Drawing with the Pen Tool


If you've used the Pen tool before, you may think "drawing" is a misnomer. And you'd be right; you don't so much draw as plot. Click once with the mouse to put down an anchor point, move along the edge you are tracing and click again to put down another, which is joined to the first by a path segment. Simply clicking joins the anchor points with straight-line segments. If, on the other hand, you click and drag you create curve segments. The direction lines that you pull out from the anchor point determine the direction of the curve. As a rule of thumb you need a new anchor point every time the curve changes direction. It feels weird at first, but with practice it makes sense. I promise. And once you get used to it, the Pen tool is really quite therapeutic. Like knitting. You quickly develop a sense of how many anchor points are enough, but when drawing around curve shapes be economical; that way your curves are smooth and graceful.

Here are some useful tips:

  • When closing a path, hold down the Option/Alt key as you click again on your first anchor point if you want to prevent your starting anchor point from being converted to a curve point with a second (symmetrical) direction line.

  • If drawing a path around a subject that goes to the edge of your canvas, draw your path beyond the canvas edge. If necessary, reduce your view size and expand the document window size to see the pasteboard around your image.

    Figure 1.36. Because of its graceful curves, I used the Pen tool to draw around this gull. Note how the path continues outside the canvas (example A). The path viewed without the image selected with the Direct Selection tool (example B). Note how few anchor points are used for the curved segments.

  • When adding a new component (distinct section) to a path (for example, to select interior areas of a subject), make sure that the path is active. That way the interior areas will become part of the same path rather than separate paths. If you want the interior areas to be excluded from the resulting selection, make sure you choose the Exclude Overlapping Path Areas button on the Pen options palettethis is the default.

    Figure 1.37. The image of a doorknocker with pen path drawn around the major shape (example A). The pen path viewed by itself (example B), and with the interior areas added as components of the same Work Path (example C). The Paths palette showing the Work Path thumbnail (example D). The path made into a selection (example E).

  • For asymmetrical segmentsthat is, where the direction line affects only one segmenthold down Option/Alt and click the anchor point itself to retract the leading direction linethe one in front of the anchor point. Alternatively, if you are editing an existing segment, click the anchor point with the Direct Selection tool; then hold down the Option/Alt key and drag the control point.

Editing Paths

The key to good pen paths is editing. No one, but no one, gets it right on the first pass. My strategy is to draw around the object quickly and then go back and fix any inaccuracies.

Selecting Paths

There are two selection tools for working with paths:

Figure 1.38. The Path selection tools.


  • The Path Selection tool is used for selecting an entire path, if, for example, you want to reposition the path.

  • The Direct Selection toolthe white arrowis used for editing the shape of a path, either while drawing the path or after the path has been completed. Use the Direct Selection tool to select individual anchor points (you can Shift-click multiple anchors points or draw a marquee over part of the path to edit more than one segment at a time), which you can then drag to reshape the path. You can also drag the control points or the segment itself to change the segment shape. To delete a segment, select it with the Direct Selection tool then press Delete/Backspace. Pressing Delete/Backspace again erases the whole path.

  • Access the Direct Selection tool from any Pen tool by holding down the Command/Ctrl key.

  • Activate the Path Selection tool when using the Direct Selection tool by holding down the Command/Ctrl key. Alternatively, holding down Option/Alt when in the Direct Selection tool and clicking a path segment will select the whole path.

  • Toggle between the Path Selection and Direct Selection tools by pressing Shift-A.

Adding and Subtracting Anchor Points

Editing a path often means adding and subtracting anchor points to the path to gain flexibility in adjusting its shape or to simplify the path. You can use the Add Anchor Point tool and Delete Anchor Point tool, respectively. But if you have the Auto Add/Delete option checked in the Pen Tool options bar, stay in the Pen tool and move your cursor over a line segment or an existing anchor point to add or delete points.

Converting Anchor Points

To convert an anchor point between a corner and smooth point, use the Convert Anchor Point tool, or, if in the Pen tool, hold down the Option/Alt key (if you are in the Direct Selection tool, hold down Command/Ctrl-Option/Alt). To convert a smooth anchor point to a corner anchor point, simply click the point. To change a corner point to smooth, click the point and drag to create direction lines, which are dragged out symmetrically. To retract a direction line, pull it while holding down the Option/Alt key.

Continuing Paths

If you've left an incomplete path and come back to it later, you can add to the path by moving the Pen tool over either endpoint until it turns into the pick up path pointer.

Figure 1.39. The pick up path pointer indicates you are about to continue a path.


Combining Paths

To combine multiple paths so that you can move them and convert them to a selection as one unit, select the paths with the Path Selection tool, and from the Options Bar, click the Combine button. Now when you move one path, all the combined paths move right along with it.

Transforming Paths

Just as with raster graphics, you can transform paths using the individual transform options under the Edit menu or by using the one-stop-shop for transformations: Free Transform (Command/Ctrl-T).




Adobe PhotoShop Unmasked. The Art and Science of Selections, Layers, and Paths
Adobe Photoshop Unmasked: The Art and Science of Selections, Layers, and Paths
ISBN: 0321441206
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 93
Authors: Nigel French

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