Drawing with the Pen Tool (PSE 10-14)

The Pen tool lets us draw with straight lines and Bézier curves. Generally speaking, the drawn objects are more regular-shaped than their real-life prototypes, and can be scaled to any size without quality loss.

However, mastering this tool may take you some time and effort. To begin with, let's see how to draw the straight lines:

  • Click with the Pen where you want your path to begin (fig. 1).
  • Then set the second and further anchor points (2, 3, and 4 in fig. 2)
  • Click on the first anchor point to close the path (point 1/5 in fig. 2).

Unfortunately, PSE 13+ only displays the lines and not the nodes (anchor points), which causes some additional complexity. Just for comparision, the figure 3 shows the sample path with the anchor points.

To make the process clearer consider drawing on the shape layers:

  • Set two or more anchor points with the Pen tool.
  • Create a fill layer as shown in figure 4.
  • In the Layers panel, click the created layer's thumbnail to activate the path (fig. 5).
  • Click with the Pen tool on the last set point to continue the path. Notice how the pointer changes over the "resume" points (fig. 6).
  • Set the follow-up points (fig. 7)

Tip: You can automate the shape layer creation as explained here.

Ok, straight lines were really easy. Now let's move to the curve drawing:

  • Set with the Pen the first anchor point.
  • Click where you want to set the second point and then -- without releasing the mouse button -- pull the pointer sidewards.
  • Set the third point and pull in a different direction (fig. 8).
When you drag from an anchor point, there appears a lever that defines the line direction and curvature. The further you pull the lever, the steeper are the adjacent curves. And vise versa: the less you drag sidewards, the straighter is the segment line.

Keep drawing and experimenting to get feel of the Pen tool. With some practice you'll know exactly where to set the next point and how to define the line curvature.

A video on this topic is available here.

Note: Some additional info on this subject is available in full Photoshop documentation.

Previous Next