Pen Tool - Bezier Curves
for Painter 5/5.5, Painter 6, Painter 7
by Jinny Brown  e-mail

copyright 1994 - 2006, Jinny Brown

The Pen tool is well worth learning to use, even if drawing with it gives you a headache at first. Using the Pen tool with ease just takes learning how it works and giving it a little practice. This is a simple exercise and following the steps will help you get past that awkward feeling quickly. 

In this tutorial I use the term pencil curve in reference to the curve drawn on the Canvas using the Pencil Category's 2B Pencil Variant. I use the term vector curve in reference to the line drawn with the Pen tool (a vector based Painter Shape).



To trace the pencil curve with the Pen tool by drawing a vector curve, then using the Shape Selection tool outlined in red in the Tools palette screen print above to make adjustments to the vector curve by moving Anchor Points and pulling or pushing Wing Handles, follow these steps:

1. Open a new white Canvas, click the B key to activate the Brush tool, then draw a freehand pencil curve with the Pencil's 2B Pencil variant set to 15% Opacity and black as the Primary Color/Main Color.


NOTE: When you draw a vector curve with the Pen tool the vector curve is a Painter Shape and the Shape is automatically layered above the Canvas. You'll see it in the Layers listShape 1.

2.  Click the P key to activate the Pen tool and begin tracing the pencil curve you drew on the Canvas. (The small closed red box is the active Anchor Point, or the selected Anchor Point.
In the image below, it's the last Anchor Point made and one of the two end points)


3. Zoom in far enough to see your pencil curve, the vector curve's direction, and placement of your Anchor Points, in detail.

NOTE: When you click and drag Anchor Points or Wing Handles, you'll see a thin line that looks like a "silver wire" between the active Anchor Point and the previous Anchor Point. This represents the center of the vector curve. It's very helpful when aligning along the center of the pencil curve's width for a perfect match.

4. Click above the pencil curve to place another Anchor Point and before letting go, drag (the direction of drag depending on the direction of the pencil curve you're tracing) until the Wing Handles (blue circles at the ends of the Wings) are somewhat "parallel" to the pencil curve you're tracing and  the thin "silver wire" between the new Anchor Point and the previous Anchor Point is aligned with the pencil curve.

NOTE: If you have trouble seeing the Anchor Points and Wing Handles, in the Edit menu, click Preferences, then Shapes and check the Big Handles box.


5. Using the Pen tool, click again above the pencil curve, hold, and carefully drag to match the pencil curve before letting go. 

NOTE: Don't forget, even if you misfire, it's easy to fine tune the vector curve later using the Shape Selection tool, when you've finished making a first pass over the pencil curve.

Undo can be a very useful menu command when you're practicing (or use Ctrl/Command+Z). In the Edit menu, choose Preferences, then choose Undo and set the number as high as your system can handle up to the maximum of 32. A higher Undo number uses more memory, so decide based on your system's capacity. If you set the number high, you may want to lower it later for work that may not require so many Undo's. Again, the higher the number, the more memory is used and that can affect Painter's performance.


6. On a "U-turn" like the one shown above, you'll have to pull the Wing Handles more to make the vector curve fit the pencil curve. Click the H key to activate the Shape Selection tool, then click and hold while dragging either of the Wing Handles to make the vector curve adjustment. If you need to, with the Anchor Point active (red), you can nudge it up, down, right, or left using the up, down, right, and left Arrow Keys on your keyboard. 

NOTE: As you can see in the two images below, I had to nudge the active Anchor Point upward and to the left to make the vector curve fit properly above the pencil curve.


Sometimes when we're working with the Pen tool or other Shape tools the Shape becomes deselected and we need to find it again, especially if there are other Shapes and Layers in the image that might be partially covering it. One way to do that is to go to the Layers list (Painter 5/5.5 Floaters list) and highlight the Shape. Another way is to click the F key to activate the Layer Adjuster tool (Painter 5/5.5 Floater Adjuster tool) and, in the image, click on the Shape.
  • In Painter 5/5.5 when you click the vector curve Shape with the Floater Adjuster tool, a Marquee (black and yellow striped frame) appears around the vector curve Shape. If you don't see a Marquee, in the Floater section menu click Show Floater Marquee.
  • In Painter 6 and Painter 7 when you click the vector curve Shape with the Layer Adjuster tool, a Marquee (black and yellow striped frame) appears around the vector curve Shape.
    If you don't see a Marquee, in the Shapes menu click Show Shape Marquee.


7. Finish using the Layer Adjuster tool (Painter 5/5.5 Floater Adjuster tool), then click the Shape Selection tool again. The Marquee disappears and your vector curve Shape is deselected.


8. Drag the Shape Selection tool over your vector curve somewhere between the Anchor Points, or click one of the Anchor Points to make the vector curve's Anchor Points visible again so you can continue tracing. 

NOTE: This may take some trial and error. If you accidentally select the whole vector curve,  (all Anchor Points are red, or active) you will not be able to move the Anchor Points and Wing Handles, but it will help you to remember where they are. 

9. Click somewhere on the Canvas to deselect the vector curve and try again with the Shape Selection tool to select the vector curve and make the Anchor Points visible.


10. To begin working on the vector curve again after it's been deselected, then reselected, click the P key to activate the Pen tool, then click the Anchor Point where you want to begin (the last Anchor Point you made). It will turn red, as shown below, and you can continue to trace the pencil curve. Zoom in if you need to see it better.


NOTE: You may have to do some more fiddling to get the vector curve to fit the pencil curve.
Don't be discouraged. After a while, you'll be able to reposition your misplaced Anchor Points and make adjustments with the Wing Handles with ease. Below is another example of misplacement. The End Point is too close to the Previous Point to allow the vector curve to fit the pencil curve so I nudged it to the right and upward. I pulled the Wing Handles on the End Point and on the Previous Point, first one then the other, to adjust the vector curve. This is when zooming in really helps!



11. Now draw your own pencil curves and practice tracing them with the Pen tool

Jinny Brown, April 4, 2000
last modified on January 21, 2005

©1994 - 2006, Jinny Brown

All Corel Painter screen prints on these pages are used with permission from Corel Corporation.