0º or 90º: A Technique to Improve Your Vectors

I’m really excited to share a technique with you that I like to call the 0º or 90º technique.

Month after month, project after project, I strive to develop efficiencies in my vector execution. No one is born a pen tool master, but in the beginning, I felt like I was really struggling to bring my work to life.

Sometimes, I was able to make my vector lines match my design perfectly. But other times, pulling bezier handles was like pulling teeth. I just couldn’t manage to get the curves do what I needed them to.

A few months ago, I was going back through some of my old hand lettering design work. As I reviewed all of the vector executions I had done for these designs, I began noticing a common trend in the stronger works.

The most accurate vectors are ones where anchors are plotted in such a way that the bezier handles only need to be pulled at either a 0º or 90º angle.
Image demonstrating vectors using bezier handles pulled at only 0º or 90º
If you’re able to catch a peek as other professional hand lettering artists vectorize, you’ll see that they too utilize this technique.

How the 0º or 90º Technique Works

The technique is quite simple. Plot your anchors as you normally would, but when you pull the bezier handles to create curves, pull them at either a 0º angle (horizontal), or 90º angle (vertical).
Image demonstrating vectors using bezier handles pulled at only 0º or 90º degrees
If you find that you’re unable to achieve the curve you’re after without pulling at an angle other than 0º or 90º, chances are you’ve plotted your anchors in the wrong place.

Here are two important factors to keep in mind when plotting anchor points:

1. Stick to the Extrema

Anchors points (unless they’re a corner) belong on what is called the extrema. The extrema is the farthest point of a curve. Extrema can happen on either a horizontal or vertical axis.

vector letterforms with highlighted extremas at 0º or 90º

In this image, you’ll see that the anchor points are plotted on the furthest edges of each curve.

So if you’re having trouble, make sure you’ve found the extreme edge of your curve and plotted your anchor there.

2. Less is More

Each anchor point that exists on a shape needs to play nicely with every other anchor point on that shape.

Therefore, the fewer points that exist on a vector shape, the easier that shape is to manipulate. And as a result, the curves are smoother.

For example, an circle could theoretically be made up of 4 points because it has 4 extrema (top, bottom, left, and right). But did you know that you can make the exact same shape with half the points?

2 vector circles. One has 4 anchor points and the other has 2.

Bottom line, use as few anchor points as possible. You’ll thank yourself later!

Show Me

To sum up the points we discussed in this blog, here is an explanation in video form.

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