Before I wrote this blogpost, I decided to fully investigate the many recommendations and workflows that exist to draw “The perfect Vector”.
My inspiration appeared after seeing the amazing hand-crafted typography our colleague Gemma Goode made. How could I take those amazing strokes into the vector world?
I decided to take on the challenge of redrawing Gemma’s wors in Illustrator with a special condition – all the handles in the anchor points had to be at 0° or 90°.
Why do it this way? “It’s not necessary”, some people said. Others thought that I was crazy, but those of us that have some years under the belt drawing vector graphics know the importance of using the least amount of “anchor points” as possible.
Nevertheless, this little obsession of placing all the angles at 0° or 90° has its origin in typographic design and has its technical justification.
The Bezier curves can be constructed in 2 ways:
- Quadratic: A quadratic Bezier curve has 3 points: an insertion one, a control one and an end one.
- Cubic: A cubic Bezier curve has four: start, end and two handles.
Fabio Duarte Martins, a well-known Portuguese designer; explains very well in his blog (check references below) how the cubic construction utilises fewer points to define the curve that is being drawn. The result can be summarised into: softer curves, more control at the time of adjusting, lighter files.
Anchor points at “extrema” and straight handles
Extrema is plural for extremum. In mathematics, that means the maximum or minimum value of a function.
In our case we refer to the ends of the figures that we are drawing. For example, a circle would have North, South, East and West points on it. Some colleagues call them the 12, 3 ,6 and 9 o’clock. For example:
The main objective in redrawing is to establish where those points would be located in our method. My recommendation is to imagine a bounding box in which our drawing is in. In the example, I use a segment of the original drawing as a reference.
Gemma made her sketch in a squared sketchbook, which made the straightening process in Photoshop easier.
Once the sketch was optimised in Photoshop, it was placed as a template in Illustrator.
The general idea is to construct each section of the design and then unite them with Pathfinder, Shape Builder or using the “Compound Path” command.
You can use Illustrator’s native Pen Tool to start the outline, but without a doubt InkScribe is the ideal tool for this job. My preference is based on the versatility when you have to establish the anchor points and the ability to switch between curved and straight segments without changing tools in an instant.
There are some native Illustrator options that I enabled from the start, like Object Selection by Path Only and Show handles when multiple anchors are selected in the Illustrator Preferences window.
Also, these are the options I chose for InkScribe (having selecting the InkScribe Tool in the toolbox, hit the Enter key to display the preferences):
After we locate the end points, we draw while holding shift to maintain vertical or horizontal anchor points. In my particular case, I draw strokes following the clock hands, starting at the endpoint to the left (at 9 o’clock). The advantage of InkScribe is that I can re-adjust the path without changing tool.
It is also important to remember that this is a suggested workflow and is not written in stone. Therefore it can be altered and combined with others without a problem.
However, so I could remain loyal to the initial challenge, I discovered that PathScribe (part of the VectorScribe plug-in) is an important ally in the fine adjustment of the strokes. Thus, my corners are going to be rounded while maintaining the angles of the handles at 0° or 90°.
Let’s see the method that includes the use of Dynamic Corners.
We establish a measurement for the corner (in this case I choose 1.5 px), and we apply it to the selected paths using the Dynamic Corners Tool (or by using its associated panel found by following Window > VectorScribe > PathScribe).
In the next step we use the immense arsenal of options that we sometimes miss.
Did you know that PathScribe can move anchor points to the closest tangencies in the path?
We then edit the rest of the points, extending and adjusting the handles.
This method has many friends and foes, but I have discovered that practice of the method improves our dexterity so that we can draw any path we desire.
What do you guys think about that?
This is the final result:
- Bezier Curves and Type Design: A Tutorial (Fábio Duarte Martins)
- Hand Lettering: How to Vector Your Letterforms (Scott Biersack)
- So What’s the Big Deal with Horizontal & Vertical Bezier Handles Anyway? (The Australian Graphic Supply Co)
- Vector Basic Training book (Von Glitschka)