Introduction to the InDesign Pen Tool

Working with the Pen Tool

Excerpted from Chapter 13 of Interactive InDesign CC…

The Pen tool in InDesign is the same tool found in Illustrator and Photoshop. It’s a tool that people just love to hate. If you’re one of those folks who want to tear their hair out at the mere mention of the Pen tool, take heart. With a few simple pointers and a little bit of practice, you’ll be on your way to mastery.

Working efficiently with the Pen tool entails use of several keyboard shortcuts. The first of these shortcuts is the Ctrl/Command key. When you have the Pen tool selected, holding the Ctrl/Command key switches temporarily to the Direct Selection tool. When you release the key, the Pen tool returns. You’ll be placing points as you draw with the Pen tool, and there will be times when you’ll need the Direct Selection tool to select and manipulate those points. So you can imagine that the shortcut will come in quite handy.

In order for the Pen tool to function as intended, ensure that the Corner Options controls at the far right of the Control panel are set to None. (The Corner Options controls are available when any tool other than the Type tool or the Note tool is selected.)


Ensure that Corner Options are set to None on the Control panel before drawing with the Pen tool. (If you don’t see the controls on the Control panel, go to Object > Corner Options to set the desired preference.)


Hold down the Ctrl/Command key and click off a path to deselect it. To close an active, open path, use the Pen tool to mouse over the first point on the path, and click when a little circle is displayed at its lower right.



Drawing straight lines with the Pen tool is simple. Just click where you want to place a point, and then release the mouse without dragging. When you click and release to place a second point, the two points will be connected by a straight line segment. Holding the Shift key when you place a point constrains its placement to an angle that’s a multiple of 45° from the previous point. To draw a path segment that is perfectly horizontal or perfectly vertical, hold the Shift key when you click to place a point. Then without dragging, release the mouse before you release the Shift key.

To terminate an open path, hold the Ctrl/Command key to switch temporarily to the Direct Selection tool and click off the path to deselect it—or press P on your keyboard. P is the shortcut for the Pen tool. Pressing it when a path is active deselects the path and readies the Pen to start a new path, as indicated by an asterisk that appears at the lower right of the Pen tool cursor.

To draw curves with the Pen tool, it helps to think of a rubber band that you’re stretching in the direction you want the curve to go. When you click with the Pen tool to place an anchor point, and then drag while still holding the mouse, direction lines appear that enable you to shape a curve. The trick is to remember to drag the direction line in the direction you want the curve to go. Drag up when you want the curve to move upward, and drag down when you want the curve to flow down.

Dragging direction handles to draw a curve

When drawing curves with the Pen tool, drag the direction handles in the direction you want the curve to flow.

Hold the Shift key when clicking with the Pen tool to constrain the angles of lines to multiples of 45 degrees.

You can draw straight lines at angles in multiples of 45° by holding the Shift key when clicking with the Pen tool.


As a general rule, the fewer the points, the smoother the curve—when it comes to working with the Pen tool, less is more. To change the direction in which a curve is flowing, you must convert the anchor point of the curve to a corner point. The Convert Direction Point tool is made for this very purpose. While dragging a direction line with the Pen tool, hold the Alt/Option key to temporarily switch to the Convert Direction Point tool. Then drag the direction line in the direction you want the new curve to flow.

Hold the Alt/Option key and drag a sizing handle to access the Convert Anchor Point tool and change the direction of a curve

Hold the Alt/Option key to switch temporarily to the Convert Direction Point tool. Then drag the direction line to change the trajectory of a curve.


Pen tool convert anchor point cursor

The Convert Direction Point cursor of the Pen tool.


When you mouse over a newly placed anchor point with the Pen tool, the cursor changes to display the icon for the Convert Direction Point tool. Click the anchor point to remove the second direction line in order to make a corner for a straight path.

The Pen tool provides visual feedback through contextual indicators that appear at the lower right of the pen icon on the cursor. When the cursor displays an asterisk, no path is being drawn. When a path is being drawn, the cursor displays only the pen. When hovering over an existing and active path, but not over an anchor point, the cursor displays the Add Anchor Point plus sign. Clicking when this cursor is visible adds an anchor point to the path. Conversely, if you hover over an existing point on an active path, the cursor displays the minus sign for the Delete Anchor Point tool. Clicking when this cursor is showing removes the anchor point from the path. In all, there are nine variations on the Pen tool cursor, each with its own story to tell. As small as the indicators are, learning their language is necessary to mastering the tool. All nine variations are illustrated below.


The many faces of the Pen tool cursor:

A) Ready to draw a new path.
B) A path is being drawn.
C) Click an endpoint on an existing path to pick up and continue drawing.
D) Click to close the path.
E) Click to snap to guide—only available when Snap to Guides is turned on.
F) Add anchor point.
G) Delete anchor point.
H) Convert direction point.
I) Join anchor points.