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“Using Photoshop pen tool tutorial, and an introduction to Bézier curves” is part of my Photoshop book “Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures”, which is more revised and covers more concepts than the online tutorials, feel free to check out the book by visiting my Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures Book Page.
Advantages of Photoshop pen tool over the other tools
- Gives you lot of control over the lines you draw once you get used to the tool.
- The curves you draw using the pen tools are vector graphics. Vector graphics is a term that refers to a kind of lines and shapes the computer draw using mathematical equations instead of laying down pixels beside each other(which is called raster graphics. Which is the kind of picture we mostly work on in Photoshop). The advantage of vector graphics is that no matter how much you resize them, they retain their quality. That is because the computer draw them from scratch when it is needed (again, using mathematical equations).
- The ability to make complex selections:- Specially in the situations where the other selections tools fail or can hardly make the selection.
An easy start, drawing straight lines
- Drawing straight lines with the pen tool is easy. All you have to do is to select the pen tool . Click once on the canvas (where you want your line to start), then click again where you want it to end. And Photoshop will draw the line for you.
- After that, each time you click on the canvas with the pen tool, you create a new anchor point (the name for the square points that you create when you click on the canvas). And a new line will be drawn starting from the last anchor point you inserted.
Drawing curves. How the pen tool works
- Let’s take a look at the following straight line, which is straight because there are no handles coming out from the anchor points. The curves goes from the first point to the second one
- Now after I moved the handle a little that comes out from the point at the bottom (I forced it to come out of the point, more on how to do that soon) The straight line has turned into a curve, notice how the line seems to get attracted to the handle and following it. So by moving that handle, you control how the curve looks like. The good thing is, you come come back at anytime and modify the points and their handles, so no need to worry about making mistakes while creating the curves.
- To illustrate how the curve seem to follow the handle of the curve, I made an extreme move using the handle, which made the curve arcs sharply.
- Moving to another example with three point instead of two, as it may seems obvious now. Having simple points with no handles coming out of it produces a straight line
- After creating the handles that comes out of the anchor point, the straight line became a curve from both sides of the point. this is why the second handle point is important, it controls the line on the other side of the anchor point, which did not exist in the first example.
- Again, I will sharply twist the curve to show you how the curve follows the handles of the anchor point:-
- And of course, the two handles don’t have to be on the same line, this is just the default way the handles are when they are first created in Photoshop.
- Here are few examples where the handles are not in the same line, which create curves that form a pointy edge where the two handles meet. That is because for the curves to follow the handles, they has to meet in such way:-
Using Photoshop pen tool In Practice
Drawing straight lines with Photoshop Pen tool
- We first pick the pen tool , which is located in the tools panel.
- Then we click to create the first anchor point,
- Then we click again somewhere in the canvas to create the second anchor point. Once you create the second point. Photoshop will draw a line between these two points.
- You can keep clicking until you are done creating the shape we want to
- If you want, you can create a closed shape be clicking on the first point you created when you started drawing the shape. A little circle º will appear besides the cursor once you hover the mouse over it. Here is the shape after I closed it:-
Getting to draw carves
Drawing Simple Arc With Photoshop Pen Tool 1
- Select the Pen tool
- Click on the canvas to create the first anchor point, just like you did when you created the straight lines in the last tutorial
- Now click on the canvas to create the second point anchor point. But this time, instead of releasing the mouse button. Keep holding mouse and drag it in any direction. The two handles will emerge out of the anchor points as you do that. And the straight line will turn into a curve. Adjust the handles however you want then release the mouse button
Drawing Simple Arc With Photoshop Pen Tool 2
- Select the Pen tool
- Click on the canvas to create the first anchor point, but instead of releasing the mouse button, keep holding it and drag it somewhere, the handles will come out of the newly created anchor point. But since you only created one anchor point so far. Nothing will appear on the screen, but that will change right now
- Click somewhere on the canvas to create the second anchor point. And Photoshop will create a curve that goes from the first anchor point to the other. Depending on how you dragged the handles in the first step
Drawing Simple Arc With Photoshop Pen Tool 3
- Select the Pen tool from the tools panel
- Click on the canvas to create the first anchor point. But instead of releasing the mouse button. Keep holding it and drag it somewhere. The handles will come out of the newly creating anchor point
- Click on the canvas to create the second point anchor point. and again. instead of releasing the mouse button. Keep holding it and drag it in any direction. The two handles will emerge out of the anchor points as you do that. and the curved will be emphasised. Adjust the second pair of handles then release the mouse button
- A new curve will be drawn that is controlled by both the handles of the two anchor points you created.
Drawing various curves using 3 lines
Since you are now aware that you can create a handle from any point you draw, I will stop emphasising on that from now on~ :)
Creating a simple curve
- Select the Pen tool from the tools panel
- Click somewhere in the canvas to create the first anchor point
- Click and drag the mouse button to create an anchor point with handles, adjust the handles however you want then release the mouse button.
- Click somewhere in the canvas to create the 3rd anchor point.
Creating a broken curve
- Select the Pen tool from the tools panel
- Click to create the first anchor point
- Like you did when you created the curves. Click and hold the mouse button for the handles to appear. But after you adjust the handle. Don’t release the mouse button. But instead, hold the Alt/Option key along with it. This will cause one of the handles to freeze in its place, allowing you to control the other one.
- Once you are done adjusting the second handle, release the mouse button.
- You are now free to continue drawing the curve by adding more points to it. I added a third point to my curve after I was done with it.
- Drawing curves like that is useful in more than a way, as it allows you to controls the curves you are drawing more efficiently. Just like how it allowed me to draw the following cat:- :3
A Little Summary Before We Continue
- Anchor points without handles create straight line. So if there is no handles, no curves.
- You can create a curve by creating handle out of any of the anchor points you are inserting.
- Anchor points without handles are called corner points, the ones with handles are called curve points.
- Handles can be on the same line. Which create smooth curves. Or they can be on a different line, making the curve appear abrupt or even broken.
Editing the path after you created it
The path selection tools group
The path selection tool
The Direct Selection Tool
The Pen Tools Groups
Add Anchor Point Tool
Delete Anchor Point Tool
The Convert Point Tool
Freedom pen tool
More on Photoshop pen tool and paths
Turning a pen curve into selection
- First create the path you want to turn into selection, I have made the following house-like shape for demonstration purpose:-
- If you can’t see the Paths Panel, choose Window > Paths from the main menu. The paths Panel appears.
- Hover your mouse over the path you want to turn into a selection, then hold the Control button (Command if you are using a Mac), the cursor will have a little square besides of it.
- While you are holding Control / Command, click on the path icon in the paths panel. And the path will become a selection right away.
- Feel free to use that selection however you want, I filled the selection to create a house shape:-
Filling a path with pixels right away
- Right Click on the path you want to turn into a selection, and then choose “Fill Path” From the Context Menu
- The Fill Path dialog appears.
- Photoshop allows you many options of how to fill the path, some of these options are explained in the Infographic below. And some of them will be explained at a later lesson, but for now, let’s focus on filling the path with a simple colour.
- After you choose the colour you want to fill the path with. Click the ok button. And Photoshop will the path for you with the colour you chose.
Stroking the path
- Right Click on the path you want to turn into a selection, and then choose “Stroke Path” From the Context Menu (If the path has more than one part, you will find “Stroke Subpath” options indeed of stroke path).
- The Stroke Path dialog appears
- The stroke path dialog allows you to select many tools to stroke the path with. The settings of the tool you select depends on where you left the sittings the last time you used it. For example, if the last time you used the brush tool you had a soft brush, the path will be stroked with that soft brush, so adjusting the tool you want to use before you use it to stroke the path.
- Once you select the tool to stroke the path with, click on OK on the dialog, and the path will be stroked. Here is the house shape after stroked with two kind of brushes:-
- Stroking paths is a common way to make precise drawings in Photoshop, though if you want to do that extensively, I highly recommend you to use a dedicated vector graphics software, like Adobe Illustrator.
Candy Tip:- Pressing Enter on your keyboard will stroke the selected path with the the selected tool in the tools panel, for example, if you pressed enter while you have the brush tool selected, the selected path will be stroked with the brush tool.
Creating more than one path in a single Photoshop document
- Draw a path like we always did so far, I drew a random shape right here. And as you can see, the path will appear in the Paths panel.
- Now, double-click on the path in the paths panel.
- The “Save Path” dialog appears. allowing you to pick a name for the path. I will keep the default name. Press OK after you are done naming the path.
- Make sure the path is unselected in the paths panel when the path is unselected. It is unselected when the name of the path won’t be highlighted, And the path won’t be visible in the canvas, like this:-
- Now choose the Pen Tool and draw another path, the new path will appear in the Path panel. If you want to keep that path to use later, you will have to save it as well by double clicking on it.
- You can switch between the paths you have by clicking on the path you want to work on from the Paths Panel.
Creating a path with more than one part / curve
- First, draw the path of the house itself. Just like we previously learned before. Holding shift while adding the point makes it very easy to create straight and 45º angles lines. selecting the Direct Selection Tool and clicking anywhere in the document.
- Deselect the path by switching to the Direct Selection Tool and clicking anywhere in the document.
- Select the pen tool again
- Draw the door part where you want to with the Pen tool.
- You can keep repeating the steps of deselecting the path then drawing another part of the house as much as you like. I added two more parts to the house the same way here:-