advanced photoshop

Feature preview: Master the Pen tool in Photoshop

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Magazine previews, by Julie Bassett

In this article we show you how to use Photoshop’s Pen tool for illustrations and selections

The Pen truly is mightier than the sword, even in Photoshop

The Pen is one of those tools in Photoshop that tends to cause more trepidation and anxiety than many of the other features in Photoshop. Many users avoid using this powerful tool even if it causes them to use several other features that take three times as long and produce an inferior result, all to avoid path wrangling with the Pen. Well, we are here to tell you that there’s no more to fear from the Pen tool than there is of a Gaussian Blur – it’s just another tool. It is a powerful tool that can be tricky and a bit frustrating until you get the hang of it.

Fully understanding the Pen tool hinges on a fundamental understanding of Paths. Photoshop is primarily a pixel pusher, meaning the majority of the work done is with rasterised layers. Each layer is broken down into a grid of coloured blocks, or pixels, that are resolution-dependent as you can only work with the number of blocks in the grid. The alternative to raster graphics is vectors. Vectors are essentially mathematical equations that define the lines, strokes and fills of an image. This type of work is resolution-independent because it can be scaled to any size without loss of graphic fidelity. In Photoshop, vectors are created by using Paths. Paths are what define layers created with the Pen tool and any of the preset Shape tools.

Feature preview: Master the Pen tool in Photoshop

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  • I use a pen, all the time, for all sorts of wonderful things, I draw, I fix photos, I use it for games, I get great results, but you do need to be able to draw on a graphic pad, and watch the screen – not your pen, it didnt take me long, but I have seen some people struggle with this.

    If you have never used one, now is the time to start, good luck!!

  • Eric

    I’ve found that the most important thing to learn about using the pen tool with a Wacom (or other) drawing tablet, is to be smart in programming your buttons, and to be very aggressive about learning all the available keystroke commands for the tool so that you can minimize jumping back and forth between your mouse, keyboard, and tablet. The more you can get your tablet to do, the more productive you will be onscreen!