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.)
If I were tracing or creating a curved shape in PS I'd simply add points with the pen tool and then add and subtract anchor points to pull out the desired shape.
I can add points with the pen tool easily enough and create the hard edged outline within illustrator but when I select the "add anchor point tool' to draw out my smooth curves I get an error saying "please add the anchor point tool on the segment of a path" and if I try and drag out the point I'd added with the direct selection tool I get a hard (cornered) edge instead of a smooth curve.
I hope this makes sense.
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).
I see what you mean, it's figuring out where on the path you put those anchor points to achieve the smoothest line, like you say long handles seem to be the key, the only thing I've noticed with that is when you start drawing out long handles in order to manipulate your curve the whole art board goes shooting off the screen if your not careful. It's just frustrating when you want to get creating the art in your head, but have to spend all this time learning new techniques just to perform simple actions, it's going to be a steep learning curve I feel.
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.
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.
Nice answer man. You're right the biggest hurdle for me is getting over the fact that I'm not in Photoshop and getting my head around different (but ultimately superior) drawing techniques. So far I've managed to 'place' a complex curved logo I was working on in PS and totally recreate it in illustrator and with a fair bit of frustration along the way it's actually coming along quite nicely.
Now for the next hurdle, figuring out custom color swatches, dynamic gradients and shimmer/reflection techniques, woo hoo there's goes another 2 weeks of my life!!!