Author Archive

Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool in Illustrator CS6

If there is one tool that is both the most powerful and the cause of the most angst, wailing, and gnashing of teeth – it’s the pen tool.

I’ve made a two-part tutorial explaining this most dreaded of tools right from the basics, and in the second part I share my technique for tracing a sketch.

Let me know what you think of them in the comments 🙂



Typeface experiment with the Archimedes Square

So we got AppleTV and I have discovered that if you go into the podcast section there is a fantastic collection of TED Talks available. This is almost too much for my inner geek, and I spent a bit too much time this weekend just browsing. Well, I have an excuse; TV7 has gone. Gone! Wah.

Anyway, here is a video that appealed to me because I love books, manuscripts, old things, and geometry. Who knew I would ever have a use for combinatorial mathematics.

William Noel: Revealing the lost codex of Archimedes

You can read more about the project here:

So that got me plotting thinking…

…why not see if I can create a typeface from the grid that Archimedes has so kindly provided?

Here are some of my digital sketches:

Above, the Archimedes square, which I have retraced in Illustrator and coloured with some random, pretty, transparent choices.  Called the Stomachion, this square is actually a puzzle. Cut the square apart along each line, then try and reconfigure the pieces back into a square. How many different configurations are there? Answer: 17,152 when you include rotations and reflections. That’s lots.

But the challenge of creating a typeface from a pre-defined grid? Ooh, that’s too good to resist. Although it takes much of the “thought” out of typeface design, it does allow my brain to just wallow and enjoy the process of puzzling out letters from a surface that really, really doesn’t want to give them up!

The letters PbSD… Yes, Philippa Berry Smith Design lol

Above: layout with background colours.

Above: swapping out different “B”s

Above: working on some extra letters, very rough at this stage.

Above: the letter “G” Kinda looks like an origami swan to me…

Above: the Archimedes Square by itself is incredibly limiting, which is not a bad thing, but it makes creating letters such as “B” ridiculously difficult. So I cheated and tried my hand at creating an Archimedes Quad Square. No, this is not a real thing. I just made it up.

Above: The four Quads I worked with. There are generated by copying, rotating, and joining up a single Archimedes Square.

Above: Quad 1

Above: Quad 2

Above: Quad 3

Above: Quad 4

Above: I only got time to start playing with the mega Quads for about 10 mins, so these are just a start of the letters I think I can squeeze out of them. I love the idea of working within a grid structure that has existed for over 2200 years.

VIDEO TUTORIAL: How to make a font

Ever wondered how to make your own typeface?

This two-part tutorial will show you in detail how to take artwork you’ve created in Illustrator and transfer it easily across to FontLab Studio 5.

Before you begin, check you have the following things:

  • Adobe Illustrator (Tutorial shot in CS4 for Mac)
  • Character glyphs for the d, p, x, and H (if you have made the whole alphabet you get a gold star)
  • FontLab Studio 5
  • About half and hour
  • Set your preferences in Illustrator before you start – see the notes at the bottom of this post.

Part 1

Part 2

How to set the preferences in Illustrator

To ensure all the artwork you copy from Illustrator over to FontLab stays accurate, you will need to adjust the File Handling settings in Illustrator. Open your preferences panel (Mac: Illustrator > Preferences) or (Win PC: Edit > Preferences). Go to the File Handling & Clipboard section and make sure the only things selected are AICB and Preserve Paths:

Are you using Adobe Illustrator CS5?

The Rulers in AI CS5 work differently and this makes it slightly more difficult for you when you are using the horizontal guides to get the y-values. This is because in CS5 Illustrator actually has two types of rulers: Artboard rulers and Global rulers. The Artboard rulers are the new default in CS5, and unfortunately they will give you the wrong y-values. To ensure you get the correct values you need to change the rulers over to Global rulers. This is easy – simply right click on the ruler, and select Change to Global Rulers.

How to get page numbering to start where you want it in InDesign CS5

When you use the A-Master and add auto-page numbering, InDesign counts each page from the very start of the document.

If you have a cover at the start of your document, you may have one or more pages where you do not want the pages numbers to appear. Since the page numbers don’t appear on these pages, you probably don’t want them counted in the page numbering sequence either.

This tutorial will show you how to adjust your page numbers so you can have them starting where you want.


Above is my document before I made this tutorial. You can see that I have a cover page with no page number on it, but the actual numbering starts with number “2” on page 2.

What I want is for the page numbering to start on page 2, but instead of saying “2”, I want it to say “1”.


Note: suggest you do this process only once you are happy with the final layout of your document, as it does require you to turn off shuffling of pages.

1. In your pages panel, double-click on the page icon where you want to start your numbering. In this example, I want to choose page 2, and have the actual page number say “1” on the page. Page 2 is selected in blue below:

2. The Pages palette has a menu you can access from the button on the top right of the panel. This gives you more options. Uncheck the option Allow document pages to shuffle.

3. Click on the Pages palette menu button again. Choose Numbering and Section Options…:

4. Select Start page numbering at and set the number in the box to be “1”. This will work with either a left- or right-side page (i.e. you can make an “even” left-side page into page 1. Nifty!

5. You may see a warning screen appear. It’s simply telling you that some of your pages will have identical page numbers. We will fix this later. For now, just click OK.

6. Your page numbers should have automatically renumbered.

7. If you want to remove page numbers from any of the pages in your document you have two choices:

  • Apply a different master page which doesn’t contain any page numbering, such as the master called “None”. To do this, select the page you want to apply the different master page to, and click the Pages palette menu button. Choose “Apply master to pages…” and then choose the master page you want to use instead of A-Master.

  • Or, you can go to the Pages palette menu, and select Override all Master page items. This will unlock the items from the master page, so you can then select and delete the bits you don’t need, such as the page numbers.

Note that you may run into issues if your document has duplicate page numbers from doing the above steps. I got this message when I tried to apply a new master page to the cover page (1):

Basically it’s telling me it can’t apply the master page I want, because there are 2 x “pages 1”s in my document. InDesign is confused! Poor lil’ InDesign.

To fix this all you need to do is rename one of the “page 1”s. To me, it makes more sense to rename the cover page 1, because it’s not included in any page numbering sequence.

Go to the Pages palette menu and select “Numbering and section options”. I added a Section Prefix of “A” so InDesign could distinguish between pages A1 and 1. After doing this InDesign will let you change the master page of A1.

Advanced Pen Tool – Illustrator

Illustrator Pen Tool Shortcuts


Get the Pen tool = P

Get the black arrow = V

Get the white arrow = A

Pen tool best practices:

  1. Work in one direction (i.e clockwise OR anti-clockwise) don’t change directions mid-drawing.
  2. Keep the handles of your curves pointing in the direction you are drawing. If they point backwards, you will get nasty (or perhaps useful) bumps and squiggles.
  3. Always work with closed paths. No matter how skinny the line. * note that lines created with the line tool should also be converted to paths/outlines before artwork is handed off to anyone. This is because lines tend to scale (get thicker or thinner) when artwork is scaled. Check the scaling preferences in Edit > Preferences.
  4. A single click will make a corner point. This has no handles.
  5. A click’n’drag will make a curve point. This has handles.
  6. When tracing artwork, always put the artwork on a locked layer.
  7. It is usually best to use a semi-transparent colour to trace with, rather than a line. The thickness of the line can obscure the actual path.
  8. Aim to create as few points as necessary.
  9. Make extrema points to start with. They are a good place to start, before you get a feel for where the “next point” should go. Extrema points are those points situated on the horizontal or vertical flatness of a curve. Use the Shift key to ensure accurate 90° lines.
  10. Once you have made a path, you will probably want to go back and fix it in places.
    1. Use the black arrow to move whole paths (V) (Also, usually not much use if you have drawn accurately over the source image  😛 ).
    2. Use the white arrow (A) to move points.
    3. Hold Alt and click’n’drag on an existing point to give it new handles. Great if you want to add or adjust a curve.
    4. Hold Alt and single click on an existing point to remove handles. Good if you want to remove a curve.
    5. When you have the Pen tool (P) in use, you may want to quickly jump back to the black arrow to select a path, or deselect a path. Instead of using (V), while the pen tool is in use, just hold down Ctrl and click. Same as black arrow tool, quick and useful. J
    6. Sometimes it’s useful to adjust both handles of a point at once (i.e., adjust the curve on both sides of the point). Use the white arrow (A) to do this.
    7. Other times you only want to adjust the handle on one side of a point (i.e., adjust the curve on one side of a point). Use the chevron tool to do this. To access the chevron tool (don’t ask me the “proper name”!) you need to have the pen tool in use (P). Hold down the Alt key and a little > shape will appear, tilted, next to your cursor. Use that to grab the handle you want to change. * Note: if the point you want to change is an extrema point, remember to also hold the Shift key to retain perfect 90° lines.

Pathfinder Tool

*Note:  To cut a shape out of another shape, you need to be working only with closed paths. Open paths, text and lines will NOT work.

The bottom left icon (Divide) will cut or punch a shape out of another shape, much like a cookie cutter cuts out a shape from dough. The dough should preferably be at the bottom.

  1. Stack two closed-path-objects over top of each other. They can overlap completely, or partially.
  2. With both paths selected, click the Divide icon. Your shapes will now be cut, but they will be grouped.
  3. Ungroup the shapes. Ctrl + Shift + G to ungroup.
  4. Using the black arrow (V) select the piece you want to remove, and either move it or delete it. Voila, one hole. J

The top left icon (Unite) will join two closed paths together. Same step one as above, then click Unit icon. That’s it, you now have a single path from what used to be two or more separate paths.

Align Tool

You should be able to work out the basic “align-left” “align centre, and “align top” tools easily enough.

*Note: Before aligning or distributing anything, always check what you are aligning stuff to. See the icon in the bottom left. Usually you want to align to selection (things you have selected on the page), but sometimes you may want to align stuff to the page.

You have two choices with the Distribute tools, you can either distribute centres, or distribute spaces.

Distribute centres is great when all your objects are the same dimension (i.e. same width if you plan to distribute horizontally). It is a pain if you have objects of different dimensions though; then it just makes a mess.

That is where distribute spaces comes in handy. It makes the space between all the objects you have selected even. A good example is text (turned to outlines), which are often varied widths.

VIDEO: clinical trial

A documentary you should watch about clinical trials that are currently underway for a new Type 1 Diabetes treatment:




Mentoring students

Today I had the great pleasure to meet a group of Year 11 students from Hawera High School, and their Technology/Computing teacher Di Peterson.

The students are going to be entering the IPENZ Neighbourhood Engineer Awards competition by working with real clients to build website each. An exciting project for them!

I will be helping by providing mentor services to them, and guiding them in their projects as they develop.

It is really interesting for me to get to work with younger students for a change, and I hope that we can work to create something Award-worthy! 🙂

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