How to Draw Arrows in Adobe Illustrator

Written by elizabeth mott
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Adding arrows to forms, illustrations, maps and other artwork in Adobe Illustrator CS5 requires only a few more steps than simply drawing a line. If you've been adding heads and tails to your arrows manually, you've been missing out on one of Illustrator's convenience features. Of course, you always can choose to create your arrows from scratch to achieve a truly customised graphic appearance, but for most tasks, Illustrator's built-in arrow features fill the bill.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Launch Adobe Illustrator CS5. Choose "Open" from the "File" menu to open the document in which you wish to add arrows. Navigate to the location of your file and either double-click on its name or click on it once to highlight it and click the "OK" button.

  2. 2

    Choose the "Pen" tool from the Illustrator toolbox or press the "P" key on your keyboard. Click once in the live area of your document to create the starting point of the line that will form your arrow. Shift-click a second time a short distance to the right of your first click to create the ending point of a straight horizontal line.

  3. 3

    Choose "Transform" from the "Window" menu to bring up the "Transform" panel on your screen if it is not open. Choose "Stroke" from the "Window" menu to bring up the "Stroke" panel as well. Choose "Arrowheads" from the flyout menu at the top right corner of the "Stroke" panel to display Illustrator's arrowhead options in the panel.

  4. 4

    Choose the "Selection" tool from the toolbox or press the "V" key on your keyboard. Click on the line segment you drew to select it if it is not already selected. Set the "W" value in the "Transform" panel to the desired width of your line segment if it is not the correct width.

  5. 5

    Change the "Weight" of the line for your arrow in the "Stroke" panel if the default value of one point is too thick or thin for your needs. Set the two pop-up menus in the "Arrowheads" section of the "Stroke" menu to the head and tail designs for your arrow. Scroll through each menu to select the style you want from its list of options.

  6. 6

    Change the "Scale" pop-up menus to make either the head or the tail design larger or smaller than the defaults for the styles you have chosen. If you want both the head and the tail to use the same scale value, click on the "Link" icon to the right of the "Scale" pop-up menus to lock the values to one another.

  7. 7

    Choose whether you want the arrowhead to begin or end at the end of your line segment by selecting either of the two "Align" option icons below the "Scale" pop-ups. Each of the icons illustrates the arrowhead alignment option it triggers. If the arrowhead begins at the end of your line segment, it makes your arrow longer than the line segment itself. If you choose the alternative placement option, the arrow tip does not extend beyond the length of your line.

Tips and warnings

  • To swap the head and tail of your arrow to the opposite ends of your line segment, click on the "Swap" icon in the "Arrowheads" section of the "Stroke" panel, to the right of the two "Arrowheads" pop-up menus.
  • To remove the arrow tip and tail from your line, change the "Arrowheads" pop-up menus to "None."
  • You can draw an arrow and then move and rotate it into position or vice versa. If your arrow needs to point at an angle other than straight across or straight up and down, you may find it easier to draw and position your line segment first. Instead of clicking once to start your line and Shift-clicking to end it straight across or straight up and down, skip the "Shift" key when you click to end the line segment and you can draw your straight line at any angle.
  • To draw a curved line, click and drag when you add your second control point.

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