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Sep 16, 2014

How to Use the Pen Tool in Photoshop

 

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.

37 Comments


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    gypsegrl

    Share the PHLOVE!!!! 😀
    Thanks for this tutorial! I have a couple of Pro’s with the Pen tool explained in them which is fantastic but this is perfect for being able to specifically get a refresher on this part!

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    Farshad F.

    Aaron, you have featured the pen tool so many times in your videos that it is almost impossible for me to do something in photoshop and not use this amazing tool.

    Thank you very much for you great videos.

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    Pantelis Troiannos

    Great video with 2 alternative endings for the first time in Phlearn…
    One with white BG and “fuzzy hair” and one with 50% grey BG and rearranging of the path (not a word about the hair … lol).
    Keep it up Phlearn… you make me smile every time (and I phlearn something too)!

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    Josef

    Is there a way to increase the size of the control points ? I have portable with fullHD screen and some times it is annoying to hit them … It is also visible in the video that it is not that easy.

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    Bettelyoun

    You forgot one big tip. Make sure you turn on the Rubber Band option makes it much easier to use.

    I agree this is where Adobe lacks in this tool they should give you the option to change the paths color. Sometimes I can’t see the path on certain images.

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    charles sweigart

    Aaron,
    You alt/click the arm and move it to change direction. Why is this preferable to just alt/click on the center point which removes the arm and allows the path to start without pulling in any special direction? Are both of these methods acceptable?
    Thanks for another great video.

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    Amber

    I can almost grasp it, but I suck at it…. 🙁 I can’t get it. Been playing with this since I bought your 101 bundle. sigh I’ll keep working at it though and watch a few more times.

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      Cori

      I’m with you Amber! I’ve always felt since school that the pen tool is evil. Aaron makes it look to easy!! lol

      I have trouble grasping the idea of where the line is moving from and how the anchor points affect that. More practice for me too… 😛

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    Marie

    I must be doing something wring because instead of removing the bkgd it removes the selection. Also I assume you create a layer at the beginning of the process. My layer is transparent not white as seen on your layer s and my background and layer mask do not group on the same layer. Hope this makes sense for you to determine where I have lost my way.

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      Barry

      To switch your selection you can go and click invert not sure of the spelling but it will reverse your selection.

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    Henning Hansen HIH Ad.

    PEN TOOL, Aron! The more I watch and practice your Pen Tool Tutorial the more I start to feel that what you call the anchor point is what con-fusses me. When you click and drag the first and second time, the second click is dragged down creating the curve and leaves a T shape with two small dots at either end and a small square in the middle. I got confused when you point to the small Dot as an anchor point. I believe the anchor point is the small square where the curved line starts. Once I use the small square in the centre of the T, I started to gain a better understanding. Have you tried using color dots to explain? You are still the absolute best on the web, or I would have given up long ago.Thanks, Henning

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    Don Funderburg

    One nice thing about having these available to us is, many times I can watch something several time and my brain is kind of in neutral. Then all of a sudden I hear a word or two which changes the whole aspect of using the subject. This is what just happened with the pen tool. It has been so frustrating after watching pen tool train and I get to a certain point and it is not working. This time I caught the few words which I believe will change my pen tool experience completely around. Thank you Aaron

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    Travis Simpson

    Yes, First I would like to say thank you.
    Second I would like to know because I’m sure not the biggest but close BEAR Fan!!!! an my packer friends has made me ask this, what can Photo shop do to help me show what talking about a BEAR FAN is not good to do. I have a intros pro med. 27inch iMac please help a real true fan

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    Aady

    This is nice and clear tutorial i want to know more about pen tool. As i am beginner of photoshop and learning it. Pen tool is the first thing that i am going to learn.
    Do you have any suggestion for me ?

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    gabriel

    if give a click +Alt on the last point, the next line going to be a straight line (even if you were doing a curve) otherwise will continuous the curve. From Uruguay: Thanks for the videos!!!

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    Warren Jansen

    Hi Aaron;
    The ‘Pen tool’. Very helpful!
    But… {there’s always a But.} A few things came to mind, as you were doing your demo, I got to thinking about another episode “Removing almost anything in PS” (the garbage can). One of the things that you pointed out was when you were teaching us (using the ‘Pen Tool’) mainly around the base of the power-pole, was an oval shape witch you were showing us how to use the “+” and/or the “-” keys to snug in or out of the area. I noticed you didn’t mention that in this “Pen Tool”.
    One other thing I noticed about this image was her left hand, or just above it {in-between her left side of her shirt and her left sleeve} witch I thought to be visible to the background?

    response plz.;

    Warren.

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    Carlos E. Read

    I have been using the pen tool for so long in a different way, because I learned by myself, just trying all the varios options. I will try to apply some of the things you teach here. You make it look sooo simple to use!

    Thanks for this episode!!

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    Rhiannon Gomillion

    I simply wanted to thank you a lot more for your amazing website you have developed here. It can be full of useful tips for those who are actually interested in this specific subject, primarily this very post. Your all so sweet in addition to thoughtful of others and reading the blog posts is a great delight in my opinion. And thats a generous present! Dan and I usually have enjoyment making use of your recommendations in what we need to do in the near future. Our checklist is a distance long and tips will certainly be put to excellent use.

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    Stefano

    Thanks Aaron! I finally managed to use the most challenging PS tool (IMHO) 😀

    Currently I do my best using a mouse but I promise I will practice with the tablet as well 😉

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    Joe

    When we click with the pen tool it creates anchor points. The lines with small circles on their ends that are connected to every anchor point that are used to control the paths sections are called handles. Each anchor point has two handles that work as one control (unless we change that). We manipulate the handles by using the (white arrow) direction selection tool by pressing Ctrl or Cmd. Each anchor point has two handles that act as one control. But by pressing Alt or Opt we select the Convert Point tool that is used to disassociate the handles into two independent handles that can manipulate path sections independently.
    Why did I write this you may ask? Just practicing my technical writing skills 🙂 Cheers

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    Mark Heise

    Great video. I wanted to watch this long ago but never did. I then purchased the parallax…or whatever it’s called. Low and behold part of the second video you brought out the pen tool. At first I was like ahhhhh man…what the houda? hence here I am. Looking to purchase more in the future.