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Adobe Illustrator CS5 : Working with Paths (part 1) - Understanding types of paths , Understanding anchor points

10/22/2014 9:34:18 PM
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The most basic element in Illustrator is a path. A path is what Illustrator calls the black line segment that appears when you draw a line. When you select a path, its anchor points appear. A path must have at least two anchor points, which appear as small squares along the path and control which way the path goes. Paths look different in Preview and Outline modes. In Preview mode, you actually see the line weight, dashed style, color, and any effects applied to that line. In Outline mode, you simply see a thin line. Without two anchor points, you can't draw a path like the one shown in Figure 1. Conceptually, there's no limit to the number of anchor points or segments that you can have in any one path. Depending on the type of anchor points that are on either end of a line segment, you can make a segment straight or curved. A single anchor point never prints anything.

Figure 1. This path consists of two anchor points.

1. Understanding types of paths

Now that you know what a path is, you should understand the three major types of paths:

  • Open paths. Two distinct endpoints, with any number of anchor points in between. An example of this is a simple line that you draw with the Pencil tool.

  • Closed paths. Continuous paths, with no endpoints and no start or end — a closed path just continues around and around. An example of this is a shape that you create with one of Illustrator's shape tools, such as a rectangle or a circle.

  • Compound paths. Two or more open or closed paths.


2. Understanding anchor points

As stated earlier, paths consist of a series of points and the line segments between these points. These points are commonly called anchor points because they anchor the path; paths always pass through or end at anchor points. Anchor points are automatically created as part of a path; no path can exist without anchor points to define it.

Anchor points consist of control handles and control handle lines. Control handles, which appear as small squares along the path, determine how sharply or gradually the curve bends at each anchor point. Control handle lines run on a tangent along the path and are attached to the path by the control handle. They determine the direction of the curved path. The next section discusses control handles and control handle lines in more detail. Anchor points, control handles, and control handle lines don't appear on the printed output of your artwork. In fact, they appear only in Illustrator and Photoshop, never on artwork imported into other applications.

There are two classes of anchor points:

  • Smooth. These anchor points have a curved path flowing smoothly through them. Most of the time, you don't know where a smooth point is until you select a path. Smooth points keep the path from changing direction abruptly. Every smooth point has two linked control handles.

  • Corner. In this class of anchor points, the path changes direction noticeably at those specific points. There are three corner points:

    • Straight. These are anchor points where two straight line segments meet at a distinct angle. There are no control handles on this type of anchor point.

    • Curved. These are points where two curved line segments meet and abruptly change direction. Each curved corner point has two independent control handles. Each handle controls a curve, and you can change only one side if you want.

    • Combination. These are the meeting places for straight and curved line segments. A combination corner point has one independent control handle. The one control handle controls the curve.

Figure 2 shows the different types of anchor points in Illustrator.

Figure 2. Illustrator has several types of anchor points.

 
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