Flash has typically been based on VECTOR graphics, a mathematically calculated representation of lines, curves, color and pattern. You can read more about Vectors here. Vector images have distinct strokes and fills, like a drawing program; bitmap images consist of individual pixels, like a painting program.
Hovering the cursor over any tool will display a tool hint that provides the name of the tool and the keyboard shortcut, if any, for that tool.
The Tools panel typically displays as a long column. To have it display as rows, simply resize the panel by dragging the dividing line at the left of the panel. Clicking and holding on the black triangle in the lower right corner of some tools will display a fly-out menu of additional tools that are similar to that initial tool. Lastly, while most tools have options specific to them at the bottom of the Tools Panel, every tool also has specific charcteristics that can be manipulated in the Properties Panel, after first selecting the tool.
The Selection Tool (black arrow) is used to select objects. Take note if you are selecting the stroke, the fill or the entire shape! Also use this tool to alter a line: as the tool approaches a line or a corner notice the icon in the lower right corner of the tool ~ once the curve or right-angle icon is visible you can click and drag the line to alter it. OPTIONS: Snap to Objects, Smooth, Straighten
The Subselection Tool (white arrow) is used to select portions of objects. Clicking an object with this tool will display a multitude of "handles" each of which can be dragged to alter the object. There are no Options for this tool.
The Free Transform Tool (square with dots and arrow at left) is used to risize an object. Clicking and holding on the triangle at the lower right will access the Gradient Transform Tool used to alter a gradient. OPTIONS: Snap to Objects, Rotate and Skew, Scale, Distort, Envelope
The 3D Rotation Tool (circle with orbit lines) is used to orbit objects in 3D space. The 3D Translation Tool is for moving a clip along the x, y or z axis. These two tools only work with MOVIE CLIPS! Think of manipulating 3D in Flash as a flat piece of paper that is floating in space. The 3D tools of red, green and blue correspond to the x, y and z axes. The red or orange line handles x, y rotation; the blue line is for z rotation, and the crosshairs let you manipulate x and y individually. OPTIONS: Snap to Objects, Global Transform
The Lasso Tool is used to select odd areas by dragging the lasso around them. OPTIONS: Magic Wand, Magic Wand Settings, Polygon Mode
The Pen Tool is used to draw Bezier curves, which are like "connecting the dots". A Bezier curve is a curved line created from two endpoints and two or more control points. The best way to understand this tool is to use it! (Here is another explanation.) This tool only draws with a stroke and not with a fill. OPTIONS: Object Drawing, Snap to Objects
The Text Tool is used for placing text on the Stage. You can read more about it in this section on Text.
The Line Tool draws lines in the form of strokes. Holding down the SHIFT key will contrain the tool to form a perfect straight line. OPTIONS: Object Drawing, Snap to Objects
The Rectangle Tool, along with the Oval and Polystar Tools, draws an object made of a distinct stroke (line or outline) and fill (interior), both of which can be set to None. Holding down the Shift key while using one of these tools will constrain the shapes and lines to form perfect circles, squares and straight lines. While drawing a rectangle or square, press the up or down arrow keys and see how the curves can be altered. Polystar Tool --> Properties Panel --> Tool Settings --> Options to access Polygon or Star Style. OPTIONS (depending which tool is selected): Object Drawing, Snap to Objects
The Pencil Tool lets you draw freeform using strokes. OPTIONS: Object Drawing, Pencil Mode
The Brush Tool also houses the Spray Brush Tool, which can spray paint and symbols to create patterns and bordrs. OPTIONS (for the Brush Tool): Object Drawing, Lock Fill, Brush Mode, Brush Size, Brush Shape
The Deco Tool paints fills. Click the Stage to start filling the Stage with a fill; click again to stop. Use the Properties Panel to change the drawing effect of the fill, as well as other options. The deco drawing animates as it fills, and you can create an animation of this byfirst selecting Animate Pattern in the Properties Panel prior to clickig the Stage. Flash will then create a frame-by-frame animation of the fill process.
The Bone Tool lets you create bone systems so you can animate hinging effects. The steps for creating such a system is available in Animating Bones. OPTIONS: Snap to Objects
The Paint Bucket Tools draws with only a fill. Sometimes it may be difficult to fill a shape drawn with the pencil because there are gaps in the path; use the options to fix the gaps. The Ink Bottle Tool is used to change an existing stroke or add an outline to a shape that doesn't have one. Select this tool and make the change you want in the Properties Panel, then click any line or shape to reset the stroke to the new properties. OPTIONS: Gap Size, Lock Fill
The Eye Dropper Tool is used to select a color on the Stage that you want to use. If you select a fill, the eye dropper turns into the Paint Bucket so you can fill an object. If you select a stroke, the eye dropper turns into the Ink Bottle so you can change the stroke.
The Eraser Tool removes strokes and fils, The Eraser's Faucet option removes patches of fill. OPTIONS: Eraser Mode, Faucet, Eraser Shape
The Hand Tool lets you move the entire Stage in one fell swoop.
The Zoom Tool makes it easier to edit objects or see the entire Stage in miniature. The same adjustments can be made from the Zoom pop-up window in the upper right of the Stage. OPTIONS: Enlarge, Reduce
This last set of Tools lets you quickly and easily change the Stroke and Fill colors, or to choose Black and white or to Swap colors.
Drawing Tool TIPS: Any combination of objects may be grouped to combine the strokes and fills into one selectable object. This is done by selecting all the objects and then choosing Modify Menu --> Group. Likewise, once grouped the items can then be ungrouped by choosing Modify Menu --> Ungroup. Additionally, it is a good idea to read about Object Drawing Mode.