Illustrator and Arrowheads

Let’s talk about Adobe Illustrator Arrowheads. Specifically, let’s talk about one Arrowhead: Arrowhead #8.


Arrowhead #8 has been an integral element of DesignMap deliverables since the company's founding in 2006. Passing through the studio in those halcyon days, you might've spotted this Illustrator dialog up on a lot of our screens.




In CS4 and earlier, the process for adding an Arrowhead to a line was (1.) Draw a line, then (2.) Add an arrowhead Effect (Effect > Stylize > Add Arrowheads…).

With the introduction of Illustrator CS5, though, the implementation changed. Arrowheads went from being an "Effect" to being a property of the line's Stroke itself. And that was great! Totally logical. Makes perfect sense.  Truly an improvement. But sadly, something got lost in the changeover: Arrowhead #8.

The Analysis

So while CS5 introduced a much more intuitive way to stylize lines with arrowheads, it also introduced a revised set of arrowhead types. We did a bit of a double-take the first time we pulled up the new arrowhead selector and saw this:


That is not the Arrowhead #8 we knew and loved. And what’s more, after doing a quick poll of the entire list, we found our old Arrowhead hadn’t just been moved to a new position, it was completely gone. We went through the new menu, trying to find a replacement…



Obviously, the new #8 is not even close. #10 looks OK on a cursory inspection, but note those horizontal cuts-- it's a big change. #11 is
a ringer, but the proportion is off (it's too big). So maybe scaling it down 50% will do the trick? Nope, now the arrowhead stroke is too thin.

The Solution

Faced with this, we had only one choice (well, one choice outside of “suck it up and stop being so nitpicky”): we had to (re)create the old Illustrator #8 Arrowhead and insert it into the new CS5+ Arrowhead palette. Here’s how.

Navigate to your Illustrator application folder in the Finder. Right-click on the application icon and choose “Show Package Contents.” Now go Required > Resources > en_US > Arrowheads.ai


This is the file that houses the arrowhead artwork that populates the Arrowheads menu.

You can add a new arrowhead to it simply by copy-pasting one of the existing arrows, editing it to your liking, and then saving the changes. As you can see above, we added back the old #8 style– at the new position #40. As obnoxious as that clunky new #8 is, we didn’t have the heart to kill it off completely.

We should also probably tell you at this point that it’s probably a good idea to make a backup of your default Arrowheads.ai file, and store it somewhere safe, before you start editing it. You know, just in case.

Once you’ve made the changes to the Arrowheads.ai file, just reload Illustrator, grab a line and click on the Arrowheads menu: voilà! The classic #8 Arrowhead is back.