PFB: Shapes! Get Into It!

Hello, hello, and thank you for joining me on getting into shapes.

Today: the Shape Tool



One of the first things you need to know about the shape tool is that it is both easy and hard to use. The easy aspect is just that, easy, you simply draw a pre-made shape and pick which color you want it to be. The hard to use part about shapes is that you can layer them on top of each other and use them to “punch out” sections of other shapes. I will get into that a little later on.

ShapesButtonsFirst the shapes menu and buttons. As you can see on the left hand side the shapes can be found on your tools panel. Also under Window>Tools or with the hotkey “U”. I will have to do another tutorial on the Pen Tool as it is its own beast, but I will cover the Direct and Path Selection tools in this tutorial as they can be used to manipulate shapes.

The menu bar consists of the followingShapesMenu

Starting from the left, The Presets Menu: for shapes is a little non-existent, but that is not to say that you cannot add to it to make your own sets of preset shapes. These will be different from custom shape which I will get into in just a moment.

Shape Layers: These layers are different from others in that they can consist of one or many shapes on the same layers that are each individually editable. There can only be one color assigned to a shape layer at one time but they can still have effects added to them just like any other layer in Photoshop. Possibly the greatest thing about these shapes layers is that they always remain editable, in that you can change the shape of the shape and the color will fill whatever edit you made. This works because shape layer work almost like a layer mask, in that only whatever is contained within the closed shape will show through even though the whole layer is the chosen color.

Paths: The paths button works by using points, that are movable, and lines to create shapes. A path can be placed on almost any layer, other than a text layer, however you can type text along a path. You can use paths for making selections as well. Paths also allow you to create custom shapes and save them, so you can then use at a later time.

Fill Pixels: This one is pretty straight forward, when you draw with your shape it will fill in the pixels of your chosen color on whatever layer you are on. There is no real edit-ability for this option, and you can always rasterize your shape layer to do the same thing if you feel you don’t want the option to edit further. I would stay away from this option unless you really just want to basically stamp the shape down on a layer.

Pen & Freeform Pen: These tools deal in paths and will have their owe tutorial as they are an immensely helpful tool to learn. When I write it the link will appear here. But until then you may choose to experiment with the pen tool as I have and learn by doing.

Shape Buttons: The basic shapes consist of Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, and Line. The rectangle, rounded rectangle, and ellipse tools and be click-dragged to your desired size or if you hold the SHIFT key while dragging they will be sized to a perfect square or circle. The polygon tool has a secondary option that allows you to set the number of sides that the shape has. The line tool has a secondary option for setting the line weight, this refers to how thick the line is.

ShapesCustomCustom Shapes: Custom shapes are really limited by your imagination. You can create anything and make it a custom shape, you just need to remember to close off your shape and to be using the paths option for your shapes. Closing off a shape simply means making sure that there are no open edges, for example, a circle is a closed shape, but half of a circle isn’t unless you draw a line down the edge connecting the two points where the curve ends. To the right is a sample of how custom shapes can be used. These are four different damask shapes I made to help me put together a damask pattern. As you can see there are no “open” edges. Even on the top shapes where the lines that appear to be missing show the background color through. They are closed shapes allowing for a sort of negative space within the custom shape. There are a few sets that come along with Photoshop and you can load them by clicking on the arrow highlighted in the next picture and selecting one of the preset groups or you can save and load your own from the preset manager found in Edit>Preset Manager. From there you can save sets of many different types depending on which panel you are in. When I write a tutorial on Presets and how to save them you can click Here to go to it. Until then if you would like this Damask Set you can find it for free Here, I hope you like it. Place the file in a location that you can find easily and go to the Load Shapes option from the menu below, find it and click open and they will be ready for you to use.


Now I’m just going to quickly skip over the New Layer, Add to existing Layer, etc. for a moment and talk about the layer styles and color picker as these are easy to explain. I will go back to the others after.

ShapesLayerstyleLayer styles: There are a couple of preset layer styles for shapes. As you can see in the picture to the left a Layer style is simply an effect you can apply to a shape to make it more dynamic. The first circle is just a plain grey, but when you add layer styles the effects that you can achieve are infinite. I touched a little on this topic before in a previous tutorial, Layers, What You Need to Know. As I said in that one, to go over the whole scope of what you can do with layer styles would take a long, long time so I won’t do that just yet. Layer Styles will have its own tutorial one day.

Color Picker: As I said above shape layers can only have one color assigned to them per layer. That doesn’t mean that you cannot add a gradient or other effect as seen above. The color picker appears as it does for every time you need to choose a color. I went over all of it in detail in Pick a Color, Any Color.

ShapesAddSubEtcOn to the complex part of this tutorial. Dealing with shapes as they relate to these 5 buttons. They are fairly self-explanatory in their titles, but when you work with these you may need to shift your thinking a little. See what you are working on as more of a paper cutout than a flat image, this meaning look at each shape as if it were its own and you could move each one around to affect the others.

New Shape Layer: This options will create a new layer every time you draw a new shape, great for working on projects where a great deal of editability is needed as each shape is its own.

ShapeAddAdd Shape to Layer: This option allows you to stack multiple shapes on top of each other to form a larger and more complex shape. When you have two or more shapes on the same layer each one will be editable but only using the Direct and Path Selection Tools. You can see each shapes outline in the picture to the left.

ShapesSubSubtract Shape From Layer: This one works the opposite of add. Whichever shape was your first will be the base shape, any other you add to the layer will hide parts of the base shape. This is what I was talking about with thinking about them as paper cut outs. If you saved this as a custom shape only the black would be saved.

ShapesIntersectIntersect Shapes: The only part of the shape that is shown is where the two shapes overlap each other. This too can create some interesting custom shapes, which again will only save the shape that is showing through with color not the other shapes’ paths which are the outlines you see.

ShapesExcludeExclude Overlapping Shapes: This one works the opposite of intersect shapes, wherever the two or more shapes overlap that area becomes invisible or at least not save-able as a custom shape. As before anything that shows up as color will be the custom shape and anything that appears just as a path will be discarded once the shape is saved.

I guess once I started to explain those it really wasn’t so complicated after all but it does take a bit of time and practice to get used to creating new custom shapes that way. While we are on that topic of custom shapes I will let you know how to define a custom shape so you can use it again later.

ShapesCustomMenuOnce you are happy with the position of your shapes got to the Edit Menu and select Define Custom Shape, now your shape will be ready to use. There are a few option that will appear when you use your custom shape. The menu is located in a drop down to the right of the custom shape button. Usually the unconstrained option is highlighted but you can choose to set a fixed or defined size so every time you use a custom shape it will appear that size. This can be great if you have made and saved a logo as a custom shape and wish it to always present the same way on all of your documents as a watermark. You can set the size and place it wherever you want.

Let’s say for example you have made a shape and are working of defining a custom shape that has a cutout of a star in the middle. When you originally place the star is appears off-center, and that really bugs you, as it should if you did not want it there. Instead of using the undo button and again, and again trying to get it to appear in the right spot you can use the next tool I will talk about.

Direct and Path Selection Tools

These handy tools allow you to manipulate the appearance of a shape or multiple shapes to help your better define your custom shape. You can switch between these two tools by hitting the Ctrl Key and clicking on a shape while using the tool. This tool’s hotkey is ‘A’

ShapeDirectDirect Selection Tool: This tool allows you to manipulate the specific points that make up a shapes Path. As you can see in the picture to the left those squares along the path are points at which the path is connected. The little arm with a dot on the end is called a control arm and they are used to define curve. With the Direct Selection Tool, (the white arrow) in use you can click-drag the points and control arms around. You can also highlight multiple point at once to move just a small section of a shape around. Just click and drag a box around the desires points and move them. You can select on another shapes’ points within a layer as well by clicking on its path.

ShapesPathSelectionPath Selection Tool: With this tool (the black arrow) you select a shapes entire path, this makes it better for moving around within a layer and would solve the little example I wrote about above. You would easily be able to select the path of just the star and drag it to position or using the Move Tool and the keyboard arrow keys nudge it into position.

These two tools are great when you get into using the Pen tool as well, as you can lay out a basic shape with the pen tool and then really refine it afterwards before you make your selection or custom shape.

Thank you again for joining me on this tutorial, I hope you enjoyed it.



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