Deke’s Techniques 102: Drawing with the Reshape Tool

102 Drawing with the reshape tool

Happy Valentine’s Day.

In honor of the occasion, I’ve come up with a tasty red candy of a technique, based on a tragically misunderstood Illustrator feature called the Reshape tool. It’s a kind of boy finds tool, boy loses tool, but gets tool back kinda movie.

Here’s the official description from

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques video, Deke uses an old, obscure, and possibly unloved feature in Illustrator in an unexpected way to create a fresh, swirly curve for your last-minute Valentine (or whatever other occasion you may have to make sweet swirls). You start with the Pen tool to rough in your letter S. Seriously, you don’t need to be a whiz with the Pen tool, just make a crazy polygonal not-quite-backward-letter-Z. Then armed with the Reshape tool, you’ll drag out each segment until you get the curves you seek. (Members of can download the accompanying exercise file and use Deke’s S as a tracing template.)

No need to figure out your control handle curves with the Pen tool or try to join spirals created by the aptly named Spiral tool. The Reshape tool supplies the curves. The Path > Simplify command smooths out the lumps. (Your valentine won’t appreciate lumps.) Deke shows you how to sweetly seduce your S into shape. Stroke the path, add a little Width tool sweetness (if you have Illustrator CS5), and the result is this Valentine-worthy letter S:

A big swirly S created with the reshape tool in Illustrator

For members of the Online Training Library, Deke offers another movie, “Hand-Drawing a Really Great Letter,” in which he shows you how to create the “weet” in Sweet by manipulating existing type definitions.

The Reshape tool. It’ll reshape your heart. (Aw!)

Next entry:dekeAdvice: Getting Your dekeLove On

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 100: Creating an Dual-Focus Hybrid Image


  • It looks like I am going to

    It looks like I am going to have to learn Illustrator now!  LOL Thank you! 


  • This is a nice introduction

    This is a nice introduction to a tool I’ve never noticed before and might find a use for in the future. The video is misleading, though: I don’t see how you’d get that S without first using the pen or spiral tool to make a nice shape to trace. Kinda defeats the purpose of the shortcut, doesn’t it? Maybe you could start by making 2 sets of concentric circles and then laying points on top of them. Not sure it wouldn’t be better to just go straight to the pen tool even then.

  • Making curved lines

    Great tut as is, Deke. What I liked is not having to use them dog gone vertex handles. It was very very helpful and opened the doors yet again for me use Illustrator more.

    Many thanks,

    Rory Tate

    The old, cranky guy at Narconon Arrowhead

  • Non contiguous parts of a letter

    The technique you showed us, with the letter “S” works well. After all, it is just a continuous line. But what about a letter such as “K” or “R”? I’m at a loss as to how to create a single path with these types of letters?

    Can you suggest a technique?

  • You could create them as

    You could create them as separate pieces and then just combine them together with the pathfinder tool once you have the look you like. Then you have one single piece as your letter. That’s how I would handle it.

  • He just showed us the final

    He just showed us the final output S so that we would know what he was doing. Essentially, you just create whatever shape appeals to you and then use his techniques to get the smooth shape.

    If you wanted a precise letter S (or other letter) then laying out the circles as you’re saying would be a good start. Time consuming, but it would get you the “perfect” shapes you might be looking for.

    In any case, he’s essentially showing us the tools we need to use in order to create whatever shapes we want, specifically with swirls and spirals.