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Vector Drawing Techniques

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from Adobe Photoshop Classroom in a Book (2020 release), authors Faulkner and Chavez cover the differences between bitmap images and vector graphics. You'll then learn to draw straight and curved paths using the Pen tool, save paths, draw and edit shape layers, and more.

Drawing a shape with the Pen tool

The Pen tool is one of the most commonly used tools for creating vector graphics on a personal computer. You find the Pen tool in many applications, including Adobe Illustrator (which first featured the Pen tool in 1987), Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign. Even video applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects include the Pen tool because it provides such a high degree of control and precision when drawing many kind of lines, from shapes to masks to motion graphics paths. The Pen tool may not be easy to learn, but trust us: Knowing how to use the Pen tool is worth the effort and investment to master, partly because it’s a marketable skill across many creative digital disciplines.

The Pen tool works a little differently than a brush or pencil tool. We’ve created a practice file that you’ll use to learn how to draw a straight path, a simple curve, and an S-curve with the Pen tool.

First, you’ll configure the Pen tool options and the work area.

  1. In the Tools panel, select the Pen tool (pen.jpg).

  2. In the options bar, select or verify the following settings:

    • Choose Shape from the Tool Mode pop-up menu.

    • In the Path Options menu, make sure that Rubber Band is not selected.

    • Make sure that Auto Add/Delete is selected.

    • Choose No Color from the Fill pop-up menu.

    • Choose a green color from the Stroke pop-up menu. We used the green swatch in the CMYK presets group.

    • Enter 4 pt for the stroke width.

    • In the Stroke Options window, choose Center (the second option) from the Align menu.

Drawing a straight line

You’ll start by drawing a straight line. Anchor points mark the ends of path segments; the straight line you’ll draw is a single path segment with two anchor points.

  1. Drag the Paths panel tab out of the Layers panel group so that you can see both it and the Layers panel at the same time. You can dock the Paths panel with another panel group.

The Paths panel displays thumbnail previews of the paths you draw. Currently, the panel is empty, because you haven’t started drawing.

  1. If necessary, zoom in so that you can easily see the lettered points and red circles on the shape template. Make sure you can see the whole template in the image window, and be sure to reselect the Pen tool after you zoom.

  1. On the first shape, click point A, and release the mouse button. You’ve created an anchor point.

  2. Click point B. You’ve created a straight line with two anchor points.

  3. Press Enter or Return to stop drawing.

The path you drew appears in the Paths panel, and as a new layer in the Layers panel.

Drawing curves

On curved segments, selecting an anchor point displays one or two direction lines, depending on the shapes of adjacent segments. You adjust the shape of a curved segment by dragging the direction point at the end of a direction line, and the direction line shapes the curve. You’ll create curved lines, using smooth points.

  1. Click A on the semicircle, and release the mouse to create the first anchor point.

  1. Click point B, but don’t release the mouse button. Instead, drag to the red circle to the right of point B to create a curved path segment and a smooth anchor point. Then release the mouse button.

Smooth anchor points have two linked direction lines. When you move one, the curved segments on both sides of the path adjust simultaneously.

  1. Position the pointer over point C, click and drag down to the red circle below, and then release the mouse button. You’ve created a second curved path segment and another smooth point.

  2. Click point D, and release the mouse to create the final anchor point. Press Enter or Return to complete the path.

When drawing a freehand path using the Pen tool, use as few points as possible to create the shape you want. The fewer points you use, the smoother the curves are—and the more efficient your file is.

Using the same techniques, you’ll draw an S-shaped curve.

  1. Click point A, and then click and drag from point B to the first red circle.

  2. Continue with points C, D, E, and F, in each case clicking the point and then dragging to the corresponding red circle.

  3. Click point G to create the final anchor point, and then press Enter or Return to complete the path.

Each of the three shapes is on its own layer in the Layers panel. Only one path is in the Paths panel, because the Paths panel shows only the Shape Path for the layer that’s currently selected in the Layers panel.

Notice that the curves you drew with the Pen tool are much smoother and easier to precisely control than if you had drawn them freehand.

Drawing a more complex shape

Now that you’ve got the idea, you’ll have a chance to draw a more complex object.

  1. Click point A on the shape on the right side to set the first anchor point.

  2. Press the Shift key as you click point B. Pressing the Shift key constrains the line to 45-degree angles, which in this case ensures you’ll get a horizontal line.

  1. Press the Shift key as you click points C, D, and E to create straight path segments.

  2. Click point F, and drag to the red circle to create a curve. Then release the mouse button.

  3. Click point G, and drag to the red circle to create another curve. Then release the mouse button.

  4. Click point H to create a corner point.

When you move a direction line on a corner point, only the curve on the same side of the point as the direction line is adjusted, so you can create a sharp transition between two segments.

  1. Click point A to draw the final path segment and close the path. Closing a path automatically ends the drawing; you don’t need to press Enter or Return.

  2. Close the file without saving changes. You have successfully used the Pen tool to draw both curves and straight lines.

5. Drawing a path traced from a photo | Next Section Previous Section

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