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Drawing smooth curves with the pen tool is literally doing my head in, HEEEEELP!

Mar 4, 2013 12:16 AM

Having just entered the world of illustrator (cs6) I'm finding trying to get smooth curves to do what you want is a highly confusing operation.

Being a fairly competant user of Photoshop the same task can be acheived relatively easily by way drawing paths with the pen tool and simply adding anchor points to drag out the desired shape.

This buisness of dragging out handles in order to create curves in illustrator is crazy, I just can't seem to get the curves to behave how I want them to, I've watched probably 20 tutorials on this now and all demonstrate the same technique for creating curves, is there a more straight forward, simple way to achieve precise smooth curves similar to PS?


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    Mar 4, 2013 12:42 AM   in reply to bargeloobs

    Not really sure what you mean. The Pen Tools in both Photoshop and Illustrator operate pretty much the same. Illustrator has a few more "on-the-fly" options and Photoshop has the "Rubber Band" option. But other than that click-dragging is identical.


    Can you describe the problem better?


    (Also you can export Photoshop paths to Illustrator if that's helpful.)

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    Mar 4, 2013 1:13 AM   in reply to bargeloobs

    As I posted, Illustrator has a few on-the-fly options which Photoshop simply does not. It sounds as though you need to perhaps familiarize yourself with those.


    With the Pen Tool selected, you can hover over any path to add a new anchor. Click-drag if you wish to add a new smooth anchor. You can also hover over any existing anchor and click it to remove that anchor. (this assumes you haven't altered the Auto Add/Delete option in the preferences)


    Holding the Option/Alt key down (Pen Tool still selected) you can click an anchor to convert it from a smooth point to a corner point. If you Option/Alt-Click-Drag on an existing anchor you can convert it to a smooth point (if it isn't one already) and drag out symmetrical handles.


    Holding the Option/Alt key down and clicking on a Bezier handle (Pen Tool Still selected) allows you to move that handle in a non-symmetrical manner.


    Performing clicks or Option/Alt clicks on the anchors at the end of open paths works identically to Photoshop. A Click will activate the anchor and continue drawing from it. A Click-Drag will activate the anchor and allow you to drag out a symmetrical Bezier handle. An Option/Alt-click-drag will activate the anchor and aloow you to drag out a non-symmetrical Bezier handle.


    Adding the Shift key to any of these operations contrains handles to the construction guides set int eh preferences (90° and 45° by default).

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    Mar 4, 2013 2:17 AM   in reply to bargeloobs

    Practice is the answer.

    The key to smooth curves is few anchors and long handles.

    The Pen tool is the most important tool in the box so you really need to master it.

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    Mar 4, 2013 4:43 AM   in reply to bargeloobs



    With the Pen Tool, you do have the option of faking rubber banding and at the same time freely adjusting the positioning of the current Anchor Point as well as the corresponding Handle lengths/directions, if any, until you are satisfied that you have tried out everything relevant before making the current path segment permanent and going on to the next segment. It is even fun.


    If this sounds too silly, it is because we are, Illy and I.


    But before you conlude that, try to ClickDrag with the Pen Tool and keep the button down, then press the Spacebar and move everything about, then let go of the Spacebar and adjust the Handles, then press the Spacebar and move everything about, etc, until you are ready to let the segment go by releasing the button. You may also just Click to start with and Drag out the Handles when you let go of the Spacebar.

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    Mar 4, 2013 6:44 AM   in reply to bargeloobs

    You can learn a lot by studying the anchors and handles on outlined type.

    See how the anchors are positioned on the paths to work most economically and produce nice smooth curves.

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    Mar 5, 2013 7:15 AM   in reply to bargeloobs



    The path drawing method you are trying to use is a technique sometimes called "bendomatic" (coined by Olav Kvern, in the context of FreeHand), and which I often describe as "clickClickBend". The basic idea is you just click, click, click to place only cornerPoints, then go back and drag the middle of the straight segments to impose a curve. In the right program, this is an easy way to teach beginners, and can also be a great technique for experienced users, as it can be used to impart a certain stylistic consistency. (The fact is, Adobe programs are really no good at this; neither Photoshop nor Illustrator. More about this below.)


    What you're struggling with is: The Pen tools of Photoshop and Illustrator work differently.


    In Photoshop, you are accustomed to doing this:


    1. Click, click, click to draw a path consisting of two straight segments.


    2. Mousedown in the middle of one of the straight segments and drag. This creates a Smooth Point and as you drag, its Direction Handles extend, curving the two associated segments.


    So in Illustrator, you try the same thing:


    1. Click, click, click to draw a path consisting of two straignt segments.


    2. Mousedown in the middle of one ofthe straight segments. This immediately creates a Corner Point. Dragging off of it does nothing.



    And that's your frustration; you've just added another Corner Point in the middle of a straight segment. To do what you're trying to do, continue:


    3. Press and hold the Alt key. This momentarily invokes the Convert Anchor Point tool.


    4. Mousedown on the newly added AnchorPoint and drag, extending its Direction Handles.


    As stated above, Adobe's Bezier interface is really not any good at the clickClickBend method. The reason is: What should be just a "bend" move instead invokes the infernal default auto-add, auto-delete behavior which creates an additional Anchor Point. (I--despite being an advocate of the clickClickBend technique--always have the behavior turned off in Illustrator's General Prefs.)


    A program which really facilitates the clickClickBend drawing method does not rely upon creation of additional anchors. Using the method in FreeHand, for example, you can bend a straight segment by dragging its middle. Doing so automatically adjusts the handles of that segment  accordingly; no new anchorPoint and no additional segment is created. The same goes for Xara Designer Pro. In fact, in Designer Pro this is the primary  drawing method for its primary drawing tool. 


    In Illustrator, the whole matter is first complicated by the program's historic insistence on two stupid selection tools, and is then further confounded because of the behavior of the white pointer: You can  "just bend" an already curved segment, but the very same move on a straight segment just moves the whole segment (despite the interface's indicating that the two associated and moving anchors are "unselected"). This kind of inconsistency on two levels is particularly confusing to newcomers. Moreover, the bending of an already curved segment is most often useless, because the adjustments of the associated Direction Handles is only in length, not in length and direction.


    So for you, joobbob, the lottombine is this: In Illustrator, (and Photoshop, too, really) you need to work toward losing your dependency upon this method. Using it alone creates needless segments and in many situations, those extra anchors will confound your ability to draw curves without unwanted kinks or flat spots.


    Instead, get accustomed to using the clickClickDrag method to create curved and straight segments as you draw the initial path. As you draw with the Pen, anticipate which segments need to be curved, and which need to be straight. As you proceed, just click to place a Corner Point; but clickDrag to place a Smooth Point. That way, most of the segments that need to have extended handles will already have them. When they don't, or when the handles need to be adjusted (as many will until you develop a strong sense of where anchors should be placed and of anticipating the results of an extended handle), you can press a modifier key to momentarily invoke the white pointer (or Convert tool) to go back and make the adjustment, and the Pen will resume where it left off when you release the modifier key.


    After you're comfortable doing that, then practice using the Alt key to create non-tangent joins between curved segments (what Corel refers to as a "Cusp"): ClickDrag like you are placing a tangent Smooth Point, but before mouseup, press and hold Alt and continue to drag. That will let you further move the outgoing handle under the cursor without further affecting the incoming handle, thereby breaking the tangency.



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