adobe illustrator pen tool tutorial

Adobe Illustrator Tutorial using Pen Tool

In Adobe Illustrator, for Beginners, Pen Tool Tutorials, Step by Step Adobe Illustrator Tutorials by Jason Secrest


In this step-by-step Adobe Illustrator Pen Tool Tutorial, we will go through a basic process of applying the pen tool and some different options if you are struggling. We go through a complete workflow using the pen tool and our cartoon brushes. We will be doing some basic coloring with the Live Paint Bucket.

adobe illustrator tutorial pen tool coyote


We are going through some different options for the pen tool. The few things to remember is to focus on getting down the anchors first. We have a lot of our tutorials that focus just on straight lines and placing anchors. The easy parts of the line are the start and end points which means you just have to look for changes in direction in the middle. Click and drag your mouse in the direction you want to go (slowly).


There are easy ways of approaching the pen tool. Start with straight lines and only look for changes in direction. Using your white arrow(A) select the point that look like they are curved and click on the smooth curves button. If your pen tool keeps adding a new anchor rather than a new line then make sure the line isn’t still selected. You will notice a + as you hover over the line if it thinks you want to add an anchor. Anchor Tool(Shift C) will reset and manually drag out each curve.


The line variation be simplified by looking at the ends of each of your lines. If it is floating out in space then it signals a tapered end. If the end point bumps up against another line or shape, this is a good signal that it should be wide. Use the width tool to adjust the thickness in areas to support the character and light source.

Beginner Top Tips

Zoom In

All of our initial preferences are designed to gain more control over what you are clicking on. The more you can zoom in and see your anchors and handles the better.

Smart Guides

Under VIEW make sure you have your smart guides turned on. Under your PREFERENCES (smart guides) you should definitely have your anchor/ path labels selected.

Anchor and Handle Size

In your (general) PREFERENCES there is a setting which can enlarge your anchor points and handles to make them easier for you to see before clicking.

Direct Selection Tool

The white arrow can grab and adjust the anchors, handles, and paths. All of the other settings are designed to let you know what you are selecting before you click and drag.

Adding on Line Variation using Cartoon Brushes

You will have more control over the placement and width of each of your lines using the Cartoon Brushes (Download + Install). The process will be a combination of using the Brushes to get down the initial thickness and stroke width. The second step will be modifying the placement of the variation using so we can edit it later. This 2-Step Process allows for more control over your Line Variation compared to using your Tablet with Pressure.

illustrator cartoon brushes
STEP #1: DOWNLOAD BRUSHES. Many of you are jumping over from YouTube looking to download our Cartoon and Illustrator Brush Libraries. Our (Updated) 200 Adobe Illustrator Brushes are specifically designed for Illustrators and Cartoonists to speed up their workflows. You can download our 200 Adobe Illustrator Brushes to follow along with the Tutorials or use them with Your Own Vector Artwork.
STEP #2: EXTRACT FOLDERS. The first step will be to download and extract the Resource Folders. The Folders will come as a Zipped Folder on Teachable. Once you have Downloaded and Extracted the Folders, they are ready to be used in Adobe Illustrator. Follow Along with our Resource Guides and Tutorials to practice applying and editing Brushes + Halftones + Textures.
STEP #3: FOLLOW ALONG. If you are following along on YouTube, I recommend starting with our 100 Adobe Illustrator Beginner Tutorials Playlists. This playlist will focus on Building Tools, Applying Brushes, Editing Options, and Basic Coloring Techniques. *I have included our Resources to follow along with the 100 Tutorials Playlist on YouTube and 50 Step by Steps on the Website. 



Adobe Illustrator Brush Libraries include our 70 Cartoon, 100 Comic Strip, and 50 Vintage Mascot Brushes

70 Adobe Illustrator Cartoon Brushes specifically designed for Cartoonists and Illustrators who are looking to speed up their workflows. Use Cartoon Illustrator Brushes with the Pen, Pencil or Paint Brush Tools to Apply different Line Variation to your Vector Artwork. Includes 70+ Cartoon Brushes (libraries include the Updated Cartoon, Cartoon 2, and Original Cartoon Brush Libraries).
100 Hand Painted + Comic Strip Brushes to get a lived in feel back into your Vector Art. Comic Strips and Hand Painted are painted based on some of my favorite artists and cartoonists. These brushes are designed to look ready for the Sunday Paper. Includes 100+ Brushes (libraries include the Updated Comic Strip, Hand-Painted, Paintbrush, and Fine Liner Brush Libraries).
50 Jittery Hand, Caffeinated Cartoonist + Rough Ink Brushes to Mimic Paper Bleed and Caffeine. Designed to be a little less stiff with your vector art. Use these Brush Libraries to get more of a distressed look or ink bleed back in your own Vector Artwork with heavy ink and a little more wobble. Includes 50+ Brushes (libraries include the updated Caffeinated Cartoonist, Rough Ink, and Jittery Hand Brush Libraries).



Editing using the Shape Builder Tool

Shape Builder is a tool that can be used to give an alternative to the Eraser Tool while Editing. In order to use Shape Builder, you will need to Expand the Brush Layer. Select All - Expand (or Expand Appearance + Expand). I do recommend duplicating a Brushes Layer to preserve a Live Brush Layer for future edits. Once the Brushes are Expanded, Select All + click on the Shape Builder Tool. The Alt/Option key will switch the Shape Builder Tool to delete mode. Simply Click or Drag through the stray or overlapped areas to delete. Remember to keep holding down the Alt/Option. You can also Turn On/Off the Highlighting by double-clicking on the Shape Builder Tool. The flashing gets irritating.

Expand Appearance: I do recommend Expanding your Brushes Layer before using Shape Builder. This will prevent bouncing of the Brushes and Line Variation. It will also move toward an efficiency model to save time so you are not stopping and editing while you are still building.

Select your All on Brushes Layer: In order to use the Shape Builder Tool, you will need to select an Object or All Objects so the Tool knows what it should interact with. You can modify what is selected by choosing smaller areas if selecting all becomes too overwhelming.

Hold Alt/Option: When you hold down your Alt/Option Key while using the Shape Builder Tool to Delete Mode. I do recommend turning off the Highlighting when in this mode. Drag or click on any of the overlapped or stray marks to delete using the Shape Builder Tool.

How to Color in Adobe Illustrator

One of the easiest and fastest ways of filling in your color is through Live Paint. Live Paint Bucket is a part of the Shape Builder Tools which builds the shapes in the exact shape you need it. Select All. Go up to Object - Live Paint - Make. If you have a grayed out Make it simply means you didn't have anything selected. I do recommend Deselecting by clicking on your artboard before clicking on a Color Swatch. *Remember Everything is still Selected so it will Color the Full Selection if you click on a Color Swatch with everything selected. Click on the Live Paint Bucket (K) and Click to Dump Color. It will feel like the Paint Bucket in Adobe Photoshop. 

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