Pen Tool in Photoshop

Pen Tool in Photoshop is used to draw a path or to draw an outline. Pen tool was originally created to draw a design of cars.

What is a Path?

A path can be a straight line or a curve line drawn from one point to another. Since, Path is all about drawing a line over an image, it has nothing to do with the pixels underneath it.

Note: When we draw a path on the image and save the image, then the path won’t be visible on the image as it is a temporary path. After drawing a path, we can convert it to a Selection.

Let’s see in example below; how to draw a path using Pen tool. Open below image in the Photoshop.

What is Path in Photoshop.PNG

Using the Pen tool, we will draw an outline of this car and will try to change the background with the outline selection.

As we can see, to draw the outline of the car, we need to draw straight lines as well as curves.

Hence, We must learn how to draw straight line and curves.

Select Pen tool . Leave the Option bar as shown below:

Option bar for Pen tool.PNG

Pen Tool - How to draw a straight Line?

To draw a straight line, select the Pen tool and click anywhere on the canvas to create a starting point. Pen tool will be like this .

Draw a straight line with Pen tool.PNG

Let’s say that the starting point name is point ‘1’. The point drawn by Pen tool is known as Anchor point.

Draw anchor point by Pen tool.PNG

Let’s click at point 2 with Pen tool to draw a path. This is how we draw a straight line.

Use anchor point to draw a straight line.PNG

Pen Tool - How to draw a Curve

To draw a curve line, click at point 3 which is our next point. Now without releasing the mouse button, drag the cursor. When we drag the cursor at point 3, it creates direction handles (2 lines extending in opposite directions). Longer the direction handle, more will be the curve expansion. Hence, direction handle decides 2 things:

(i) Length of the curve (ii) Angle of the curve

How to draw a curve with Pen tool.PNG

(i) Length of the curve

We can extend direction handles to extend Length of the curve. In below pic, we are extending the direction handles at point 3 to increase the curvature of the curve.

Adjust the Length of the Curve.PNG

(ii) Angle of the curve

We can rotate direction handles to rotate the curve. Hold "Ctrl" (Win) / "Command" (Mac) key and rotate either of the direction handles around the anchor point. As we rotate one handle, other will also rotate in opposite direction and the curvature of the curve will change.

Change direction of the Curve 1.PNG Change direction of the Curve 2.PNG

Pen Tool - How to draw a continues Curve?

Suppose we have drawn straight line and then 1 curve as shown below. To draw another curve in continuation, first we delete 2nd direction handle of point 3 i.e. we delete ‘B’.

How to draw a continuous curve with Pen tool.PNG

To delete the direction handle B, hold Alt key and then click on the anchor 3 toward point B. See the point where we click.

How to draw a continuous curve with Pen tool 2.PNG

Once the handle B is deleted. Now use pen tool to click on the next point and without releasing the mouse pointer drag it to create a curve. See below

How to draw a continuous curve with Pen tool 3.PNG

Pen Tool - How to change curves in intermediate points?

Change Curves on Intermediate points.PNG

Pen Tool - How to activate an anchor point?

If you want to activate anchor point 4 after adjusting the curvature at point 3, then hold "Ctrl" (Win) / "Command" (Mac) key and click on anchor point 4. Anchor point 4 will turn into solid square, which means that the anchor point 4 is currently active. Also, direction handle will appear see below.

How to activate anchor points.PNG

Pen Tool - How to change control the curvature on either side of an anchor point?

Let's activate point 3 now. We want to change the urvature of point 3 on both side. To activate point 3, hold "Ctrl" (Win) / "Command" (Mac) and click on point 3.

Change curvature either side of anchor point.PNG

Here, we have only one direction handle. Hold Alt key and drag the anchor point 3 to recreate 2 handles in opposite direction. See below:

Change curvature either side of anchor point 2.PNG

Now hold Alt key and rotate handle A to affect the curvature on its side. Similarly, hold Alt key and rotate handle B to affect the curvature on its side.

Change curvature either side of anchor point 3.PNG

Pen Tool - How to add and remove intermediate anchor point?

To add an anchor point at an intermediate position, click anywhere in the middle of the curve. The cursor will appear as (Plus + sign on Pen tool). See below, we create a new anchor point.

Add or remove Intermediate points.PNG

To remove anchor point, just take the pen tool on that anchor point and when the cursor changes to (Minus sign – on Pen tool), click there to remove it. See below:

Remove anchor points 3.PNG

Pen tool Example Continues …

Now, as we have the basic concept of how to draw straight line and curves, let continue our example and draw the outline.

Pen tool Example in Photoshop continues.PNG

Now draw the path as shown below.

Draw path with Pen tool.PNG

Below is the complete outline for the car. The outline is very light and hence you many find it difficult to visualize it on the edges.

Complete the outline with Pen tool.PNG

Go to the path panel to see the work path created.

Work path drawn by Pen tool.PNG

The path with the name ‘Work Path’ is temporary. To save the work path double click on the Work path icon. It prompts to save the path as shown below. Let’s save it. If we don’t save the path and draw a new path then the old path will be deleted and new path will be loaded with the same name ‘Work Path’ in path panel. Hence we must save the old paths.

Save the work path.PNG

Once we have saved the path, click on the icon at the bottom of path panel to convert the path “Path1” into a Selection.

Convert Path into a Selection.PNG

Below is how the Selection look like after converting path into a selection.

Selection after path conversion.PNG

Now copy this selection. Go to Edit -> Copy to copy the car.

Open a new background image in a new tab as shown below.

Open new background.PNG

Then paste the car into this background. To paste, use Ctrl+V, or go to Edit -> paste.

Paste the car.PNG

Pen tool Output:

Pen tool output.PNG

Tools to Control the path:

There are two tools in Photoshop, which we can use to control the path.

Control the path.PNG

(a) Path Selection tool

Path Selection Tool in Photoshop is used to move the path selection. To move a path in any direction, hold the left mouse button and drag the path in any direction to move it around.

Path Selection tool in Photoshop.PNG

(b) Direct Selection Tool

Direct Selection Tool is used to select, move or modify paths or shapes. With this tool, you can select individual Anchor points in a path/shape and manipulate it. E.g. We hold the point 2 and move it to change the path as shown below.

Direct selection tool in Photoshop.PNG





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