In this tutorial, we'll learn the essentials of how to draw vector shapes in Photoshop CS6 with its easy-to-use shape tools!
We'll start by learning how to draw basic geometric shapes using the Rectangle Tool, the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Ellipse Tool, the Polygon Tool, and the Line Tool. We'll learn how to choose fill and stroke colors for the shapes, how to change the appearance of the stroke, how to edit the shapes later thanks to the flexibility of Shape layers, and more! There's a lot to cover, so this tutorial will focus on everything we need to know about these five geometric shape tools. In the next tutorial, we'll learn how to add more complex shapes to our documents using Photoshop's Custom Shape Tool!
This tutorial is for Photoshop CS6 users. If you're using an older version of Photoshop, you'll want to check out the original Shapes And Shape Layers Essentials tutorial.
Most people think of Photoshop as a pixel-based image editor, and if you were to ask someone to recommend a good vector-based drawing program, Adobe Illustrator would usually be at the top of their list. It's true that Photoshop doesn't share all of Illustrator's features, but as we'll see in this and other tutorials in this series, it's various shape tools make Photoshop more than capable of adding simple vector-based artwork to our designs and layouts!
If you're not sure what a vector shape is and how it differs from a pixel-based shape, be sure to check out the previous tutorial in this series, Drawing Vector vs Pixel Shapes in Photoshop CS6.
Drawing Vector Shapes In Photoshop
The Shape Tools
Photoshop gives us six shape tools to choose from - the Rectangle Tool, the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Ellipse Tool, the Polygon Tool, the Line Tool, and the Custom Shape Tool, and they're all nested together in the same spot in the Tools panel. By default, the Rectangle Tool is the one that's visible, but if we click and hold on the tool's icon, a fly-out menu appears showing us the other tools we can choose from:
I'll start by selecting the first one in the list, the Rectangle Tool:
Shapes, Pixels Or Paths
Before we draw any shapes, we first need to tell Photoshop which kind of shape we want to draw. That's because Photoshop actually lets us draw three very different kinds of shapes. We can draw vector shapes, paths, or pixel shapes. We'll look more closely at the differences between the three in other tutorials, but as we've already learned in the Drawing Vector vs Pixel Shapes tutorial, in most cases you'll want to be drawing vector shapes. Unlike pixels, vector shapes are flexible, scalable and resolution-independent, which means we can draw them any size we like, edit and scale them as much as we want, and even print them at any size without any loss in quality! Whether we're viewing them on screen or in print, the edges of vector shapes always remain crisp and sharp.
To make sure you're drawing vector shapes, not paths or pixels, select Shape from the Tool Mode option in the Options Bar along the top of the screen:
Filling The Shape With Color
The next thing we'll usually want to do is pick a color for the shape, and in Photoshop CS6, we do that by clicking on the Fill color swatch in the Options Bar:
This opens a box that lets us choose from four different ways to fill the shape, each represented by one of four icons along the top. Starting from the left, we have the No Color icon (the one with the red diagonal line through it), the Solid Color icon, the Gradient icon, and the Pattern icon:
As its name implies, selecting No Color on the left will leave the shape completely empty. Why would you want to leave a shape empty? Well, in some cases, you may want your shape to contain only a stroke outline. We'll see how to add a stroke in a few moments, but if you want your shape to contain just a stroke, with no fill color at all, select No Color:
Here's a quick example of what a shape with no fill color looks like. All we're seeing is the basic outline of the shape, known as the path. The path is only visible in Photoshop, so if you were to print your document or save your work in a format like JPEG or PNG, the path would not be visible. To make it visible, we'd need to add a stroke to it, which we'll be learning how to do after we've covered the Fill options:
To fill your shape with a solid color, choose the Solid Color option (second from left):
With Solid Color selected, choose a color for the shape by clicking on one of the color swatches. Colors you've used recently will appear in the Recently Used Colors row above the main swatches:
If the color you need is not found in any of the swatches, click the Color Picker icon in the upper right of the box:
Then, choose the color you need from the Color Picker. Click OK to close out of the Color Picker when you're done:
Here's the same shape as before, this time filled with a solid color:
To fill your shape with a gradient, choose the Gradient option. Then, click on one of the thumbnails to select a preset gradient, or use the options below the thumbnails to create your own. We'll learn all about creating and editing gradients in a separate tutorial:
Here's the same shape filled with a gradient:
Finally, choosing the Pattern option lets us fill the shape with a pattern. Click on one of the thumbnails to select a preset pattern. Photoshop doesn't give us many patterns to choose from initially, but if you've created your own or downloaded some off the internet, you can load them in by clicking on the small gear icon (below the Color Picker icon) and choosing Load Patterns from the menu:
Here's what the shape looks like filled with one of Photoshop's preset patterns. To close out of the Fill color options box when you're done, press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard, or click on an empty spot in the Options Bar. If you're not sure which color, gradient or pattern you need for your shape, don't worry. As we'll see, you can always come back and change it later:
Adding A Stroke Around The Shape
By default, Photoshop will not add a stroke around the edges of your shape, but adding one is just as easy as adding a fill color. In fact, the options for Stroke and Fill in Photoshop CS6 are exactly the same, so you already know how to use them!
To add a stroke, click on the Stroke color swatch in the Options Bar:
This opens a box giving us the exact same options that we saw with the fill color, except this time we're choosing a color for our stroke. Along the top, we have the same four icons for choosing between No Color, Solid Color, Gradient, or Pattern. By default, the No Color option is selected. I'll choose Solid Color, then I'll set black as my stroke color by choosing it from the swatches. As with the fill color, if the color you need for your stroke is not found in the swatches, click the Color Picker icon in the upper right to manually choose the color you need:
Changing The Width Of The Stroke
To change the width of the stroke, use the Stroke Width option directly to the right of the Stroke color swatch in the Options Bar. By default, it's set to 3 pt. To change the width, you can either enter a specific value directly into the box (press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard when you're done to accept it), or click on the small arrow to the right of the value and drag the slider:
The Align Edges Option
If you look further to the right in the Options Bar, you'll see an option called Align Edges. With this option turned on (checked), Photoshop will make sure the edges of you vector shape are aligned with the pixel grid, which keeps them looking crisp and sharp:
However, for Align Edges to work, not only does it need to be selected, but you also need to set the width of your stroke in pixels (px), not points (pt). Since my stroke width is currently using points (the default measurement type), I'll go back and enter a new width of 10 px:
Here's an example of a black, 10 px stroke applied to the shape:
Now that I've added a stroke, if I go back and click on the Fill color swatch in the Options Bar and change the fill to No Color, I'm left with just the stroke outline. The inside of the shape is empty. It looks like it's filled with white only because the background of my document is white, so what we're actually seeing is the document's background:
More Stroke Options
By default, Photoshop draws the stroke as a solid line, but we can change that by clicking the Stroke Options button in the Options Bar:
This opens the Stroke Options box. From here, we can change the stroke type from a solid line to a dashed or dotted line. The Align option lets us choose whether the stroke should fall inside the path outline, outside the path or be centered on the path. We can set the Caps option to Butt, Round or Square, and change the Corners to either Miter, Round or Bevel. Clicking the More Options button at the bottom will open a more detailed box where you can set specific dash and gap values, and even save your settings as a preset:
Here's the same stroke as before, this time as a dashed rather than a solid line:
The Rectangle Tool
Now that we know how to select Photoshop's various shape tools from the Tools panel, how to choose a fill and stroke color and how to change the appearance of the stroke, let's learn how to actually draw vector shapes! We'll start with the first tool in the list, the Rectangle Tool. I'll select it from the Tools panel just as I did earlier:
The Rectangle Tool lets us draw simple four-sided rectangular shapes. To draw one, start by clicking in the document to set a starting point for the shape. Then, keep your mouse button held down and drag diagonally to draw the rest of the shape. As you drag, you'll see only a thin outline (known as the path) of what the shape will look like:
When you release your mouse button, Photoshop fills the shape with the color you selected in the Options Bar:
Resizing The Shape After You've Drawn It
Once you've drawn your initial shape, its current dimensions will appear in the Width (W) and Height (H) boxes in the Options Bar. Here, we see that my shape was drawn 533 px wide and 292 px high:
If you need to resize the shape after you've drawn it (and this works for all the shape tools, not just the Rectangle Tool), simply enter the dimensions you need into the Width (W) and Height (H) fields. For example, let's say what I really needed was for my shape to be exactly 500 px wide. All I need to do is change the width value to 500 px. I could also enter a specific height if needed. If you want to change either the width or the height but keep the original aspect ratio of your shape intact, first click on the small link icon between the width and height values:
With the link icon selected, entering a new width or height tells Photoshop to automatically change the other one to maintain the aspect ratio. Here, I've manually entered a new width of 500 px, and because I had the link icon selected, Photoshop changed the height to 273 px:
Choosing The Size Before You Draw The Shape
If you happen to know the exact width and height you need for your shape before you draw it, here's a trick. With your shape tool selected, simply click inside your document. Photoshop will pop open a dialog box where you can enter in your width and height values. Click OK to close out of the dialog box and Photoshop will automatically draw the shape for you:
Drawing A Shape From Its Center
Here's a few simple yet very useful keyboard shortcuts. If you press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard as you're dragging out the shape, you'll draw it from its center rather than from the corner. This works with any of Photoshop's shape tools, not just the Rectangle Tool. It's very important, though, that you wait until after you've started dragging before pressing the Alt / Option key, and that you keep the key held down until after you've released your mouse button, otherwise it won't work:
To draw a perfect square with the Rectangle Tool, click inside the document to set a starting point and begin dragging as usual. Once you've started dragging, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard. This forces the rectangle into a perfect square. Again, make sure you wait until after you've started dragging before pressing your Shift key, and keep it held down until after you've released your mouse button or it won't work. You can also combine these two keyboard shortcuts together by pressing and holding Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) as you drag with the Rectangle Tool, which will force the shape into a perfect square and draw it out from the center:
Again, you'll see only a path outline of the square as you're dragging, but when you release your mouse button, Photoshop fills it with your chosen color:
The Shape Options
If you look up in the Options Bar, to the left of the Align Edges option, you'll see a gear icon. Clicking this icon opens a box with additional options for whichever shape tool you currently have selected:
Since I have the Rectangle Tool selected, clicking the gear icon shows me options for the Rectangle Tool. With the exception of the Polygon Tool and the Line Tool, both of which we'll look at later, you won't find yourself using this menu very often because we've already learned how to access most of these options from the keyboard. For example, the Unconstrained option lets us freely draw shapes at any dimensions we need, but since it's the default behavior of the shape tools, there's no need to select it. The Square option allows us to draw perfect squares with the Rectangle Tool, but we can already do that by pressing and holding the Shift key. And From Center will draw the shape from its center, but again, we can already do that by pressing and holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac).
If you select either the Fixed Size or Proportional options and enter width and height values, they will affect the next shape you draw, not one you've already drawn. Also, you'll need to remember to come back and reselect the Unconstrained option when you're done, otherwise every shape you draw from that point on will be set to the same size or proportions:
Editing Shape Layers
Earlier, we learned that to draw vector shapes in Photoshop, we need to make sure we have the Tool Mode option in the Options Bar set to Shapes (as opposed to Path or Pixels). When we draw a vector shape, Photoshop automatically places it on a special type of layer known as a Shape layer. If we look in my Layers panel, we see that the shape I've drawn with the Rectangle Tool is sitting on a shape layer named "Rectangle 1". The name of the layer will change depending on which shape tool was used, so if I had drawn a shape with, say, the Ellipse Tool, it would be named "Ellipse 1":
An easy way to tell the difference between a Shape layer and a normal pixel layer is that Shape layers have a small shape icon in the lower right corner of the preview thumbnail:
The main difference between a Shape layer and a normal pixel layer is that Shape layers remain fully editable. Back when we were learning how to choose fill and stroke colors for our shapes, I mentioned that we can always come back and change the colors after we've drawn the shape. All we need to do is make sure we have the Shape layer selected in the Layers panel, and that we still have our shape tool selected from the Tools panel. Then, simply click on either the Fill or Stroke color swatch in the Options Bar to choose a different color. You can also change the stroke width if needed, along with the other stroke options. I'll click on my Fill color swatch:
Then I'll choose a different color for my shape from the swatches:
As soon as I click on the swatch, Photoshop instantly updates the shape with the new color:
And, if we look again in the Layers panel, we see that the preview thumbnail for the Shape layer has also been updated with the new color:
The Rounded Rectangle Tool
Let's look at the second of Photoshop's shape tools, the Rounded Rectangle Tool. I'll select it from the Tools panel:
The Rounded Rectangle Tool is very similar to the standard Rectangle Tool except that it lets us draw rectangles with rounded corners. We control the roundness of the corners using the Radius option in the Options Bar. The higher the value, the more rounded the corners will appear. You need to set the Radius value before drawing your shape, so I'll set mine to 50 px:
Once you've set your radius, drawing a rounded rectangle is exactly the same as drawing a normal rectangle. Start by clicking inside the document to set a starting point for the shape, then keep your mouse button held down and drag diagonally to draw the rest of it. Just as we saw with the Rectangle Tool, Photoshop will display only the path outline of the shape as you're dragging:
When you release your mouse button, Photoshop completes the shape and fills it with color:
Here's another example of a rounded rectangle, this time with my Radius value set to 150 px, large enough (in this case anyway) to make the entire left and right sides of the rectangle appear curved:
And here's a rectangle but with a much lower Radius value of only 10 px, giving me very small rounded corners:
Unfortunately, in Photoshop CS6, there's no way to preview how rounded the corners will appear with our chosen Radius value before we actually draw the rectangle. Also, we can't adjust the Radius value on the fly while we're drawing the shape, and Photoshop doesn't let us go back and make changes to the Radius value after it's been drawn. All of this means that drawing rounded rectangles is very much a "trial and error" situation.
If you draw a rounded rectangle and decide you're not happy with the roundness of the corners, all you can really do is go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choose Undo Rounded Rectangle Tool (or press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) on your keyboard) which will remove the rounded rectangle from the document. Then, enter a different Radius value into the Options Bar and try again:
The same keyboard shortcuts that we learned about for the standard Rectangle Tool also apply to the Rounded Rectangle Tool. To force the shape into a perfect square (with rounded corners), begin dragging out the shape, then press and hold your Shift key. Release the Shift key only after you've released your mouse button.
To draw a rounded rectangle from its center rather than from the corner, begin dragging out the shape, then press and hold your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key. Finally, pressing and holding Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) will force the shape into a perfect square and draw it out from the center. Release the keys only after you've released your mouse button.
The Ellipse Tool
Photoshop's Ellipse Tool lets us draw elliptical or circular shapes. I'll select it from the Tools panel:
Just as with the other shape tools we've looked at, to draw an elliptical shape, click inside the document to set a starting point, then keep your mouse button held down and drag diagonally to draw the rest of it:
Release your mouse button to complete the shape and have Photoshop fill it with your chosen color:
To draw a perfect circle with the Ellipse Tool, begin dragging out the shape, then press and hold your Shift key. To draw an elliptical shape out from its center, press and hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) after you start dragging. Pressing and holding Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) will draw a perfect circle out from its center. As always, release the keys only after you've released your mouse button:
The Polygon Tool
The Polygon Tool is where things start to get interesting. I'll select it from the Tools panel:
While Photoshop's Rectangle Tool is limited to drawing four-sided polygons, the Polygon Tool lets us draw polygonal shapes with as many sides as we like! It even lets us draw stars, as we'll see in a moment. To draw a shape with the Polygon Tool, first enter the number of sides you need into the Sides option in the Options Bar. You can enter any number from 3 to 100. I'll leave mine set to the default value of 5 for now:
Once you've entered the number of sides, click in the document and drag out your shape. Photoshop always draws polygon shapes out from their center so there's no need to hold down your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key. Holding your Shift key down after you start dragging will limit the number of angles at which the shape can be drawn, which can help position the shape the way you need it:
Setting the Sides option to 3 in the Options Bar gives us an easy way to draw a triangle:
And here's a polygon shape with Sides set to 12. Like the Radius option for the Rounded Rectangle Tool, Photoshop does not let us change the number of sides once we've drawn our shape, so if you made a mistake, you'll need to go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Undo Polygon Tool (or press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac)), then enter a different value into the Sides option and redraw the shape:
Drawing Stars With The Polygon Tool
To draw stars with the Polygon Tool, click on the gear icon in the Options Bar, then select Star:
Then, just click inside the document and drag out a star shape. With Star selected, the Sides option in the Options Bar controls the number of points in the star, so at its default value of 5, we get a 5-pointed star:
Changing the Sides value to 8 gives us an 8-pointed star:
We can create a starburst shape by increasing the Indent Sides By option beyond its default value of 50%. I'll increase it to 90%. I'll also increase my Sides value to 16:
And here's the result:
By default, stars have sharp corners on the ends of their points, but we can make them rounded by choosing the Smooth Corners option:
Here's a standard 5-pointed star with the Smooth Corners option enabled:
We can smooth the indents as well and make them rounded by selecting the Smooth Indents option:
With both Smooth Corners and Smooth Indents selected, we get more of a starfish shape:
The Line Tool
The last of Photoshop's basic geometric shape tools is the Line Tool. I'll select it from the Tools panel:
The Line Tool allows us to draw simple straight lines, but we can also use it to draw arrows. To draw a straight line, first, set the thickness of the line by entering a value, in pixels, into the Weight field in the Options Bar. The default value is 1 px. I'll increase it to 16 px:
Then, as with the other shape tools, click inside the document and drag out your line. To make it easier to draw a horizontal or vertical line, hold down your Shift key after you start dragging, then release the Shift key after you release your mouse button:
Drawing Direction Arrows
To draw arrows, click on the gear icon in the Options Bar to open the Arrowheads options. Choose whether you want the arrowhead to appear at the start of the line, the end, or both (if you want the arrow to face the same direction in which the line is being drawn, choose End):
Here's a line similar to the one drawn previously, this time with an arrowhead on the end:
If the default size of the arrowhead doesn't work for you, you can adjust it by changing the Width and Length options. You can also make the arrowhead appear more concave by increasing the Concavity option. I'll increase it from its default value of 0% to 50%:
Here's what the arrowhead now looks like. Make sure you change the Line Tool options before you draw your shape since they can't be adjusted afterwards (if you need to make changes, you'll need to undo the shape and start over):
Hiding The Path Outline Around The Shape
As we've seen throughout this tutorial, whenever we draw a shape using any of the shape tools, Photoshop displays only the path outline while the shape is being drawn. When we release our mouse button, that's when Photoshop completes the shape and fills it with color. Problem is, if you look closely after drawing the shape, you'll see that the path outline is still there surrounding it. Here, we can see the thin black outline surrounding the shape. This isn't a big deal because the outline will not print or appear in any saved file format like JPEG or PNG, but it can still be annoying to look at while you're working.
To hide the path outline in Photoshop CS6, simply press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard and it disappears:
Where to go next...
And there we have it! That's the essentials of drawing basic geometric vector shapes in Photoshop CS6 using the Rectangle Tool, The Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Ellipse Tool, the Polygon Tool, and the Line Tool! In the next tutorial, we'll learn how to add more complex and interesting shapes to your designs and layouts using Photoshop's Custom Shape Tool! Visit our Photoshop Basics section to learn more about Photoshop!