the new possibilities of digital art, but most people had trouble mastering this new and innovative tool. While there have been some great improvements to the pen tool over the last 29 years, it still remains complicated and intimidating for new designers. To make Illustrator more user friendly, Adobe introduced several tools to aid in vector creation. The pen tool is still the primary creation tool in Illustrator, but there are other tools that can be used to accomplish the same (and sometimes better) results when creating vector art.


The Pencil Tool


The pencil tool is used for drawing freeform line segments. Unlike the pen tool that uses plotted anchor points on a line, you can use your mouse or digital drawing tablet to draw any shape you would like. This is great for designers who want to jump right in and create artwork from scratch. It also works well for outlining and tracing existing artwork because of it’s ability to perform variable widths and pressures of stroked paths. You’ll need a drawing tablet that supports this feature while using the pencil tool, but as we’ll explore later in this article, there are ways to accomplish a variable width appearance without using a drawing tablet. The pencil tool offers the greatest balance between line accuracy and line smoothness. You can decide if you would like to have a smoother line or a more accurate line. The paths created with the pencil tool can also be edited simply by tracing over the previous path. This makes it easy to get the exact path you’re looking for. The pencil tool is a great alternative to the pen tool if you’re looking for an easy way to outline, trace, detail, or create new artwork.


The Blob Brush Tool


The blob brush is relatively new to Illustrator. It works similarly to the pencil in that it is a freeform drawing tool. The distinguishing trait of the blob brush is its ability to create filled paths rather than stroked paths. The smoothing options are the same as those found in the pencil tool, and there are also variable pressure options available. Like the pencil tool, the blob brush allows for editing paths simply by redrawing them. Many people use the blob brush to create a base or fill for their artwork. They then switch over to the pencil tool for detailing and outlining.


The Shaper Tool


The shaper tool allows you to draw and combine basic freeform shapes. The polygon tools are still available if you need basic squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles. The magic of the shaper tool is its ability to make any variation of polygonal shapes in any size and any direction. You can also combine these shapes to form complex paths by scribbling on top of multiple shapes. Before the shaper tool, combining shapes required creating the shapes and then using Pathfinder functions to manipulate them. The shapes created using the shaper tool also work with the Live Shapes functionality. You can select these shapes and use the standard transform options to further modify the paths. The shaper tool only creates basic polygons, but it can be used to edit any path, even paths that were not created with the shaper tool.


The Brush Tool


The brush tool is one of the oldest tools in Illustrator. It is used to add brushstrokes to paths. You can perform basic tasks such as adding a bit of dimension to a sketch or you can add more complexity to your artwork by using arrowheads and custom brushstrokes to create patterns. Recently, Adobe added the width tool, which is used to create variable width strokes. Before the width tool was introduced, designers would use custom brushes to variate stroke widths on their outlined artwork. Like the pencil and blob brush tools, the brush tool allows for pressure variation when used with a digital drawing tablet. You can create new paths with the brush tool, but most people find it more helpful for modifying existing strokes. Using the pencil tool in combination with the brush tool will provide you with some detailed and intricate strokes and outlines. The ability to turn any path or group into a custom brush gives you limitless options for creating some very complex artwork without a great deal of effort.


These are only a few of the tools available in Illustrator as alternatives to the pen tool. The tools in Illustrator were designed to work together to give you the most power and flexibility when creating vector art. Some people will argue that the pen tool should never be abandoned because it is the most accurate tool for vector creation. Before leaning towards this opinion, a few things should be considered. First, no matter the task at hand, one should always use the best tool for the job. Second, the pen tool is only the most accurate tool if you are comfortable and efficient with using it. It’s impractical to spend 5 minutes drawing a perfect square when there is a polygon tool available to you. It could take hours to manipulate the pen tool into producing results you could have easily gotten from freehand drawing that path using the pencil or blob brush. In our current digital age, every industry is competitive. There simply isn’t enough time or resources for things that aren’t done accurately and efficiently. The pen tool forces a level of accuracy that very few humans possess. Tools such as the pencil, blob brush, shaper, and brush allow for imperfections without sacrificing time and craftsmanship. There will always be a place for the pen tool, but its place is rapidly moving to the back of the line.