In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how to create straight lines using Illustrator’s Pen tool. In the second part, we saw how to create curves and circles and the slightly more tricky aspect of combining curves with straight lines. In this post, we’ll take a look at how to edit those paths we’ve drawn with the Pen tool. In fact most of what we’re covering today can be applied even if you used a Shape tool or any other path-creation tool.

It’s not unusual to have to edit a path you’ve drawn with the Pen tool, particularly when you’re starting out it can be difficult to draw a segment right the first time. We can go back at any time to a path and add, delete and move anchor points and segments. When we move an anchor point, the segments that are connected to it change. When we move a straight segment, the anchor points on the segment move with it. When we move a curved segment, the curve changes, but the anchors connected to curve stay in the same spot. We can also change a curved segment by dragging the direction handles to change the size of the curve and the direction of the curve. So let’s get started.

Moving an Anchor Point or Segment

1. Start by drawing out a straight line with the Pen tool. Create three anchor points.

2. Select the Direct Selection tool (that’s the white arrow) on the Tools panel.

3. Make sure no points are selected by clicking a blank area of the artboard to deselect all points.

4. Click once to select the anchor point in the middle of the line you’ve drawn. When the anchor point is selected the anchor point appears as a filled box. Drag down and you’ll see how the anchor point you’ve selected moves while the anchors at each end of the line remain the same. The segments attached to the centre anchor point are affected.



5. Click on the segment between the middle anchor point and the last anchor point (on the right hand side). Notice that this time the segment you’ve selected moves, as does the segment which is attached to it. Both anchor points on each end of the segment move too.


6. Try out steps 2 – 5 on a curved path. When you click on a curve anchor point, you’ll see the direction handles which define the direction and size of the curve.

Notice how, as you drag the anchor point, the shape of the path changes.

When you click and drag on a segment between two curved points the segment and the direction handles on the anchor points move. You could consider this a cruder method for editing a curved path.

To reshape a curved segment more accurately, click an anchor point then drag a direction point at the end of the direction handle. As you drag a direction handle, the curve will bend in the direction the handle is dragged, just as we saw when learning how to create curves in the previous part of this series.

Tips for moving anchor points

  • For a smaller movements, click the anchor point to select it, then press an arrow key to move the anchor point one pixel at a time. Hold down Shift to move the anchor point 10 pixels at a time.
  • To constrain the movement of anchor points or segments to 45 degrees, hold down Shift while dragging.


Moving an entire path

To select and move an entire path, choose the Selection tool from Tools panel and then click on the path you want. You’ll see that every anchor point is selected at once and when you drag, the entire path will move.



Adding and Deleting Anchor Points
Often you’ll want to add extra anchor points to your lines, or delete anchor points that you don’t need. Remember, a good rule of thumb is to use as few anchor points as possible to achieve smooth lines.

The Tools panel contains three tools for adding or deleting points: the Pen tool , the Add Anchor Point tool , and the Delete Anchor Point tool image0171.

Let’s say I want to add a point to an existing path. There are two ways to do it. Either use the Pen tool and click anywhere on the path, or use the Add Anchor Point tool and click anywhere on the path.

Add And Delete Points in Illustrator 1

Once the new point is added you can select it and drag it or manipulate it anyway you want to.

Add And Delete Points in Illustrator 2


To get rid of an existing anchor point, select the Delete Anchor Point tool from the toolbox or press the minus sign (-) on the keyboard. Alternatively, if you have the Pen tool currently selected, when you run the cursor over an anchor point it will automatically change to the Delete Anchor Point tool. Then click on the point you want to delete.

Add And Delete Points Illustrator 3

You can see that the shape of the line has now changed.

Convert between smooth points and corner points

We can convert the points on a path between corner to smooth points. Basically this means we can make “pointy” anchor points look curvy and make curvy points look straight. You can convert one point at a time using the Convert tool or you can convert multiple anchor points using the Control panel at the top of the screen.

Convert an anchor point using the Convert Anchor Point tool

  1. Using the Selection or Direct Selection tool, select the entire path you want to modify so that you can see its anchor points.
  2. Select the Convert Anchor Point tool .
  3. Position the Convert Anchor Point tool over the anchor point you want to convert, and do one of the following:
    • To convert a straight point to a curved point, click and drag a direction point out of the corner point.
      Illustrator Convert Point 1
    • To convert a curved point to a straight point without direction lines, click the curved point.
      Convert Anchor Point

Convert one or more anchor points using the Control panel

Select only the points that you want to change on the object. If you select multiple objects, one of the objects must be only partially selected. When entire objects are selected, the Control panel options change to those that affect the entire object.

  1. To convert one or more corner points to smooth points, select the points and then click the Convert Selected Anchor Points To Smooth button in the Control panel.Convert Multiple Points
  2. To convert one or more smooth points to corner points, select the points and then click the Convert Selected Anchor Points To Corner button in the Control panel.Convert Mulitple Points 2

So there you have it. In this series we’ve looked at how to create straight and curved lines using the Pen tool and how to edit those points using the Selection, Direction Selection, Convert, Add Anchor Point and Delete Anchor Point tools. I hope you’ve found it useful.


Illustrator Pen Tool Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 

Jennifer Farley

Jennifer Farley is an illustrator, designer, author and design teacher based in Ireland. She has been teaching design for over 14 years and helps people learn Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom,Illustrator and graphic design skills to improve their job prospects and their business.

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