User Guide Cancel

Draw with the Pencil tool

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  2. Get to know InDesign
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    10. Graphics
      1. Understand paths and shapes
      2. Draw with the Pencil tool
      3. Draw with the Pen tool
      4. Apply line (stroke) settings 
      5. Compound paths and shapes
      6. Edit paths
      7. Clipping paths
      8. Change corner appearance
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    2. Known issues
    3. Crash on launch
    4. Preference folder read-only issue
    5. Troubleshoot file issues
    6. Unable to export InDesign file to PDF
    7. InDesign document recovery

Draw with the Pencil tool

The Pencil tool works primarily the same way in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. It lets you draw open and closed paths as if you were drawing with a pencil on paper. It is most useful for fast sketching or creating a hand-drawn look. Once you draw a path, you can immediately change it if needed.

Anchor points are set down as you draw with the Pencil tool; you do not determine where they are positioned. However, you can adjust them once the path is complete. The number of anchor points set down is determined by the length and complexity of the path and by tolerance settings in the Pencil Tool Preferences dialog box. These settings control how sensitive the Pencil tool is to the movement of your mouse or graphics-tablet stylus.

Draw freeform paths with the Pencil tool

  1. Select the Pencil tool  .
  2. Position the tool where you want the path to begin, and drag to draw a path. The Pencil tool  displays a small x to indicate drawing a freeform path.

    As you drag, a dotted line follows the pointer. Anchor points appear at both ends of the path and at various points along it. The path takes on the current stroke and fill attributes, and remains selected by default.

Draw closed paths with the Pencil tool

  1. Select the Pencil tool.
  2. Position the tool where you want the path to begin, and start dragging to draw a path.
  3. After you’ve begun dragging, hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS). The Pencil tool displays a small circle (and, in InDesign, a solid eraser) to indicate that you’re creating a closed path.
  4. When the path is the size and shape you want, release the mouse button (but not the Alt or Option key). After the path closes, release the Alt or Option key.

    You don’t have to position the cursor over the starting point of the path in order to create a closed path; if you release the mouse button in some other location, the Pencil tool will close the shape by creating the shortest possible line back to the original point.

Edit paths with the Pencil tool

You can edit any path using the Pencil tool and add freeform lines and shapes to any shape.

Add to a path with the Pencil tool

  1. Select an existing path.
  2. Select the Pencil tool.
  3. Position the pencil tip on an endpoint of the path.

    You can tell you’re close enough to the endpoint when the small x next to the pencil tip disappears.

  4. Drag to continue the path.

Connect two paths with the Pencil tool

  1. Select both paths (Shift-click or drag around the two with the Selection tool).
  2. Select the Pencil tool.
  3. Position the pointer where you want to begin from one path, and start dragging toward the other path.
  4. After you begin dragging, hold down Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS). The Pencil tool displays a small merge symbol to indicate you’re adding to the existing path.
  5. Drag onto the endpoint of the other path, release the mouse button, and then release the Ctrl or Command key.

    For best results, drag from one path to the other as if you were simply continuing the paths in the direction they were created.

Reshape paths with the Pencil tool

  1. Select the path you want to change.
  2. Position the Pencil tool on or near the path to redraw.

    You can tell you’re close enough to the path when the small x disappears from the tool.

  3. Drag the tool until the path is the desired shape.
    Using the Pencil tool to edit a closed shape


    Depending on where you begin to redraw the path and in which direction you drag, you may get unexpected results. For example, you may unintentionally change a closed path to an open path, change an open path to a closed path, or lose a portion of a shape.

Pencil tool options

Double-click the Pencil tool  to set any of the following options:


Controls how far you have to move your mouse or stylus before a new anchor point is added to the path. The higher the value, the smoother and less complex the path. The lower the value, the more the curves will match the pointer’s movement, resulting in sharper angles. Fidelity can range from 0.5 to 20 pixels.


Controls the amount of smoothing applied when you use the tool. Smoothness can range from 0% to 100%. The higher the value, the smoother the path. The lower the value, the more anchor points are created, and the more the line’s irregularities are preserved.

Fill New Pencil Strokes

(Illustrator only) Applies a fill to pencil strokes you draw after selecting this option, but not to existing pencil strokes. Remember to select a fill before you draw the pencil strokes.

Keep Selected

Determines whether to keep the path selected after you draw it. This option is selected by default.

Edit Selected Paths

Determines whether or not you can change or merge a selected path when you are within a certain distance of it (specified with the next option).

Within: _ pixels

Determines how close your mouse or stylus must be to an existing path in order to edit the path with the Pencil tool. This option is only available when the Edit Selected Paths option is selected.


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Adobe MAX 2024

Adobe MAX
The Creativity Conference

Oct 14–16 Miami Beach and online

Adobe MAX

The Creativity Conference

Oct 14–16 Miami Beach and online