One of the most challenging areas to grasp when working with the Pen Tool, paths and anchor points in Adobe’s applications that supports these features (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) is the idea of working with handles. If you read through my last post, you already know what handles are. If you aren’t aware, they are small control bars with knobby ends that control the curvature of a path. For more information on this, please take a look through these posts below.
Once you understand the idea behind how handles work and get a little practice with them, you’ll fall in love with what they can do. You’ll also begin to understand how digital illustrators create the magic they create. Everyone starts at the bottom and those who persevere become proficient and may even reach success.
In today’s post, I’m going to walk through a very brief explanation of how handles work. I’ll create some handles out of thin air, convert them into the type I want to work with and then explain how they can effect a path. Once you’re finished reading this post, you should have the knowledge you need to start experimenting yourself in the application of your choice. It’s all very simple once you get the hang of it, so be sure to read on!
Creating a Shape
Don’t get too hung up on how to create shapes. I’ll be talking about that topic a lot in later posts. For now, just know that I used the Rectangle Tool to draw a random rectangle in the middle of my workspace. I also filled it with the color blue and gave it a nice black stroke. You can probably guess how I did that by looking at the options bar up above the workspace.
And here is the rectangle itself.
This shape I created is going to set me up for the rest of this post.
Looking at the Current Anchor Points
If I change tools to, say, the Move Tool and click away from the shape layer, any anchor points that may have been visible disappear. To get these anchor points to reappear, I’d need to use either the Path Selection Tool or the Direct Selection Tool. If I used the Path Selection Tool, I could click on the shape and move it in its entirety. If I clicked the Direct Selection Tool, I could click on just one anchor point and move only that one. Or two – however many I decided to select. To learn more about these two tools, please take a look at this post.
For now, I’ll use the Direct Selection Tool and I’ll click on one of the corners of the rectangle. Let’s see what happens.
You’d have to look at the corners closely to see this, but the anchor point that’s inside the red circle is solid while the others are hollow. That means that the solid one is the one that’s currently selected.
What you may not realize is that when initially dealing with anchor points in shapes, they are considered Corner Points, meaning, the have no handles or abilities to change the curvature of the paths that are connected to it. To learn more about this type of anchor point and the other two as well, please read through this post. I wrote all about them just this week.
My goal for this post is to create a Cusp Point that will give me the ability to control the curvature of paths independently – right now, my focus is on the top one. In order to accomplish this, I’ll use the Convert Point Tool.
The Convert Point Tool
Again, don’t get caught up on how to use this tool. I’m merely walking you through the process I need to take to get to the point of this post. But follow along anyway because you might learn something.
Now that the upper left corner is selected, I can activate the Convert Point Tool. I’ll head over to the left vertical toolbar and click and drag out the Pen Tool. At the bottom of the list that appears is the one I’m interested in.
Now, if I head over to the anchor point, I can click right on the point and drag out in any direction. The goal of doing this is to convert the Corner Point to a Smooth Point. This is me clicking and dragging out. I haven’t let go of my mouse button yet.
And this is what the shape looks like after I let go of the mouse button.
Notice how both sides of the anchor point are curved. That’s how the Smooth Point behaves.
The next thing I’d like to do is to convert the Smooth Point into a Cusp Point. This type of point doesn’t keep the handles bound to one another. So, if I hold down the Alt key on my keyboard and then click and drag out on the anchor point again, one of the handles will disappear and another one will form. This time though, the new handle will be independent from the opposing one and I’ll have the ability to modify the curvature of the paths independently.
For this example, I’ll drag the lower handle right into the upper left anchor point corner, which will give me a nice straight right side edge. Also, I’ll go ahead and follow the same instructions I just gave and I’ll create a Cusp Point at the upper right corner. I’ll end up with something that looks like this below.
How Do Control Handles Work?
If you use control handles for any length of time, you’ll likely figure this out yourself. But for the uninitiated, I’ll go ahead an explain a few key concepts.
Think of the end of a control handle as a magnet. Also, think of a related path as made from something metallic. If you move a control handle out, away from the anchor point, it’s going to attract part of the path. The area that’s being attracted is going to bend towards the end of the handle. You can see the result of this in the screenshot above.
To clarify the point I’m trying to make, I’ll add some arrows that point from the area of the path that’s being attracted to the end of the handle that’s doing the attracting.
What To Expect When Using Control Handles
When working with control handles, you need to remember that the curvature you create has nothing to do with the anchor point. Any curve you acquire is a relationship between the end of the handle and the path itself. While there is a line that connects the end of the handle to the anchor point, you can almost ignore that. It’s merely there to remind you which anchor point it belongs to. If you were to somehow remove that connecting line, the magnet would have the same exact effect.
This is sort of tough to understand. I get that. As you pull the ends of the handles around, it seems like the curve is emanating from the end of the path. That’s simply because that’s where the path is originating from. If you disconnected the path from the anchor point, the entire thing would snap to the control handle end. Here’s another example of what the top path looks like after I move the handles. I kept the arrows in this screenshot for you.
If you unattached the path from the anchor points, you’d end up with another straight path right between the two handle ends.
I’ll admit that the Pen Tool, anchor points and control handles can take a lot out of you. The thing is, you need to constantly remind yourself that the more challenging something is, the fewer people there are doing it proficiently. The fewer the people, the less competition. That means that if you become an expert at working with the Pen Tool in any of the supporting Adobe applications, you’ll be more valuable to someone who is willing to pay you for it. You’ll be able to dictate your price. That’s a wonderful thing.
Anyway, I hope I gave you some valuable information in this post. There’s a lot to learn on this subject and I’m trying to break it down into small chunks. Eventually, it’ll all be out there and you can chew on it as often as you’d like. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment area below. Thanks for reading!