PFB: Pen Tool, is There Nothing it Can’t Do?

Hello, thank you for joining me for today’s exciting tutorial.

Today: The Pen Tool

PenSmallIn a word yes, there are some things that the Pen Tool can not do. It doesn’t do laundry or dishes but when it comes to making custom shapes, or selecting intricate objects from photos the Pen is your tool. One of its greatest advantages is the edit-ability of the pen tool due to the fact is uses paths and points to define shape, not pixels. You can refer to Shapes! Get Into It! my last tutorial on shapes and custom shapes, it laid the foundation for the use of the pen tool. I will go over all the major concepts of the pen tool and ways you can edit the paths to help you create in a new and different ways, like my character above, all done with the pen tool and one brush.

First, as always, is the menu


The tool menu for the pen tool is that same as the shapes tool, the more important buttons to consider when using the pen tool are the: Shape Layers, Paths, and Fill Pixels. It’s important to make sure you are on the right tool setting before you start using the pen tool and that will depend on your desired outcome.

For designing custom shapes that are a single closed shape I find the shape layer option to suffice.

If you are using the pen tool to make a selection, which is one of its greatest attributes, I find the paths option to be better. The path tool can be drawn over an image or layer and remains on top of all layers. You can draw a path on one layer then create a new layer and use the path on that one. You can also use a path multiple times on multiple layers if you so chose.

There are two different Pen Tools, the Point Pen and Freeform Pen.

The Point Pen: Otherwise know as just the Pen tool uses points and connecting lines to create shapes. When you place a point if you drag while clicking you can create control arms, these can be moved afterwards to control the amount of curve.

The Freeform Pen Tool: This allows you to simply draw a path as if using a brush or the pencil tool. After you complete the path and select it using the Direct and Path Selection tool you can edit the points and curves of the path.

A path can either be closed off to form a shape or left with two end points that make up the path. The open-ended path does not make for a very good custom shape as the computer will just join the two end points with a straight line which can sometimes cut right through other parts of your path.

PenMenuThe Other Tools: For the pen tool there a couple of different option that can be accessed by holding down the icon in the tools menu. The options can be seen to the left. Once you have a path on your screen you can add or subtract anchor points (or control points) from that path. This can be useful for smoothing out a freeform pen path or for adding extra anchor points around a tricky selection that you may have missed in your initial drawing.

PenConvertThe Convert Point Tool: This tool allows you to add or subtract control arms to an anchor point. When a point is placed with a simple click it has no curve to it; it is known as a corner point. As in the picture to the left. This is great for going around hard or straight-edged objects. Using the convert anchor point tool you can add a curve to an already existing point. Likewise if you accidentally added the curve control arms to a point you needed to have a straight edge, you can use this tool to eliminate the control arms and thus the curve.

PenConvert2Breaking the Control Arms: I know that might sound a little harsh when you read it but, it has great value. Say you had two curved edges that come together to form a point, like the top of a heart shape. I’m no talking about an anatomical heart, I mean the classic valentines day type heart. There is a way to place a point at the bottom of the V in between the two curves and yet still have the lines that lead away from that point have a curve to them. You can break the control arms. You do this again with the Convert Point Tool but this time when you click on the control arm that you wish to move, hold down the ATL key at the same time. This will allow you to edit each side of the curve individually.

So you have a path or a shape, now what?

PenWhattoDoSo long as you have a path selected in some form you have the options to: stroke, fill, or make a selection. You can do this by right clicking within your screen, a small menu will pop up that looks like this. As you can see there is also a short cut to defining your custom shape. You can also create a vector mask, I will get more into masks later on in another tutorial but basically you could use your path or shape to block out part of your picture or document. You also have the ability to Free Transform the points, these are the same as any other transformation if Photoshop, your can scale, skew, rotate or flip.

Make Selection: Straight forward, once you are happy with the paths you have done you can make a selection of a layer and use it to copy an object or create a new brush. I covered most of the ways to do this in Custom Brushes and Selecting, the Pen Tool was the one I left out at the time.

Fill Path: Also a straight forward command, whichever color is in your foreground color swatch will be filled into the shape you have made. Keep in mind what I mentioned earlier in the tutorial about using closed shapes. If you are using a path that is not closed then the two end points will be joined by the computer in a straight line from each other, this can cut right through your shape.

Stroke Path: This one is interesting, I say this because your can really have fun with it and it pulls on your knowledge of brushes as well. Depending on what brush you currently have selected, that brush will follow the path that you have selected. This can create some cool effects or frames as seen in the photo below. A path was set around the subject and a brush was used to create the frame as it followed the path.



The last interesting thing about paths and the pen tool is that you have the ability to type along a path. All you need to do is first create one. Then taking the type tool, as covered in Type Tool, how to add a little text to the mix, place it one the end of the path. A small curved line will appear along with the type tool cursor, this will let you know that whatever you are about to type will follow along the path you have set out. There is an example below.


That about wraps up my current knowledge of the pen tool, it is a great and versatile tool that can really help you get the most out of your shapes and selections. Thank you for stopping by and giving this tutorial a read, it is much appreciated.


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