Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool


Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

1. The Pen Tool is Important Because…

How to use the pent tool: The pen tool allows you to create vector graphics in Photoshop. A vector graphic is a graphic that is based on paths which are able to be scaled as large as you ever want, but the pen tool also allows you to create amazingly complex and editable selections by drawing out a path (which is editable even after you finish drawing it) and then loading that path as a selection. This makes the pen tool the tool of choice for pros everywhere when it comes to vector graphic creation (in Photoshop at least) as well as designers and photographers who need precise and powerful selection capabilities.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

2. Build, Don’t Draw, With the Pen Tool

The way the pen tool works is by dropping points which are all connected by a path. You can’t just grab the pen tool and scribble around (watch the video to learn a little about the freeform pen tool if you’re interested in that), but you need to build a path using anchor points. Click to drop a few points and then click on your first point to “close” the path and you will have completed your very first path!

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

3. Draw a Path Around An Object

We will begin with a very straight edged object and we’ll draw a path around it to enclose this entire orange bag in a new path. TIP: Use as few points as possible while still remaining close to the edges of the object that is being selected to ensure a clean, yet accurate path.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

4. Load Path as a Selection

To load the path as a selection go Window>Paths to open the paths panel and Cmd/Ctrl + Click the thumbnail of our current path. This will load it as a selection. We can now copy and paste our bag, move it, or even transform it.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

5. Creating a Bezier Curve Path

”Bezier Curve” is a fancy word for just making your path bend. There is a reason why we call it that, but this isn’t history class, is it? To create a bend or curve in your path simply begin by creating a new path and place your first point. Then, while clicking to place the second point, click, hold, and drag. When you do this, you will see tangent handles sticking out of this anchor point. Depending on how and where you drag these handles, you affect the curve of the path.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

6. Cutting Shapes and Areas Out of the Path

You can see in the tutorial that I have traced around the Ferrari entirely, but I need to go in and cut out the windows, headlights, grilles, etc… to ensure that when I change the color of the car, those objects won’t be funkified and the wrong color. We can do this by grabbing the pen tool and looking to the control bar to find something called “Path Operations”. Go ahead and choose the “Subtract From Front Shape” option. Now when we draw these paths, they will be cutting pieces out of our original path instead of creating fresh new paths.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

7. Adding and Removing Points from a Path

Using the Add or Remove anchor points tool is a breeze. Check out the video where I quickly add points to the path and edit the new points to conform to the side window of the car.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

8. Masked Shape or Adjustment Layer from Path

When you have your path selected (use the paths panel if the path is not selected) you can add an adjustment layer and it will automatically mask that adjustment layer to your path. Here I added a solid color adjustment layer to create a vector shape layer which I can easily change color of. TIP: I used the blend mode of either Color or Hue on my solid color layer to quickly change the shiny metallic color of the car.

Photoshop Tutorial: How to use the Pen Tool |

9. Convert Anchor Tool

The last thing we’ll touch on in this tutorial is the convert anchor tool which allows us to “suck” those tangent handles back into a point and essentially “reset” any point in our path. Grab the convert anchor tool and click the anchor point you want to reset and it will revert to a straight edged corner. You can click and drag with this tool to drag out a new set of tangent handles as well.

Nathaniel Dodson
I make videos about being creative with photography, design, and filmmaking. I'm a commercial photographer, a logo designer, a camera nerd, an artist, a wannabe thinker, and I like to read books. I arrived on planet earth in the year 1989.