Using the Direct Selection Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Of all the tools in Illustrator, among the most critical are the selection tools. And even though the Group Selection tool is a little more complicated in its function, the Direct Selection tool is used more frequently. So understanding its use is at least as important.

The Direct Selection tool’s job is to allow the user to work with individual anchor points and control handles, as opposed to the “main” Selection tool, which works with an object as a whole.

Direct Selection 1

The basic technique is simple enough. Once an object is created, one can switch to the Direct Selection tool, click, on an anchor point, and then either move it or work with the control handles on it, if any, that tell the curve of the line what to do. But what some people have said is, they have trouble selecting the anchor point even when they know where it is, because no matter how much they zoom in (64000%? Really?), it never gets bigger.

Direct Selection drag

Luckily, there are a couple of features which can help. One is the ability to drag a small selection box on a part of the shape near where the anchor point should be, using the tool; doing this will show nearby anchor points and make it easier to see where they are.

Mouse Over pref

Another is in the Selection and Anchor Display section of the program preferences: a checkbox called Highlight Anchors on Mouse Over. Having made some anchor points visible, if one slides the tool point within a few pixels of one, the program enlarges the anchor point, and lets the user click on it. So one’s aim need not be perfect.

Hover on anchor point

For a good number of things one needs to do in Illustrator, selecting all or part of a shape, or group of shapes, is a must-have technique. Therefore, knowing some of the tricks for the tools doing it, especially the Direct Selection tool, can make the job much easier.

How to Use the Selection Tools in Illustrator

Occasionally, new users of Illustrator have trouble understanding the selection tools; there are three, and each does something different. So knowing which to use for what is important. It’s not that hard to get the hang, with a little practice.

Main Selection Tool

The main Selection tool, usually referred to as just that, allows the user to select the entire object. For doing anything to the object as a whole, like changing fill color, edge color, etc., this is good. Furthermore, if one wants to change the object’s dimensions or position, it has to be selected as a whole object. So the Selection tool works for this.

Direct Selection Tool

The Direct Selection tool serves another purpose. If one wants to work on a part of the object, one anchor point, or one segment of the path which makes up the border, this would be the right tool. With the Direct Selection tool, one has to be a little more precise in where to click. Doing so on the anchor point works with that anchor point and the line segments to either side. Clicking on a line segment also selects the adjacent anchor points. This tool is more specific, and gives tighter control over selection. One can also drag to create what’s called a selection box around multiple anchor points, or any part of the object, to work with that part or parts.

Group Selection Tool 1  Group Selection Tool 2  Group Selection Tool 3

The Group Selection tool is a bit more complex, but it too has a method to the madness. When several objects need to stay in the same place relative to each other, they can be selected and grouped. Once they are, the Group Selection tool can select one object within the group (with the first click), a group within several groups (second click), or a set of groups together (third click). Again, the main problem some new users have is to click carefully, as the program simply interprets the clicks regardless. (We all sometimes double-click almost by reflex these days. After working with this program since the late Eighties, that bit still trips me up sometimes, so it’s not the user’s fault.)