This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Photoshop Pen Tool

This is the second post of my guide to using the Pen Tool in Photoshop. Previously I wrote about WHY should we learn how to use the Pen tool. Now we’re going to get into the nitty gritty and actually start using it.

The Pen Tool & Straight Lines

It is super easy to draw straight lines with the pen tool, so that’s where we’ll start. Straight paths are created by simply clicking the mouse button. The first time you click, you set a starting point for a path. Each time you click after that, a straight line is drawn between the previous point and the current point.

Before we use the Pen tool, whether for making a selection or for drawing shapes, we need to configure the settings on the Options Bar.

1. Open a new blank document in Photoshop. I’ve created one at 1000 x 1000 pixels with a resolution of 72ppi.

2. In the toolbar, select the Pen Tool. Pen Tool Photoshop

The shortcut is to hit P on the keyboard.

3. In the Options bar at the top of the screen;

  • Choose Path from the first dropdown option.
  • Click the arrow for Geometry Options and make sure that the Rubber Band check box is not selected in the Path Options pop-up palette.
  • Make sure that the Auto Add/Delete option is selected.
  • Select the Combine Paths option.

Pen Tool Options In PhotoshopNote: If you’re outlining a subject for selection, or for drawing a path to add pixels to afterwards, choose the Path option. If you wanted to draw a vector shape with the Pen tool, you would choose Shape. It’s not the end of the world if you choose the wrong one, but it saves a few steps if you pick the right one before you start.

When you first select the pen tool, before you draw any points, a small x will appear beside the cursor. The x means that you are about to start drawing a new path.
Pen Tool - Start A New Path
It’s important to pay attention to the small symbols which appear beside the Pen tool cursor because it tells you how the Pen will behave.

2. Click once on the document where you want the straight line segment to begin. Do not drag.

3. Click again where you want to add the next point. The points that connect paths are called anchor points.

3 - Add Second Anchor Point

Note: If direction lines appear (they look like extra lines coming out of an anchor point), you’ve accidentally dragged the Pen tool and you will draw a curve rather than a straight line. If that happens, choose Ctrl + Z (Windows) or Cmd + Z (Mac) to undo, and click again.

Notice that the first anchor point you created when you clicked the first time is now hollow, while the last anchor point is a solid square. A solid anchor point means that it is currently selected.

4. To continue creating your straight line segments, just keep clicking on the document where you want to put an anchor point and Photoshop will create the path in between.

4 - Continue Clicking With Pen Tool

Tip: If you want to constrain the angle of the segment to a multiple of 45° hold down the Shift key as you click.

The path you see above is called an Open Path. That means the starting point and the end point are different, they do not join. You do not have to create closed paths every time you draw. Open paths are perfect for drawing all types of lines.

If you want to fill an area with colour though, it’s a good idea to close the path. To close a path, simply click back to the first point you created. You will see a small circle appears next to the Pen tool pointer indicating that the path will close correctly.
Once you close a path, the cursor will immediately change to indicate that the next time you click on the document you will be starting a brand new path.

5 - Closing The Path

If you want to leave a path open but then start another new path, Ctrl + Click (Windows) or Cmd + Click (Mac) anywhere away from the path you drew. Alternatively, you can finish a path by clicking on any other tool in the toolbox.

Adding and Deleting Anchor Points

There will, of course, be times when you want to add extra anchor points to your lines or delete existing anchor points that you don’t need. A good rule of thumb when working with vector graphics is to use as few anchor points as possible to achieve smooth lines. This is particularly true when drawing curved paths with the pen tool, which you’ll see in the next post.

Deleting an anchor point to a path

1. Select the Delete Anchor Point tool from the toolbox (hidden under the Pen tool). Delete Anchor Point Photoshop

2. Click on the point you want to delete.

7 - Delete Anchor Point From Path

Adding an anchor point to a path

1. Select the Add Anchor Point tool in the toolbar. Add-Anchor-Point-Tool Photoshop

2. Click anywhere along a line segment using the Add Anchor Point tool.

8 - Add Anchor Point To Line

Often the path shape may not look very different after you add a point to a straight segment, but when you edit the point (we’ll come to that in a future post) then you’ll see the difference.

Pen Tool Practice!

So that’s how to draw straight line segments, very easy and nothing to be frightened of there. The key to using the Pen tool is practice, practice, practice.

  • Try drawing open paths of Zig Zags.
  • Try drawing closed paths of triangles, rectangles, squares, polygons, stars and other random shapes where the first anchor point becomes the end point.
  • Get a feel for finishing paths and starting new ones. Have a go at drawing all of the shapes below. It will help you get a feel for using the pen tool

Straight paths drawn with the pen tool in photoshop
The next part of this guide will show you how to draw curves with the pen tool in Photoshop.

I hope you’re finding this guide useful and would be super grateful if you would share it. Thank you! 🙂

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Series NavigationBeginners Guide To Using The Pen Tool In Photoshop: Part 3 – Drawing Curved Paths >>

Jennifer Farley

Jennifer Farley is an illustrator, designer, author and design teacher based in Ireland. She has been teaching design for over 14 years and helps people learn Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom,Illustrator and graphic design skills to improve their job prospects and their business.

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