Illustrator’s Pen Tool: The Comprehensive Guide

If you use Adobe Illustrator, then it’s almost certain that you use the Pen Tool when creating your paths. This comprehensive guide aims to introduce or remind you of features, shortcuts, and methods for working with what is arguably Adobe’s most essential tool.

Click on artboard to create paths with straight segments, click and drag to create paths with Bezier curves.

Bezier curve
Note the tooltip which gives you precise pixel coordinates wherever your cursor points

Click on a path segment to add anchor points.

Add anchor point

Click on anchor point to remove from path.

Delete anchor point

Click on an anchor point and drag to create bezier handles where there were none, click on an anchor point with handles to remove them.

Convert anchor point

Alternatively, click and drag midway along a path to manipulate it as a curve.

Not part of the Pen Tool group, but definitely associated with it. Click on a path segment to divide into two paths.

  • Select Pen Tool (P)
  • Select Add Anchor Point Tool (+)
  • Select Delete Anchor Point Tool (-)
  • Select Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C)
  • Select Scissors Tool (C)
  • Join two anchor points (Command/Control-J)

The Pen Tool takes on different forms depending on what you’re doing when you’re using it. Each cursor intuitively makes you aware of the action you are about to perform.

(Caps Lock to toggle between pointer and cross hair)

Prepared to begin path
Prepared to begin path
Whilst midway through creating or editing a path
Whilst midway through creating or editing a path (with grid coordinates)
When mouse button is pressed
When mouse button is pressed
When ready to add an anchor point to path
When ready to add an anchor point to path
When ready to remove an anchor point from path
When ready to remove an anchor point from path
When hovered over begin point of path to close path
When hovered over begin point of path; to close path
When hovered over endpoint of existing path to continue path
When hovered over endpoint of existing path; to continue path
When ready to convert path or anchor point
When ready to convert path or anchor point
When ready to or in the action of manipulating a curved path
When ready to, or in the action of manipulating a curved path
When ready to join new path to existing path
When ready to join new path to existing path
  1. Pen Tool hovers over anchor point: changes to Delete Anchor Point Tool
  2. Pen Tool hovers over path segment: changes to Add Anchor Point Tool
  3. Pen Tool hovers over end anchor point: changes to Continue Anchor Point Tool
  1. Hold Shift to constrain movements to 45°, 90°, 135° or 180° whilst creating or editing anchor points and handles.
  2. Select anchor point with Direct Selection Tool (A) and click Delete. Anchor and adjoining path segments will be deleted leaving two paths.
  3. Pen Tool-Option (Alt): changes to Convert Anchor Point Tool.
  4. Pen Tool hover over bezier handle + Command (Control): allows editing of bezier curve.
  5. Pen Tool-Option (Alt) whilst creating bezier curve: splits curve (unhinges handles).
  6. Pen Tool hover over bezier handle + Option (Alt): splits curve (unhinges handles).
  7. Scissors Tool (C)Option (Alt): changes to Add anchor point tool.
  8. Add Anchor Point Tool-Option (Alt): changes to Delete Anchor Point Tool.
  9. Delete Anchor Point Tool-Option (Alt): changes to Add Anchor Point Tool.

You can access the preferences which influence the Pen Tool (P) and other related tools by going to Illustrator > Preferences > Selection & Anchor Display.

Selection  Anchor Display
Selection & Anchor Display

Radius of the selection area around anchor points. Must be between 1 and 8 pixels, 1px if you’re deadly accurate with your mouse or have a lot of anchors in close range of one another, 8px if you prefer less precision. 3px is the default value.

When checked, this option allows selection of objects only by clicking their paths. Clicking on their filled areas is ineffective, comparable to working in Outline mode (View > Outline).

Also checkable via View > Snap to Point, though via the Selection & Anchor Display dialogue the tolerance can also be determined from 1 to 8 pixels. This value again represents the radius around anchor points. When lining up two objects, anchor points from one will snap to points of the other should they be positioned within the specified range.

It’s worth noting that since the release of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 Bezier handles are immune to grid-snapping. You can therefore make sure your anchors all stick to the grid (great for web use) whilst maintaining precision with free curves.

Determines the way in which your path anchor points and handles are displayed.

When checked, highlights anchor points when hovered over with cursor.

When checked, this options displays the handles of points when multiple points are selected. Otherwise, handles of multiple selected points are not displayed.

Corner widgets allow you to drag corners in order to make them rounded. You may find it helpful to specify the corner angle at which you no longer want to have the widget displayed. Choose from 105°, 120°, 135°, 150° or 165°.

When wanting to lay down an anchor point I always find it helpful to know what the path will look like. Checking the Rubber Band option gives you a preview of the path before you commit.

Select the Direct Selection Tool (A) before selecting the Pen Tool (P). Hold-Command (Control) to give you access to the last tool selected (in this case the Direct Selection Tool) for editing of paths and handles without deselecting the path.

With path selected, use the Spacebar to give you access to the Hand Tool (H). Move your screen without deselecting the path or changing tools.

While creating or editing an anchor point, click and Click-Hold-Spacebar to alter the position of the anchor point you’re working on. Since the release of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 this manipulation is also possible on the closing anchor of a path.

With the Direct Selection Tool (A) select the end point and starting point of a path. Command (Control)-Jto Join.

With the Direct Selection Tool (A) select the end point and starting point of a path. Command (Control)-Option (Alt)-Shift-J to join and average simultaneously.

Bear in mind that the colour of your highlighted paths and their Bezier handles is dependent on the colour of the layer they’re placed on.

To smoothen a path by reducing the number of anchor points open the Simplify dialogue (Object > Path > Simplify) and adjust according to your needs.

Conversely, should you want more anchor points to improve manipulation go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points. A new anchor point will appear after every existing anchor point on the selected path.

To prevent the Pen Tool (P) from changing its function when interacting with other anchor points or paths, open the general preferences dialogue (Illustrator > Preferences > General) and check the Disable Auto Add/Delete option. The Pen Tool will now only draw paths.

Disable Auto AddDelete
Disable Auto Add/Delete

Since the release of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014, control over Bezier handles has improved. Now, whilst dragging handles of an anchor point press and hold Command/Control to independently stretch and shrink the leading handle, whilst keeping its movement paired to the trailing handle.

Drag handles from the first anchor point when beginning a curved path.

Drag your handles around just one third of the curve you’re creating for a smooth path.

Position anchor points on a curve where the paths begin to change direction, not in the middle of its curve.

Be sparing with your use of anchor points, fewer points = neater path.

This is all well and good in theory, but while these tips are fresh in your mind why not put them into practice? Download the Pen Tool Exercise file and follow the guides to create precise paths, using the hints and shortcuts covered in this article.

If you need some inspiration for your designs, check out the popular vectors on Envato Market. If you’re struggling to create a particular vector with the Pen Tool, you might find something there that you can use in your project.

10 Things You Should Know About Adobe Illustrator

I hope the ten tips below will encouraged you to give Illustrator another look. It’s a complicated application but it can’t be beat for vector work and once you get the hang of how it’s different from Photoshop, everything starts to make sense.As I go through the tips below, a lot of the explanation will be based on how working in Illustrator is different than Photoshop. The two apps are quite similar so you should be able to leverage your existing knowledge as long as you keep the information below in mind.

1. Vector Graphics Are Magic

The absolute first thing you should know about Illustrator is that it’s used to create vector graphics. As you probably know, vector graphics are very different than the raster graphics that you typically create in Photoshop (it’s true that Photoshop has some limited vector capabilities, but no where near what you can achieve in Illustrator.). Instead of being comprised of static individual pixels, vector graphics are mathematically drawn by your computer and can therefore be drastically changed with absolutely zero loss in quality.

What this means on a practical level is that when you create art in Illustrator, no matter what its original size is, at any time you want you can make it as big as a billboard or as small as a thumb tac. This has major positive implications to the way you work.

For instance, let’s say you’re in Photoshop and you have a circular logo that is small and you want it to be big. As you’ve probably no doubt run into a million times, if you try to increase the size of that element, it pretty much gets destroyed. Watch how much a simple circle loses quality as its size increases:

screenshot

This makes creating and working with complex graphics in raster quite difficult because your freedom to change your mind is limited, even if you’re using Smart Objects you’re constrained to the object’s original size.

With vector graphics, these problems simply don’t exist, giving you the freedom to continually change your mind and your artwork at will without worrying about any visual degradation.

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Also, since vector graphics are comprised of points and lines, you have an unlimited amount of freedom to go in and change individual line segments.

screenshot

But You Already Knew That

Odds are, if you’re reading this blog you already know what the differences between vector and raster graphics are. The thing that you need to accept now is that Illustrator really does blow Photoshop away in this area (Fireworks is an interesting in-between that does both fairly well). Even better, you don’t have to choose one over the other but can instead use them and all the other apps in the Creative Suite synergistically throughout your various projects.

2. What’s All This Crap on My Screen?

The first thing that you’re likely to notice when you start using Illustrator is that there is a whole lot of stuff going on when you select and edit something. This is something that lots of new users tend to hate right off the bat because it looks confusing, but in reality all of the information and controls that Illustrator throws as you are extremely helpful.

The Bounding Box

For starters, whenever you select anything, you’ll see its bounding box. This is an intuitive feature that you should instantly understand, the part that’s not intuitive is why it won’t go away.

screenshot

In Photoshop, you only see an object’s bounding box when you’re in the midst of a transform. In Illustrator, you see the bounding box whenever you have a complete object selected and the active tool is the Direct Selection Tool (V).

If you have multiple objects selected, the bounding box will appear around all of them, allowing you to move or transform them together. The same rules apply as you’re used to in Photoshop: hold shift to scale uniformly, throw in the Alt/Option key to scale from the center, etc.

screenshot

One major different here is that you can’t grab and independently move a specific corner of the bounding box like you can in a Photoshop transform. This makes shearing and putting perspective on objects a bit trickier as you have to use the dedicated tools for these types of transformations. Later we’ll get a glimpse of how to use Free Transform, which will feel much more like you’re used to in Photoshop.

Smart Guides

Smart Guides are the major thing that bugs many newbies and pros alike. These are the little bits of information and outlines that pop up as you hover over, move or transform something. They may seem like they’re just getting in your way but try to get used to them and use them as much as possible, you’ll soon start to see their value.

screenshot

Smart Guides allow you to size objects on the fly using precise measurements and align whatever you have selected with points and lines from other objects around it. They make it really easy to create complex layouts very quickly and are much easier than “eyeballing” things. You also of course have a full set of alignment tools for these types of operations:

screenshot

Turn It All Off

I highly recommend working with all of these extras turned on, but some users simply hate all of the distractions. Admittedly, I feel the same way about the extras for InDesign so I definitely understand this mindset.

Fortunately, Illustrator allows you to silence the noise and turn all of this stuff off. As a quick way to turn off the bounding box, hit Command-Shift-B, or go to View>Hide Bounding Box.

Similarly, turning off the Smart Guides is as easy as hitting Command-U, or going to View and unchecking Smart Guides.

3. Layers Are Different

When switching from Photoshop to Illustrator, it’s important to note the conceptual changes in the workflow. Despite the fact that the two applications share so many features, it’s frequently the case that the feature is used in a very different way.

Layers are an excellent example of this. In Photoshop, every piece gets its own layer. In fact, an individual object is really defined by the layer it’s on. If you throw two elements on the same layer, they become a single element and if they overlap, you won’t be able to separate them anymore. Also, applying an effect to an object affects the whole layer.

In Illustrator, layers aren’t so much the way to access every separate piece on the page as they are a convenient organization utility. If you choose, you can create an incredibly complex piece of art with thousands of individual elements all using a single layer. Further, the elements on that layer have their own sub-hierarchy and can be independently edited and arranged at any time.

So, for example, instead of having a layer for every item, it would be pretty typical to create one layer that holds all your various text items, another for your vector graphics and possibly even a third for imported Photoshop art.

screenshot

How Layers Work in Ai

There is a ton of functionality in Illustrator layers that you won’t see in Photoshop. For starters, each layer has a little dropdown arrow that allows you to see the hierarchy of each element within that layer. Here elements can be rearranged to adjust the visual stacking order of the result (use Command-[ and Command-] to bring an item forward or push it back).

screenshot

On the right side of the palette you should see a circle next to a colored square. Clicking on the circle allows you to easily select an element. Click on the layer’s circle to select everything within the layer or an individual element’s circle to select only that item.

The colored square indicates the color of that layer. For convenience, the bounding box and other pop-up graphics are color-coded based on layers, that way when you select something you can instantly see which layer it is belongs to. To move an item from one layer to another, simply click and drag its little square.

4.The Pathfinder is Awesome

Let’s face it, drawing on a computer is hard. Even simple shapes can be difficult to create if you’re not a master of the Pen Tool. As with most professional vector software, Illustrator makes creating complex shapes much easier through the use of boolean operations found in the Pathfinder palette.

screenshot

The little previews on the Pathfinder buttons are pretty self explanatory. They all essentially allow you to combine two shapes in an interesting way. When you first use Ai you might be tempted to think that this is a novelty feature that you’ll never use, but trust me, if you’re going to be doing illustration, putting the Pathfinder to work will save you loads of time.

A little bit of creativity goes a long way and once you can learn to see the simple shapes that make up complex objects, the Pathfinder will be your best friend.

Shape Builder

If you have CS5, Illustrator gives you another way to perform complex boolean operations. The Shape Builder Tool (Shift+M) allows you to simply click and drag through overlapping objects to combine them.

screenshot

Try holding down the Option key to subtract geometry rather than add it. Check out a video tutorial on the new Shape Builder tool here.

5. Artboards, Not Pages

For over a decade Illustrator users have mourned the fact that it’s impossible to create multi-page documents. Adobe intentionally keeps multi-page projects as a key feature of InDesign though so there wasn’t much hope for a solution.

Recently though, the problem was solved in an interesting way by allowing users to create multiple artboards. These can be used in any number of ways: separate ideas for the same project, designing both the front and back of an object, etc.

screenshot

You can create as many artboards as you want in a single document. They can even be different sizes. Functionally, there are a lot of benefits to using multiple artboards within a single document instead of simply creating multiple documents. You can easily move/copy objects back and forth and print or export selected artboards all at once.

6. Effects Are Weird

In place of “filters” like in Photoshop, Illustrator gives you various “Effects” that can be used to manipulate your artwork, and they take some getting used to. To see what I mean, let’s use one. Below I have some text that’s been converted to outlines and I want to give it some perspective. As I mentioned above, the bounding box doesn’t give me this freedom so I went to Effects>Distort & Transform>Free Distort.

screenshot

Now, when I apply the tranformation, things get a little wonky. The effect can clearly be seen on my text, but when I select the object, all of my points are still in their original positions and don’t reflect my current artwork at all.

screenshot

This is because the transformation isn’t actually applied in a permanent way. Instead of actually messing with the shape of your object, effects are applied “live”. This is actually a great thing because it means that you always retain the integrity of your original object and can go back and edit the effect at any time.

To edit the effect, select your object and bring up your appearance palette. There should be a little “fx” icon somewhere with the name of the effect that you applied. Simply double click that icon to edit it or drag it to the trash to delete it.

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Photoshop Effects

You may have noticed that there is actually a set of Photoshop effects available inside of Illustrator. These can be fun to play with, but in all honesty I’d recommend using them sparingly, if at all. Illustrator effects are built for vectors and use mathematical calculations to adapt to changes in the artwork, Photoshop effects are raster and therefore not as reliable when attempting to apply them in a vector-driven workspace.

7.The Eyedropper Does a Lot

Inside of Photoshop, the Eyedropper tool grabs a color from your document or screen… that’s it. In Illustrator however, the tool is much more powerful. Here are a few things you can do with it.

Grab A Color from Another Item
This one you know about. Select one object, eyedropper another, the color of the second object will be applied to the first.

Example: Select red box, Eyedropper blue box, both boxes will now be blue.

Apply The Selected Object’s Color Elsewhere
An alternate way to use the Eyedropper tool is to select the object whose color you want to replicate elsewhere, then hold down the Option key and click on anything else that you want to give that color to.

Example: Select red box, Option-Click on blue box, both boxes will now be red.

Grab The Styling From Text and Other Objects
Illustrator’s Eyedropper tool not only grabs color but style as well. You can use it to make two text objects have identical fonts, color and size or to grab the stroke from a shape object.

Example 1: Select red Futura 12pt text, Eyedropper blue Helvetica 15pt text, both objects become blue Helvetica 15pt text.

Example 2: Select a white box with a black stroke, Eyedropper a blue box with a yellow stroke, both boxes become blue with yellow strokes.

Tip: hold down shift to only grab the foreground color of an object.

8.Fonts Make Sharing Files Difficult

When I pass a Photoshop document off to someone, no matter what fonts are used, they can actually open it up and see what the original design looked like. Without the fonts, they can’t edit the text, but they can at least view it.

In Illustrator this is not the case. If you create a piece of art for someone and send it along to them, if there are uncommon fonts used, odds are that person won’t be able to view your .ai file correctly (they’ll see the wrong fonts).

In practice, most people just send along the fonts, but this could be a poor choice for several reasons. First, font licensing is complicated and you’re technically not supposed to just give your expensive fonts to everyone who wants to see your file.

Also, it’s often the case that someone such as a commercial printer requests your files but you don’t really want them changing anything. In both of these cases you can save yourself a lot of trouble by going to Type>Create Outlines (Command-Shift-O). This essentially turns your text into vector shapes and therefore eliminates any font issues and takes away the viewer’s ability to change the text.

screenshot

Alternatively, you could save the document as a PDF and share it that way. Many clients will request the “original layered files”, in which case a PDF won’t suffice, but if the person doesn’t care about file formats then PDF is the way to go.

Dealing with Missing Fonts

If you’re on the other end of this discussion and receive a file with missing fonts, there is little you can do to fix it. However, Illustrator does make it easy to target specific missing fonts and replace them throughout a document with something from your system. This is done in the Type>Find Font dialog.

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9. Useful Keyboard Shortcuts (for Mac)

To finish off our Illustrator basics discussion, you should familiarize yourself with how to get around the interface quickly and smoothly using keyboard shortcuts. Obviously, hovering over any tool will show you the equivalent shortcut, so here are some other useful tricks you may not know. Many of these are right out of Photoshop so you should feel right at home.

I’ll just throw in the Mac shortcuts here. PC users should just know that ⌘ (Command) = Control and ⌥ (Option) = Alt.

Zooming

  • Zoom In/Out: ⌘+ or ⌘-
  • Fit Artboard to Screen: ⌘0
  • Zoom to Actual Size: ⌘1

Temporary Tool Switching

  • Temporary Hand Tool: Hold Space from any tool
  • Temporary Selection Tool: Hold ⌘ from any Tool (gives you Direct Selection if already in Selection Tool)
  • Temporary Zoom Tool: Hold ⌘Space from any Tool

Pasting

  • Paste In Front: ⌘F
  • Paste In Back: ⌘B
  • Paste In Place: ⌘⇧V

Working with Objects

  • Duplicate an Object: Hold ⌥ while dragging
  • Group Objects: ⌘G
  • Ungroup Objects: ⌘⇧G
  • Bring to Front: ⌘⇧]
  • Send to Back: ⌘⇧[
  • Select All on Active Artboard Only: ⌘⌥A
  • Lock Selection: ⌘2, ⌘⌥2 to unlock all
  • Hide Selection: ⌘3, ⌘⌥3 to show all

Other

  • Check Spelling: ⌘I
  • Show Grid: ⌘”
  • Make Guides: ⌘5 (select a shape first)

 

10. Useful Keyboard Shortcuts (for Windows)

Zooming

  • Zoom In/Out: Ctrl + or Ctrl-
  • Fit Artboard to Screen: Ctrl 0
  • Zoom to Actual Size: Ctrl 1

Temporary Tool Switching

  • Temporary Hand Tool: Hold Space from any tool
  • Temporary Selection Tool: Hold Ctrl from any Tool (gives you Direct Selection if already in Selection Tool)
  • Temporary Zoom Tool: Hold Ctrl Space from any Tool

Pasting

  • Paste In Front: Ctrl F
  • Paste In Back: Ctrl B
  • Paste In Place: Ctrl ⇧V

Working with Objects

  • Duplicate an Object: Hold cntrl +alt  while dragging
  • Group Objects: Ctrl G
  • Ungroup Objects: Ctrl ⇧G
  • Bring to Front: Ctrl ⇧]
  • Send to Back: Ctrl  ⇧[
  • Select All on Active Artboard Only: Ctrl+ A
  • Lock Selection: Ctrl 2, Ctrl+alt+2 to unlock all
  • Hide Selection: Ctrl 3, Ctrl+alt+3 to show all

Other

  • Check Spelling: CtrlI
  • Show Grid: Ctrl”
  • Make Guides: Ctrl5 (select a shape first)

How to make topography models in Rhino with 4 easy steps

Often you will start a project with existing topographical information in the form of contour lines in a CAD program. This will allow you to quickly and easily develop a 3D model in Rhino.

gisimport-4.gif

Step One – Prepare your Contour Lines. You can import most CAD drawing formats directly into Rhino although some information will be lost. Don’t worry too much as long as you can find and isolate the contour lines.

The contour lines do not need to be joined as a single line. But they do need to be at the correct vertical elevation or “Z” coordinate. Many CAD files already have this done, in which case you are in luck! otherwise be prepared to spend some time moving all your lines to the appropriate height. Once this is done you can move on to the next step.

Step Two – Extract Points. Your contour lines should look something like the images at the left hand side. The first thing to do is select all of the contour lines at once, being careful to select no geometry that is not elevation information. You might want to turn other layers off for this. Then you use the command in Rhino “Extract Points” Which will give you (depending on your contour line accuracy) thousands of points. Your model will look like the one on the right.

Step Three – Create a Patch Surface. Now select all of these points and use the command “Patch” (you can type this in or use the icon). For patch you will be given some options. The first is U and V. Higher numbers will give you more accuracy but if these numbers are too high (on my computer over 80) your computer will crash. The other think to adjust is stiffness. A higher number here will make the surface less bendable and in our case here less accurate. you can experiment with this but a number around 100 should do the trick. Now Rhino will generate the patch. In my case, I wanted a surface that would fill a square boundary, but the patch bases the surface extent on your points and adds some for good measure. To get a Patch surface that fills the square, I needed to add two points (at the appropriate spot elevation) to the locations indicated. Now my surface is big enough to fill the square.

Step Four – Trim. Your patch surface will be larger than it needs to be, and surface information outside of your points will be inaccurate as it just extrapolates the general direction of the surface at the edges. You will need to trim the edges of your surface down. In this case I am using a square, but the trim line could be a property line for a project site, or it could be the city limits of a town for an urban model, or anything you choose. Note the trim line doesn’t need to be at the same “Z” coordinate of the surface. Once you are ready, type “Trim” or hit the trim button, you will be asked to select first the cutting curve (select it, and then press Enter) and then to select the surface to trim. Click the surface outside the trim boundary and it is trimmed.

 

If you prefer a video demonstration here you go:

How NOT to make visualizations

An interesting article from Flying Architecture that states the framework of good 3d visualization….

10. Ultra-wide camera angle

When your client asks you to make the camera angle wider… and wider… and wider… wanting to capture the whole interior and, if possible, even the exterior in a single image, you know something is wrong. They pay you per image, so they want to get the most for their money. Artistic approach, composition, idea behind the image, and storytelling be damned! Just make it wider!

09. Watermark

Covering half of the image with your email address and/or telephone number just isn’t an effective way to advertise or protect your artwork… it just doesn’t work. You’ll just end up distracting the viewer away from the artwork.

08. People

There are a couple ways to fail in using people assets:

Shiny happy people

Your images are full of commercial s**t, like a happy cheering crowd on a new, 50x50m concrete platform. What made them happy? Being in the image? The concrete itself? If you are going to use such happy people, give them a reason to smile. Create a story.

People staring at the photographer

Simple. Don’t show the fronts of their faces, don’t make them look at you. It just leaves the observer feeling embarrassed, stressed, confused, guilty and weird. That’s not a feeling you want your client to have. Become invisible as a photographer, don’t clue anyone into your presence. Be a ghost—an invisible, calm viewer.

07. Odd displacement – fake grass

Yeah, some people still use it. Fake grass using displacement, which looks artificial, unrealistic and odd. You have tons of realistic 3D asset resources online—learn how to use them.

06. Transparent assets

Have you ever seen transparent people, trees or a ghosted neighbouring house? My guess is no. This is a common sin among many architecture studios, using 50% transparency for trees in front of their building, so they don’t conceal their creations. And you, as an artist, are supposed to assist in that. Next time send them an image with the tree and one without it. Let them blend it if they want to.

05. Low quality assets

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Cliche, but true. Low quality assets lower the quality of the overall image: low-poly people, low-res textures, out-of-place vehicles, trees, or even white blocks for neighbouring buildings. These all detract from the image and leave it uninteresting, forgettable.

04. Odd Cutouts

It takes just 5 extra minutes, but it’s worth it. Avoid white halo and ghosting effects. Remove border pixels and blur the edges, so the cutout fits better.

03. Light

Sun direction from the back

This is a very common request for commercial projects: positioning the sun behind your back, avoiding any shadow.

Vignetting / Edge blur

Don’t misuse and go too heavy on the photographic effects. If your image isn’t realistic to begin with, effects won’t save it.

Various light sources

Use natural light, put it in a logical place and at a normal intensity. This is not something that you can compensate for in post-production.

Missing shadows

This is pretty obvious. Assets without proper shadows will just bring the overall quality down.

02. Color palette on LSD

Always think of the color palette in advance. Combine, observe, analyze. Get inspired. Be very careful with your colour palette, as it’s the very first element the naked eye can observe. After that come detail, composition, textures, lights, but colour palette is definitely first.

01. Lens Flare

Some people just want to watch the world burn…