Photoshop isn't just for photos. In this lesson, we're going to take a look at Photoshop's ability to create vector graphics with the pen tool.
Learning to draw with the Pen Tool is one of those lessons that isn't very long but takes a bit of practice and, like most things with Photoshop, is best demonstrated visually. Be sure to watch the video to really get a grasp on how this works and use the text below for reference. If you'd like to look at the final product, you can download my drawing of Christine. It's a Photoshop CS5 file, so you'll need version CS5 to be able to open it.
That said, let's get started!
An Introduction to the Pen Tool
Photoshop's Pen Tool is very powerful but it can be deceiving. When you think of a pen, you think of pressing down and making a flowing mark with it. You don't generally think of a pen as a tool that creates dots on paper and automatically connects them in specific ways based on a number of factors. You don't because a pen can't do that in reality, but that's exactly what it does in Photoshop. While this may seem a little odd, it's a very powerful and useful method of drawing vector graphics.
The Pen Tool is actually a lot of tools in one, and we'll be looking at how to use most of them when drawing. The basic operation of the Pen Tool involves clicking around the Photoshop canvas to make points appear. These points will be connected by lines and start to create a shape. If you hold down the shift key before creating a point, it'll ensure this line is straight or forms a a perfect 45-degree angle (depending on where you attempt to place your next point). This is fine for drawing simple, rough shapes, but if we want curves and more unique shapes we need to do a little more work.
Start off by creating a point on your canvas with the Pen Tool. Now create a second point, but don't let go. Hold down and drag and you'll see a curve start to appear. Holding down shift will create perfect angles and help you make a more even curve (if that's what you want). When you create points in this fashion, you'll see two lines flying out from the point. Those lines each have balls at the end, and if you drag those balls it affects one side of the curve. One line should already be touching the curve and one shouldn't. The line that's not touching the curve is the one that will have an affect on the next point you make. You can alter it immediately by holding down the option key while you're still dragging your curve into position. If you want to alter it after you've finished making your curve, you can also hold down the option key, click on the ball at the end of the line, and drag that ball where you want it. The longer the line, the more restrictive it will be on your next curve. The angle it creates will also have a dramatic effect on the curve. Smaller angles will help you create sharper edges. Wider angles will help you create rounder ones. Go ahead and give it a try to get an idea of how things work and be sure to watch the video to see a demonstration. You'll pick it up the Pen Tool much faster by watching it in action.
If you're having trouble getting the pen tool to do what you want, one thing that can help is the grid. You can turn on the grid by going to the View menu and choosing Grid from the Show submenu. (Command ' on Mac and Control ' on Windows will also do the trick.) The grid can make it a lot easier to see what you're doing and snap to the right points. Try using it while drawing an easy shape like a heart. The grid makes those kinds of shapes much easier to draw.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It's hard to get a grasp on the Pen Tool at first because it's awkward, so you have to practice. The easiest way to practice is to trace photos. Silhouettes are excellent starting points because you're only dealing with one colour. Once you're able to get your stroke and shape the way you want it, you can move on to doing more complex drawings like the one created in the video associated with this lesson.
That's all for today. Tomorrow we're going to look at web design and layout, and then we'll wrap things up on Friday with a recap, your next steps in your Photoshop education, and what great online and offline resources are at your disposal.