Lesson 14


In addition to the Pen tool, there is one other tool capable of drawing paths, and that is the Shape tool (left). Just as the Pen tool is like the path equivalent of the Lasso, the Shape tool is like the path equivalent of the Marquee...but with much more flexibility.

Open a new image and select the Rectangle tool. Use it to draw a rectangle exactly as if using the Rectangular Marquee tool. When you release the mouse button, the tool will automatically create a vector mask in the shape of the rectangle you drew. This vector mask is linked to a new fill layer that is automatically filled with the foreground color, as you can see if you look at the Layers palette (right).

Like the paths drawn with the Pen tool, the paths drawn with the Shape tool can also be manipulated with the Path tool. For example, you can select and drag the anchor points with the Direct Selection tool to alter the shape of the rectangle (left). Changing the path changes the vector mask.

The menu bar for the Shape tool looks similar to the menu for the Pen tool. The pull-down option menu, indicated by the arrow (right), changes depending on the variant of the Pen or Shape tool you are using, but its location on the menu bar is the same.
When you are using one of the path-drawing tools in "shape layer" mode, the style pull-down menu will appear (left). This option automatically sets the layer style for the fill layers that are created. The style menu contains the same styles as the Styles palette, so it will include any that you have saved.

At the very bottom of the menu in this picture, you can see the "potato" style thumbnail created in Lesson 8. Applying the "potato" style to the current shape layer gives the result shown in the picture on the right. This is one way you can use the Shape tool to create eye-catching logo images.

The first three shapes--Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, and Ellipse--are fairly straightforward. They act almost exactly like the Marquee tool. When you get to the Polygon tool, however, there are interesting differences.

Choose the Polygon tool and set it for five sides. The picture (left) shows the different kinds of shapes you can create by changing the options in the pull-down menu. These examples were all done with an indent factor of 50%; changing that value will alter the appearance of the shapes even further.

Next, select the Line tool. This allows you to draw straight, solid lines. (Holding down the Shift key while dragging the mouse will keep the lines perfectly straight in the eight major compass directions.) The pull-down options let you add arrowheads of your specifications to one or both ends of the line. The picture (right) shows some examples. These arrows were done with values of 350% width, 500% height, and 0% concavity.
Finally, the Custom Shape tool allows you to draw a path with a predetermined shape. The available shapes are listed in a pull-down menu (left).

As with the Brush menu, if none of the options on the menu suits your purposes, you can draw your own shape and add it to the menu. In order to do so, first you must create the path in the shape that you want. You can do this by drawing the shape directly with the Pen tool, either freehand or by tracing a background image.

Another option is to make a path from a selection. This method is useful if you want to select some portion of a background image to convert into a custom shape. This also allows you to draw the desired shape using the Brush. In this instance (right), I drew a picture of a floppy top hat on its own new layer using a calligraphy brush. Then I used Load Selection to select the hat and converted the selection into a path.

Once you have the path in the shape you desire, right-click on it and choose "Define Custom Shape." This adds the shape you created to the menu for the Custom Shape tool.

The fun part is when you start combining the properties of the Shape tool. For example, you can make a cherry blossom. Choose pink as the foreground and white as the background. Set the Polygon tool for five sides with rounded corners, star, and 50% indent, and make one blossom. Next, change the Polygon to three sides, uncheck star, and input a set radius of 5mm. Select the subtraction mode icon from the menu bar and place one triangle at the tip of each petal to leave notches as shown in the picture (left). If you think you will ever want to make cherry blossoms again, you can now right-click on it and save it to the Custom Shape menu.

To make the stamens in the middle, choose a darker pink for the foreground color. With the Custom Shape tool, select "floral ornament 4" from the pull-down menu and draw one shape in the center of the blossom. (If you're not satisfied with its appearance, you can draw your own stamen shape and save it to the menu instead.)

At this point, your blossom should resemble the picture on the left. If you don't like it being so flat, you can use Layer Style to emboss it, stroke it, or add a shadow.

In this example (right), the stamen layer has a style of Drop Shadow (color: red, opacity: 100%, distance: 2, size: 4), Outer Glow, and Inner Bevel (smooth). The petal layer has a style of Drop Shadow, Emboss (chisel hard, shadow opacity: 50%), Texture (watercolor), Gradient Overlay (white to pink, radial), and Stroke (size: 3, gradient: pink to white to dark pink, style: diamond, scale: 105%).
Another option is to rasterize each layer and apply filters. In this picture (left), the petal layer received the combination Add Noise (5%, uniform, monochromatic), Radial Blur (40, zoom), Unsharp Mask (250%, 3px), and Facet. The stamen layer received Craquelure (15, 5, 10). For both layers, the filters were applied after using Load Selection to make sure the parts did not lose their shape.

You can, of course, combine styles and filters. Once the layers are rasterized, you can also draw on them with the Brush or other tools to make additional enhancements. It's entirely up to what image you have in mind.

Another thing you can do with the Shape tool is use it to make 3D shapes. The cylinder-like arrow buttons at the bottom of the page were made this way.

As an example, you can make a cube out of three squares. Open a new image and create three squares with the Rectangle tool, making each square a slightly different shade of the same color, as in the picture on the right.

Next, use the Direct Selection tool to give the cube depth. Drag the right side of the right-hand square path upward and to the left. It should take on a "squashed" appearance as shown in the picture on the left. When you are satisfied with the depth of the cube, use the Direct Selection tool again on the top square so that its right side connects with the right-hand square.
It may take a bit of practice, but you should wind up with a cube like the one in the picture on the right. By starting with rectangles rather than squares, you can make 3D blocks in the shapes of buildings or other objects in the same fashion.

If you're familiar with the principles of perspective, you can use paths as guidelines for adjusting the sides of your shapes so that they angle toward the vanishing point(s). The nice thing about paths is that, even if you drag them beyond the edge of your canvas onto the blank work area, you can still see them. This means that your canvas doesn't have to be huge, as it would be if you used regular lines painted on a disposable layer. The general process is shown below.

Step 1:
Draw perspective guides

Step 2:
Draw sides of shape

Step 3:
Select and fill each side

You can use the same principle with one-point perspective, as in the picture on the right. The square paths for the walls were drawn with the Rectangle tool. Once you have the outline of the object, such as this room, you can paste texture layers over the perspective lines, then use Edit → Transform → Scale and Edit → Transform → Skew to make the edges of the pasted layers match up with the paths.

With curved shapes, such as spheres and cylinders, you will need to add extra layers for highlights and shadows. You can draw the highlights and shadows with the Brush or with the Gradient tool. Changing the blending mode and opacity of each highlight/shadow layer allows you to fine-tune the shape's appearance.

As you can see from the Layers palette for the arrow button image (left), effective use of highlight/shadow layers can make your shapes jump out. "Layer 1" is the cylinder itself, composed of a square and two ellipses merged and then rasterized. (If this were a true cylinder, the ellipse on one side would be left separate and given its own different shade, like the top of the cube in the example above, but that made the button look much more as if it were pointing outward from the screen, so I eliminated that aspect.) Changing the fill color of this layer is what changes the arrow buttons from red to green to blue.

The yellow arrow was a simple triangle drawn with the Polygon tool. It was then altered by adding a smooth anchor point to one side with the Direct Selection tool and dragging that point to make the side curve.

"Layer 3" and "Layer 3 copy" are the highlights. "Layer 3" has a blending mode of Overlay and opacity of 60%, while "Layer 3 copy" was changed to make the blending mode Lighten. The highlight itself was originally drawn with the Gradient tool.

"Layer 4" is the shadow. It was also drawn with the Gradient tool. It has a blending mode of Darken and opacity of 50%.

Layer Style was then used on the shape layers to make them stand out even further.


Design your own shape and save it to the Custom Shape menu. Then use the Rectangle tool to create a 3D box and use your new custom shape to decorate the front (and if you're adventurous, the top and side as well) of the box. Use styles and/or filters to make your decoration stand out.

If you want a challenge, do one or both of the following:

  1. Draw your own 3D cylinder or sphere using separate layers for highlights and shadows.
  2. Instead of a cube, make a set of several 3D rectangles of different heights lined up in a row so that they look like a bar graph.