About the Pen tools

Photoshop provides multiple Pen tools. The standard Pen tool draws with the greatest precision; the Freeform Pen tool draws paths as if you were drawing with pencil on paper, and the magnetic pen option lets you draw a path that snaps to the edges of defined areas in your image. You can use the pen tools in conjunction with the shape tools to create complex shapes. When you use the standard Pen tool, the following options are available in the options bar:

  • Auto Add/Delete, which lets you add an anchor point when you click a line segment or delete an anchor point when you click it.

  • Rubber Band, which lets you preview path segments as you move the pointer between clicks. (To access this option, click the pop-up menu to the right of the Custom Shape icon.)

Note:

Before drawing with the Pen tool, you can create a new path in the Paths panel to automatically save the work path as a named path.

For more information about the modes in which you can draw with the Pen tools, see Drawing modes.

Draw straight line segments with the Pen tool

The simplest path you can draw with the Pen tool is a straight line, made by clicking the Pen tool to create two anchor points. By continuing to click, you create a path made of straight line segments connected by corner points.

Photoshop Pen tool
Clicking the Pen tool creates straight segments.

  1. Select the Pen tool.
  2. Position the Pen tool where you want the straight segment to begin, and click to define the first anchor point (do not drag).

    Note:

    The first segment you draw will not be visible until you click a second anchor point. (Select the Rubber Band option in Photoshop to preview path segments.) Also, if direction lines appear, you’ve accidentally dragged the Pen tool; choose Edit > Undo, and click again.

  3. Click again where you want the segment to end (Shift-click to constrain the angle of the segment to a multiple of 45°).
  4. Continue clicking to set anchor points for additional straight segments.

    The last anchor point you add always appears as a solid square, indicating that it is selected. Previously defined anchor points become hollow, and deselected, as you add more anchor points.

  5. Complete the path by doing one of the following:
    • To close the path, position the Pen tool over the first (hollow) anchor point. A small circle appears next to the Pen tool pointer  when it is positioned correctly. Click or drag to close the path.

    • To leave the path open, Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) anywhere away from all objects.

    To leave the path open, you can also select a different tool.

Draw curves with the Pen tool

You create a curve by adding an anchor point where a curve changes direction, and dragging the direction lines that shape the curve. The length and slope of the direction lines determine the shape of the curve.

Curves are easier to edit and your system can display and print them faster if you draw them using as few anchor points as possible. Using too many points can also introduce unwanted bumps in a curve. Instead, draw widely spaced anchor points, and practice shaping curves by adjusting the length and angles of the direction lines.

  1. Select the Pen tool.
  2. Position the Pen tool where you want the curve to begin, and hold down the mouse button.

    The first anchor point appears, and the Pen tool pointer changes to an arrowhead. (In Photoshop, the pointer changes only after you’ve started dragging.)

  3. Drag to set the slope of the curve segment you’re creating, and then release the mouse button.

    In general, extend the direction line about one third of the distance to the next anchor point you plan to draw. (You can adjust one or both sides of the direction line later.)

    Hold down the Shift key to constrain the tool to multiples of 45°.

    Photoshop Drawing the first point in a curve pen tool
    Drawing the first point in a curve

    A. Positioning Pen tool B. Starting to drag (mouse button pressed) C. Dragging to extend direction lines 
  4. Position the Pen tool where you want the curve segment to end, and do one of the following:
    • To create a C‑shaped curve, drag in a direction opposite to the previous direction line. Then release the mouse button.

    Photoshop pen tool second point in a curve
    Drawing the second point in a curve

    • To create an S‑shaped curve, drag in the same direction as the previous direction line. Then release the mouse button.

    Photoshop pen tool Drawing an S curve
    Drawing an S curve

    Note:

    To change the direction of the curve sharply, release the mouse button, and then Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) the direction point in the direction of the curve. Release the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key and the mouse button, reposition the pointer where you want the segment to end, and drag in the opposite direction to complete the curve segment.

  5. Continue dragging the Pen tool from different locations to create a series of smooth curves. Note that you are placing anchor points at the beginning and end of each curve, not at the tip of the curve.

    Note:

    Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) direction lines to break out the direction lines of an anchor point.

  6. Complete the path by doing one of the following:
    • To close the path, position the Pen tool over the first (hollow) anchor point. A small circle appears next to the Pen tool pointer  when it is positioned correctly. Click or drag to close the path.

    • To leave the path open, Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) anywhere away from all objects or select a different tool.

Finish drawing a path

  • Complete a path in one of the following ways:
    • To close a path, position the Pen tool over the first (hollow) anchor point. A small circle appears next to the Pen tool pointer  when it is positioned correctly. Click or drag to close the path.

    • To leave a path open, Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) anywhere away from all objects.

Draw with the Freeform Pen tool

The Freeform Pen tool lets you draw as if you were drawing with a pencil on paper. Anchor points are added automatically as you draw. You do not determine where the points are positioned, but you can adjust them once the path is complete. To draw with greater precision, use the Pen tool.

  1. Select the Freeform Pen tool .

  2. To control how sensitive the final path is to the movement of your mouse or stylus, click the inverted arrow next to the shape buttons in the options bar, and enter a value between 0.5 and 10.0 pixels for Curve Fit. A higher value creates a simpler path with fewer anchor points.

  3. Drag the pointer in the image. As you drag, a path trails behind the pointer. When you release the mouse, a work path is created.

  4. To continue the existing freehand path, position the pen pointer on an end point of the path, and drag.

  5. To complete the path, release the mouse. To create a closed path, drag the line to the initial point of the path (a circle appears next to the pointer when it is aligned).

Draw straight lines followed by curves

  1. Using the Pen tool, click corner points in two locations to create a straight segment.
  2. Position the Pen tool over the selected endpoint. A small diagonal line, or slash, appears next to the Pen tool. To set the slope of the curved segment you’ll create next, click the anchor point, and drag the direction line that appears.

    Photoshop pen tool Drawing a straight segment followed by a curved segment
    Drawing a straight segment followed by a curved segment (part 1)

    A. Straight segment completed B. Positioning Pen tool over endpoint C. Dragging direction point 
  3. Position the pen where you want the next anchor point; then click (and drag, if desired) the new anchor point to complete the curve.
    Photoshop pen tool Drawing a straight segment followed by a curved segment
    Drawing a straight segment followed by a curved segment (part 2)

    A. Positioning Pen tool B. Dragging direction line C. New curve segment completed 

Draw curves followed by straight lines

  1. Using the Pen tool, drag to create the first smooth point of the curved segment, and release the mouse button.
  2. Reposition the Pen tool where you want the curved segment to end, drag to complete the curve, and release the mouse button.
  3. Select the Convert Point tool from the toolbox, and then click the selected end point to convert it from a smooth point to a corner point.

    Note:

    Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) to temporarily change the Pen tool to the Convert Point tool.

  4. Select the Pen tool from the toolbox, position the Pen tool where you want the straight segment to end, and click to complete the straight segment.

Draw two curved segments connected by a corner

  1. Using the Pen tool, drag to create the first smooth point of a curved segment.
  2. Reposition the Pen tool and drag to create a curve with a second smooth point; then press and hold Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) and drag the direction line toward its opposing end to set the slope of the next curve. Release the key and the mouse button.

    This process converts the smooth point to a corner point by splitting the direction lines.

  3. Reposition the Pen tool where you want the second curved segment to end, and drag a new smooth point to complete the second curved segment.
Photoshop pen tool Drawing two curves
Drawing two curves

A. Dragging a new smooth point B. Pressing Alt/Option to split direction lines while dragging, and swinging direction line up C. Result after repositioning and dragging a third time 

Draw using the magnetic pen options

The Magnetic Pen is an option of the Freeform Pen tool that lets you draw a path that snaps to the edges of defined areas in your image. You can define the range and sensitivity of the snapping behavior, as well as the complexity of the resulting path. The Magnetic Pen and Magnetic Lasso tools share many of the same options.

  1. To convert the Freeform Pen tool to the Magnetic Pen tool , select Magnetic in the options bar, or click the inverted arrow next to the shape buttons in the options bar, select Magnetic, and set the following:
    • For Width, enter a pixel value between 1 and 256. The Magnetic Pen detects edges only within the specified distance from the pointer.

    • For Contrast, enter a percentage value between 1 and 100 to specify the contrast required between pixels for that area to be considered an edge. Use a higher value for low-contrast images.

    • For Frequency, enter a value between 0 and 100 to specify the rate at which the Pen sets anchor points. A higher value anchors the path in place more quickly.

    • If you are working with a stylus tablet, select or deselect Pen Pressure. When this option is selected, an increase in pen pressure causes the width to decrease.

  2. Click in the image to set the first fastening point.
  3. To draw a freehand segment, move the pointer or drag along the edge you want to trace.

    The most recent segment of the border remains active. As you move the pointer, the active segment snaps to the strongest edge in the image, connecting the pointer to the last fastening point. Periodically, the Magnetic Pen adds fastening points to the border to anchor previous sections.

    Photoshop pen tool fastening points, and continue tracing
    Click to add fastening points, and continue tracing.

  4. If the border doesn’t snap to the desired edge, click once to add a fastening point manually and to keep the border from moving. Continue to trace the edge and add fastening points as needed. If you make a mistake, press Delete to remove the last fastening point.
  5. To dynamically modify the properties of the Magnetic Pen, do one of the following:
    • Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) to draw a freehand path.

    • Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) to draw straight segments.

    • Press the open square bracket key ([) to decrease the Magnetic Pen width by 1 pixel; press the close square bracket key (]) to increase the pen width by 1 pixel.

  6. Complete the path:
    • Press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac OS) to end an open path.

    • Double-click to close the path with a magnetic segment.

    • Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS), and double-click to close the path with a straight segment.

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