Sunday, November 30, 2008

Basic about The Pen Tool

From our experience at Shotgun Front we have found that one of the most basic tools in Photoshop is still not being used correctly.We thought it was about time that a decent, fully comprehensive tutorial on the pen tool and its uses with your own artwork was available online, so here it is.

Ok, for those of you who don’t know, the Pen Tool is used to create line shapes called paths. Paths are used as a route for a brush to follow, an outline to cut out an image, an easily variable shape to animate with and also a good way to translate compressed imagery to print equipment. The great thing about paths is that they are adjustable, create a very clean line and enable really smooth curves & shapes.

(1.) When you hold down the mouse on the pen tool you get five options, however, I use shortcuts which i’ll explain later as they save a serious amount of time. The option you want to select is the standard pen tool.
(2.) Up on the menu bar there is the option to save a preset version of the tool so once you have setup to use it the quick way (our way) then you can save the settings here if you like.
(3.) We are specifically talking about paths rather than shape layers (which I never use by the way) so select the second button on the first row of three options. The buttons to the right of this allow you to use the freeform version of the pen tool and preset shapes which are not being discussed here as they are fairly basic to get to grips with once this tutorial is done. If its not selected already then chose the first button.
(4.) I have Auto Add/Delete turned on as it saves time. The next row of buttons allows you to connect, intersect blah blah blah. I us the last option (Exclude) but it wont really effect your work here.
The first most important thing you should learn is how to quickly position your points and pull out a curve. Because you have Auto Add/Delete selected you all you have to do is click once for your first point (1.) and click again for your second point (2.) You will notice that the pen tool automatically creates a line between the points - this is your path.

In order to curve your line around objects or shape the line to your requirements you now have to add points in between your corners/ends (1.+2.) By clicking about half way down your line you will notice a new point (adjustment handle) To pull this out into a curve hold Cmd and drag away from the straight line (3.)
Try dragging the point around and see how it effects the overall shape of the curve. You will now learn how to manipulate the path to even out your curve, form corners and create other shapes.
Knowing how to manipulate the path correctly is very important. We are using the same path from the first section of this tutorial for examples sake.

(1.) Switching back to a sharp angle is very easy and often required when tracing around the edge of an awkward shape. All you have to do with your central point is simply hold Alt and Click on it. You will notice the path snap back to a sharp angle. A good way to make a perfect right angle & straight line is to frag your corner point whilst holding Shift.
(2.) To switch back to a curve again click on your corner point, hold Alt and drag the mouse upward to the right. Its a good idea to experiment here so have a play with the new adjustment handles and see what different types of curve you can create. Once again, if you hold Cmd + and drag your curve point around you will see how it can be maneuvered about. This combined with the adjustment gives you lots of flexibilty for shape creation.
(3.) To create a multi directional curve all you have to do is click the centre point, hold Alt and drag to the opposite corners. Particularly useful when you want to create a smooth curve around an object but want to keep the points to a minimum. Generally, the less points you use, the better/smoother your shape will be.
(4.) If you create a shape like this then chances are you have crossed over the path by dragging your center point the wrong way. If your going to use the path to cut out a shape then you don’t want this to happen. If your creating a path for a line to follow this is fine and works really well with our Slow Shutter tutorial.
As I mentioned before, creating your desired shape with the smallest number of points possible will result in smoother curves. Its actually possible to create a smooth ellipse or circle with just two points when the adjustment handles are used as you position the points rather than editing them after they have been placed. This will help you speed up your creation of shapes and create better shapes all together…

(1.) Click and hold the mouse button down to create your first point but rather than letting go drag the mouse up until you see a long vertical adjustment line. This now means you have created a point that will cause a curve straight away when you click your next point.
(2.) Click your second point to the right but again, don’t let go. Drag downwards and you will notice the top line is curved without a central point. All you have to do when you wish to connect a paths ends together is click on the open point you wish to connect to. You can now adjust your ellipse as normal by holding Alt and dragging your adjustment handles.

By now you probably have the main jist of how to position and adjust points. But what are the uses of creating good paths? and how do you apply these to your artwork? - Find out now…
(1.) A standard path can be deselected by holding Cmd and clicking anywhere on the screen. To re-select it hold Cmd and click on it again. This will be useful if you are creating multiple unconnected shapes but want to apply the same effect to all of them.
(2.) Although I rarely use the fill tool directly on a path it’s usually quicker than creating a selection first although I don’t think it’s as flexible. To use this just select a foreground colour and click the button shown in the diagram above (2.) This can be found in the Paths toolbox (see the tab on the layers toolbox…)
(3.) Tracing a line shape with a brush is a great for smooth artwork, illustrations and changing animations. All you have to do is select a suitable brush, it works with any size, shape or colour. Then click the button as shown in the diagram (3.) also located in the Paths toolbox. This will create the line on the layer your working on (see the layers toolbox) but you can save the path for use/adjustment later.
(4.) Now, I use the Convert to Selection button all the time. It gives you great flexibility when you want to simulate lighting on an object because you can just use a brush within it or gradient fill it etc etc. The obvious purpose however is for cutting out an object. Because paths are adjustable you can work your way around an image and just click convert (4.) which is also found in the Paths toolbox. Your then free to copy and paste, delete, stroke or overlay your object perfectly!

flash pack
To save you time we have put together our last 3 vector packs into one post, download them all here free and use them in your artwork how you wish. There’s no limitation on that by the way, commercial use is allowed!

Our vector packs come in .eps format meaning you can enlarge the artwork to any scale without loosing any quality. As we know some photoshop users have a few problems when using vectors we have put together a short tutorial on importing various file types into Photoshop. Click here to view it…
Please give credit when sharing online, thanks.


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