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Editing with Direct Selection Tool

There are several tools that can be used to edit the color, size, and shape of existing paths. For now, you will learn how to use the Direct Selection Tool, the Shapebuilder Tool, and the Width Tool to edit the shapes and paths that you have already made.

The Direct Selection Tool is used to select specific anchor points and segments of paths. It is distinct from the Selection Tool that you have been using, which is used to select entire objects and move them around.

Return to the top left box of the artboard where you tested out the Pen Tool, then take the Direct Selection Tool (A) from the top of the left toolbar. If you think that any segment of your path or anchor point locations need adjusting, the Direct Selection Tool can easily fix the issue. Select a point along either curve in your flag that you would like to adjust. You can do this by either clicking directly on an anchor point or by clicking and dragging over it. You can see that this reveals the handles of the selected anchor point.

If the anchor point that you select does not stay highlighted, you may have to toggle the visibility of the edges for your points. Going to the program's Menu, then View, then clicking Show Edges may fix this problem. If you select the wrong points, you can Deselect by simply clicking on a blank space of the artboard.

Click on the handles and drag them around to adjust the shape of the curve until you are satisfied with its shape.

Screenshot demonstrating how to adjust curves with the Direct Selection Tool.

The Direct Selection Tool can also be used to move anchor points and path segments to different locations while they are still connected to the rest of the path. For example, you can adjust the width of the flagpole by shifting the path on one side closer to the other side.

Click on the path that makes up the right side of the flagpole. If you have multiple path segments here, you can select all of them by clicking and dragging across them or by holding Shift when clicking on each segment. With the correct path or paths selected, drag the line segment around. Notice that you are able to drag the line segment around while it is still connected to the rest of the object. If the whole flag moves, you may need to Deselect and try selecting the right paths again.

Screenshot demonstrating how line segments of an object can be moved with the Direct Selection Tool.

Return the line segment to its original place along the template lines of the flagpole.

Editing with Curvature and Pen Tools

You may have found it difficult to get a smooth curve shape on the ends of the flagpole when you were using the Pen Tool to trace the template lines. If so, this can be fixed using the Curvature Tool.

Select the Curvature Tool (Shift + `) from the left toolbar. Here, you can see all of the points that mark curves on the path. To smooth out the curve at the top of the flagpole, click and drag the point at the top of the curve slightly upwards. If you only had two points on either side of the curve like the image below, you can see that the curve is automatically smoothed out with the Curvature Tool.

Screenshot of the flagpole's corrected curve.

If you instead placed multiple anchor points, you might find that using the Curvature Tool here is not much help, or even that it makes the curve look worse.

This can be fixed just by deleting a few anchor points around the top of the pole. To do this, click on the point you want to delete, then press Delete on your keyboard. You can always zoom in if the handles on all of the anchor points clutter your view.

It is also possible to add new points by clicking once anywhere on the path with the Curvature Tool. The newly added points will be curved points by default, meaning that the connected path segments will be curved if you drag the point around. To make the connected path segments straight, you can double click on the point to make it a sharp edge.

With the Curvature Tool, adjust the remaining anchor points and paths until you are satisfied with how the flag looks. Remember that you can:

  • Delete points by selecting anchor points and pressing Delete.
  • Add points by clicking once on existing paths.
  • Make curved lines straight (and vice versa) by double clicking on their anchor points.

When you are done, the final result should line up with the template lines better than it originally did.

Screenshot of the flagpole after edits.

Coloring with the Shapebuilder Tool

You already know that you can change the fill and stroke colors of paths as you place them, but using this method can quickly become tedious when making more detailed illustrations. Using the Shapebuilder Tool to color existing objects is one method that can speed up the process among others.

Move your view back to the the bottom right corner of the artboard where you previously made the flower, then select the entire flower with the Selection Tool (V). Next, take the Shapebuilder Tool (Shift + M) from the left toolbar. When you have this tool in hand, you can choose different colors from the swatches without altering the color of the object that you have selected. You do not have to pick a stroke color because this tool does not affect stroke colors, but you can still change fill colors.

In the Swatches panel, select a yellow fill color, then click once on the flower's center. Do not click and drag through other shapes because the tool will then combine the highlighted shapes together. After coloring the center of the flower, choose a green fill color from the Swatches panel then click on the stem or leaves. Finally, choose a different fill color of your choice, then click individually on each of the flower petals. Your flower should look similar to the image below.

Screenshot of the colored flower.

Using the Width Tool

Now that you have colored the flower, you can change the stroke colors and width. Select the Selection Tool (V) again, then choose a different stroke color while you still have the flower selected. It is important that you do not have the Shapebuilder Tool in hand if you want new colors to immediately apply to the flower's stroke color.

Normally, you can change the width of a paths' stroke by altering the Stroke Weight, which can be found on the control bar near the top of the program next to "Stroke".

Screenshot highlighting the location of the Stroke box.

This box allows you to control the width of your selected strokes by clicking the arrow buttons, typing in a numerical value, or by simply scrolling the wheel of your mouse while you hover over the box. There is also a box immediately to the right of the Stroke Weight called "Variable Width Profile" that allows you to choose the thickness of the stroke distributed along the path. The Variable Width Profile's default is set to "Uniform," which gives the selected strokes an even, consistent thickness.

Make sure your flower is still selected. In the Stroke Weight box, change the width of the flower's stroke by clicking on the up arrow until it says "3pt". The change should be noticeable.

Screenshot fo the flower with a 3 pt uniform stroke.

For illustration design that needs a non-uniform stroke weight, you can use the Width Tool to vary the thickness of path segments using specified points. Select the Width Tool (Shift + W) from the left toolbar to try it out. On the tip of one of your flower petals, click and hold on the path to place your width point, then slightly drag away from the path. Illustrator will give you a preview of the stroke's new outline that will be made. When you are satisfied with the shape of the preview, you can release the click to apply the changes.

Screenshot demonstrating the use of the Width Tool.

You should be able to see all three points associated with the custom width, which are:

  • The width point on the path that sets the custom width's location.
  • The other two points (on either side of the width point) that specify the shape of the new width.

Screenshot demonstrating how width points are created using the Width Tool.

If you are unhappy with the placement of the width point, you can slide it down the path by clicking and dragging the width point. It is also possible to adjust the thickness of an existing width point by moving either of the other points as well.

Use the Width Tool to make the strokes on the tips of the other petals so that they roughly match the first petal. The width of your strokes should look similar to the image below.

Screenshot of the final edits to the flower using the Width Tool.

Save your work before continuing by pressing Ctrl + S (Command + S on Mac).

Concluding Editing Existing Shapes

In this section you learned:

  • How to edit the curve of existing paths with the Direct Selection Tool and the Curvature Tool.
  • How to add and remove anchor points from an existing path.
  • How to color objects with the Shapebuilder Tool.
  • How to edit the width of strokes with the Width Tool.

If you would like to see more tips for editing existing shapes, watch the video tutorial listed below to learn more. This resource will also be listed at the end of the tutorial so there is no need to watch it immediately. You can move on to the next section, Shapes Review, when you are ready.