I am just learning how to use the pen tool and want to make sure I am using it in the most efficient way possible. After watching countless tutorials, I still feel like I don't fully understand how many anchor points I should be using and where precisely to place those anchor points when drawing different curves or shapes.

I've heard the tips "use as few points as possible" and "place the anchor points at the extrema of the curve", but I am still confused because I see people drawing the same type of curves and shapes differently and the end result looks basically identical.

Any pen tool masters out there that can help me out?

To understand what I mean I have provided two simple examples below. In these examples is option "A" or "B" the most efficient way to use the pen tool? Why? (pros/cons)

Example 1: enter image description here Example 2: enter image description here

  • 3
    I could be wrong but this seems like the wrong way to go about it. Using a small number of points keeps it clean and easy to edit. It's not necessarily the easiest or the quickest way to do it.
    – Joonas
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 1:14
  • 3
    For anyone interested in getting better at using pen tool, check out The Bézier Game.
    – Joonas
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 1:16
  • @Joonas Thanks for the response. Do you have any suggestions on a better option for creating the letter "S" than what I showed in second example? If you want to try it out just type the letter "S" using Arial font and then trace it using the pen tool. I would be interested to see what you come up with.
    – Scot
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 1:38
  • @Joonas Yes the Bezier game is awesome. I have played it before. However it hasen't help me fully understand what I'm asking about in my post here. For example on the car stage of the game, do you make the wheel using option A or B as in the first example I gave above? There are different ways to pass each stage as long as you don't go over the point limit. I'm just curious about the most efficient way.
    – Scot
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 1:51
  • 1
    I'm with @Joonas on this. Using fewer anchors is not necessarily the most efficient way if "efficiency" also includes time spent. It could potentially take longer to tweak if you want as few points as possible. Instead, use the Bézier tool in the way that's easiest for the job in hand. Different jobs may require different approaches.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 9:43

2 Answers 2


I don't think that efficiency is the word, but functionality. After tracing more than 1000 images for a catalog as many of us have done, I assure you that the efficiency come alone and functionality is the real need.

On the example 1, drawing the A version requires 6 steps

Version A

The B version just 5 steps = functionality

Version B

  • Admittedly that is more due to limitation illustrators gui than actual benefit.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 11:49

I'm far from a pen master but I believe it depends on each use case.

For some applications you might want version A, for deformation effects it makes a difference where the anchors are located. Compare this:

enter image description here

with this:

enter image description here Or if you're optimizing an SVG, where more points means more code which means larger files. Or duplicating an object hundreds of times, you'll want less anchors.

But I definitely use B for vector masks in Photoshop all the time since, as Danielillo posted, it takes less time / steps to draw.

You can get more bezier OCD here

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