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How to Use the Pen Tool in Photoshop

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The Pen Tool is one of the most powerful tools available in Photoshop.

Use the Pen Tool to create custom shapes and accurately cut objects out of their backgrounds!

How to Use the Pen Tool in Photoshop

The Pen Tool can be very intimidating at first, but all it takes is a little practice and a lot of selecting! In today’s episode, we walk you through the Pen Tool in Photoshop.

Starting with the Basics

To start from the very beginning, it’s best to practice basic shapes. Select the pen Tool from the toolbar (or press P). All you have to do is click to create the edges of your shape. After completing it, you will see a little O if you hover over the first point. You can then click on that first point to close the shape.

To turn this into a selection, right click and go to “Make Selection.”

Whenever you are working with the Pen Tool, it creates paths. This is why you don’t see your shape on a layer; it is stored in a different place. If you need to alter a selection, go to the paths tab and click on the Work Path. From here, you can hold down CMD and click on any point to move it around.

Magical tip: Hold ALT/OPT and click on a point to turn it from a Curve to a straight line, and vice versa.

The pen tool truly just takes some practice. Spend time playing around with shapes and anchor points!

Pen Paths

If you think about it, the simple shapes you can create from scratch with the pen Tool are some of the same shapes that you might use to Outline a figure- just simple Curves and lines. When selecting an element in an image, apply the same basic pen Tool techniques we just went over. It tends to help if you select just inside the edge of the figure (you can always refine that edge later).

Don’t forget about the magical tip from before! If you need to create a sharp edge or change direction in your Curve, hold the ALT/OPT key and alter the point.

You can also hover over any point until you see a little minus symbol, and click to delete that point. The same works in the opposite direction if you need to add a point (you will see a little plus symbol). Once you are finished, be sure to close up your path by hovering over the first point and clicking it. Again, to create a selection from your path, right click and choose “Make Selection.”

Cutting Subjects Out

What happens if your subject is on a layer, but you can’t find your Pen path? Don’t fret! Just click on the path tab (to the right of the Channels tab). You can also go to Window —> Paths, and the dialogue you need will pop up right away. Once your path is turned into a selection (right click to Make Selection, or hold CMD and click on the path thumbnail), it will be active on your layers. If you go back into your layers, you should see marching ants around the subject.

Click on the Layer Mask icon and your selection will be cut out perfectly from the Background. Voila! Then, create a New Layer underneath your subject. You can fill it with any Color that you’d like.


  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    On my iPad, if near the beginning I touch the screen a banner at he bottom for more videos comes up and the whole thing freezes.

    Aaron Nace – Class Instructor
    Thanks for your comment, please contact our support team at [email protected]
  2. Rated 5 out of 5

    Thanks Aaron for this helpful walkthrough on a tool that I generally try to avoid! As you said though, when it comes to selections, it is the king of making the best of selections. I am committing myself to practicing and getting used it to. The alt/cmd process of changing the angle I was not aware of and will definitely remove some of the frustration I have with the tool, so thanks for showing that!

  3. Rated 5 out of 5

    Please, i have been trying to use the pen tool but i cant get around the problem where its leaving the background and cutting the selection instead, i cant reverse its mode for some reason

  4. Rated 5 out of 5

    Very good tutorial as usual. I need to learn it, so I am going to give it a go and stay with this until I get it down pat. As usual, you are the Guru, Aron. You are helping me with a new career. Thank you.

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