PEN TOOL Variations and Symbol meanings

IMPORTANT: “The Pen Tool takes on different forms depending on what you’re doing when you’re using it.”

In my work and searches this is the best, if not the only simple explanation of how to use the Pen Tool. The entire post shown here is very comprehensive, a must for learning the Pen Tool in Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Creative programs.

Keep in mind Pen Tool shapes and positions have changed between software versions and are different for various software companies.  None the less, the POINT of the pen, the tip, is the position of the line. In Adobe and other programs you can set a “Cross-Hair” style tip point.

Most do not need to memorize what each of these mean or do.  Knowing there are differences as you work is an important “path” to using the complete tool set for learning on-the-job.

The link is here:

For those who see the pen tool only in the tool bar, this screenshot shows SOME variations.  If you understand these possibilities before using the basic tool, the concept of drawing can be simplified.

(Even this chart might not include all variations for the creative programs.  There are selection arrow variations also. If you are aware of a link that shows ALL TOOL variations please add a comment.  Thanks).



MORE variations and explanations:

Pen Asterick rev

Pen Tool with Asterisk

       This is a starting point.  Notice that the pointer has an asterisk next to it indicating that your next click begins a new path. Click to create the starting anchor point.

Pen white square

Pen white square lines on sides   

Pen Tool with small square.

     Connecting (Merging) to another Path.   Position the pointer over an anchor point that was connected to a cut line segment. The pointer now shows a merge symbol next to it indicating that you are connecting to another path. Click the point to reconnect the paths.


preferences large

A good tip (trick) is to go to the perferences list in the program and set the “handles” to open boxes.  This seems to help identify to ends of the handles. (The “greyed out” example is the chosen handle).  Also, in preferences you can reset the label color (for anchor, path, others) so your position on the art board is easier to see.


Along with the Pen Tool, the Selection Arrows have variations.  An understanding that there are different “LOOKS” to the arrows (and Pens) will help your designing.

black arrow black box

Selection Arrow with small black box.

     Select all Anchor Points.  Position the pointer directly over a path. When the pointer shows a solid black box next to it click to select the path and all of the anchor points. Notice that all of the anchor points become solid, signifying that all anchor points are selected.

(Drag the path to a new location anywhere on the artboard. All the anchor points travel together, maintaining the path shape.)

arrow square with dot

Direct Selection with dot in the middle of a small box.

       Select An Anchor Point.  Position the pointer over any anchor point. The pointer shows a small box with a dot in the center indicating that, if you click, you will select an anchor point.

(Click that same point, or drag a marquee selection around an anchor point and the selected anchor point turns solid, and the deselected anchor points are hollow.)


Check this for mouseover descriptions of tools in Photoshop and Illustrator:


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