If you’re in graphic designing, chances are pretty high that you’re using Adobe Illustrator regularly. Perhaps, Adobe Illustrator can be overwhelming for beginners. The huge variety of tools and panels – as astonishing as they seem – need some time getting used to. 

Illustrator, one of the most widely used character animation software, offers a plethora of drawing tools found in the Toolbar, each allowing you to create in different ways. These tools are perfect if you want to show your talent and draw like a pro. One such tool is the Pencil tool. 

This instructional blog is a quick and easy overview of the Adobe Illustrator Pencil tool and how to use the pencil tool in Illustrator. Regardless of whether you’re a total newbie to Illustrator or you’ve worked on it a million times, you’ll certainly find this guide to be super helpful! 

So, let's dive in!

What does a Pencil Tool do?

It resembles a pencil, and when you click and drag with it, it forms a line that pretty much follows where you dragged, just as a real pencil would do. A Pencil tool is to design more free-form paths similar to how we usually draw on paper using a pencil. 

A path can be closed like a square or circle or open like a line. Whether closed or open, all paths are made up of anchor points, which regulate the path's direction and shape, and line segments that join those anchor points.

The entire idea behind the Pencil tool is to let you draw exactly what you want — as swiftly or gradually as you want.

Why Use Pencil Tool?

  • The pencil tool is used for drawing freestyle line segments. 
  • Contrary to the pen tool that makes use of plotted anchor points on a line, you can directly use your mouse or drawing tablet to create any shape you want. This is exceptionally brilliant for designers who want to dive right in and create artwork from scratch. 
  • It also works excellently for outlining and tracing existing artwork because of its capability to support variable widths and pressures of stroked paths. 
  • The pencil tool provides the best balance between line accuracy and line smoothness. You can choose whether you want to have a smoother line or a more precise line. 
  • The paths created using the pencil tool can also be edited easily by tracing over the previous path. This makes it even more effortless to get the exact path you’re looking for. 
  • The pencil tool is an excellent alternative to the pen tool in case you’re looking for a simple way to outline, trace, detail, or create new artwork.

Getting Started with the Pencil Tool

Hopefully, these guidelines on how to use the pencil tool in illustrator will serve as an incredible  starting point for you to learn the basics of this drawing tool and bring your creative designs to life.

Illustrator pencil tool

Draw a Straight Line

  • To activate the pencil tool, select the pencil icon from the tools dialog box and click and drag to draw, or press N to activate it. 
  • As soon as the Pencil Tool is chosen, your cursor will turn into a pencil, and you'll find an asterisk (*) sign at the back of the pencil.
  • Place the pencil-shaped cursor on the drawing board and then press and hold the Shift key. 
  • The moment you press the Shift key, the asterisk (*) sign at the back of the pencil cursor will convert into a straight line ( _ ). 
  • And when you see this line, drag the cursor and left-click to draw a straight line.
Illustrator draw a straight line

Note: In case you do not find any lines after you are done drawing, the stroke might be set to zero. Adjust it in the stroke panel while your path is selected for a thicker or thinner line.

Draw a Curved Line

  • To draw a curved path using the Pencil Tool, select the pencil-shaped icon from the toolbar or press N(shortcut key). 
  • Move the cursor on the drawing board and begin drawing with the help of left-clicking. 
  • Move the cursor upward and downward to form waves or curves.
Illustrator draw a curved path

Change a Path

  • Choose the path which you want to change and then select the Pencil Tool. 
  • With the left click, draw a new path close to the anchor points of the previous path.
  • The moment you release the left click, you will see that your old path has been converted to a new path drawn.
Illustrator change a path

Erase a Path

  • In case you have drawn any extra path accidentally, and that is making your artwork look poor, you need not erase the entire work of art.
  • You can use the  Path Erasing Tool, which will be found under the Shaper Tool.
  • First, select the path you want to erase, and then select the Path Erasing Tool and move your cursor over that extra path while left-clicking. 
  • The extra path will disappear the moment you release the left click.
Illustrator erasing a path

Smoothen a Path

  • Under the shaper tool, you will find a Smooth tool to give a smooth finish to your paths or shapes.
  • Draw a shape using the Pencil Tool and then select that shape. 
  • Right-click on the Shaper Tool and then select the Smooth Tool. Your cursor will now appear as a tiny circle. 
  • While left-clicking, move the cursor all across the path or shape you want to smoothen.
  • Once you release the left click, you will see that your path or shape has smoothened out. 
  • See the difference between the two shapes in the image below.
Illustrator smooth tool

Join Paths

  • Join Tool is used to connecting the paths; however, only the paths which are sufficiently close.
  • To join two sufficiently close paths, select the paths, and then select the Join Tool. 
  • While left-clicking, move the cursor from the opening end of one path to the opening end of the other path to join them. 
  • Once you release the left click, you will see that the paths have been joined.
Illustrator join tool

Watch this short video clip to see what all you can do using the Pencil tool in Illustrator.

Wrapping Up

Okay, guys, that’s all you need to know about how to use the pencil tool in Illustrator that you have to get used to and master, facilitate the process of drawing and creating beautiful works of art. 

Hope you have now turned from a newbie to someone who knows the ins and outs of this particular tool. And don’t worry if it takes a while. If you spend a few hours with this tool, you’ll certainly become better at what you do. Who knows, one day, this tool might come in handy in character animation.

So, keep up, stay motivated and draw your heart out!

Frequently Asked Questions

The pencil tool in Illustrator allows you to draw freeform paths by clicking and dragging your mouse or stylus on the canvas. It gives you the freedom to create shapes and lines without being constrained by predefined anchor points. The tool smoothens and refines your strokes, resulting in clean and precise paths. You can adjust settings like fidelity and smoothness for more control over your drawings.

To activate the pencil tool in Illustrator, you can either select it from the toolbar on the left side of the workspace or use the keyboard shortcut ‘N'. Once activated, your cursor will turn into a pencil icon, indicating that you're ready to start drawing.

Drawing with the pencil tool in Illustrator is straightforward. First, activate the tool using either the toolbar or the keyboard shortcut ‘N'. Then, click and drag your mouse or stylus on the canvas to create your desired shape or path. The pencil tool will automatically smooth out your strokes, giving you clean and accurate results.

Using the pencil tool in Adobe is simple. Activate it by selecting it from the toolbar or pressing ‘N'. Once active, you can start drawing by clicking and dragging on the canvas. The tool refines your strokes, ensuring your paths are smooth and well-defined. For further control, you can adjust settings like fidelity and smoothness from the options bar at the top. This tool is excellent for adding a hand-drawn touch to your designs in Adobe applications.