Make Custom Shapes in Photoshop

The custom shapes tool is beyond useful – it lets us create a shape over and over again with nothing more than a click and a drag of our mouse. Obviously, though, those custom shapes have to come from somewhere – have you ever wondered how it’s done? Perhaps your company logo would be perfect as a custom shape, which would allow you to create it in any size you needed and have it constantly at the ready.

This very quick tutorial will show you how to create your own custom shapes from a photograph using the pen tool.

Make Custom Shapes in 5 Steps

1. Open Image – Open a photograph that you can use for reference. If you have a graphics tablet and are pretty confident in your drawing skills, you might not need a photo reference – I don’t fall into that category, so I’m using the scanned image of a Celtic pendant shown in Illustration 01. You can grab it to use if you’d like.

2. Zoom & Pen – First, zoom in on your image. I’ve zoomed to about 400% – you want to be able to easily see the lines of the image you’re using so that you can follow them without stressing out. Then, grab your pen tool and set the options under your toolbar like mine in Illustration 02. Finally, make a new layer (Layer, New, Layer).

3. Start Clicking – The way that the pen tool works is that every time you click with your mouse, a “box” – which is called an Anchor – pops up on your image. The closer together you click, the smoother your lines are likely to be. You want to use as few anchors as possible, but when you’re going around curves you will need several anchors spaced quite closely together. So, start clicking around the outline of your shape – choose one single piece of the shape to concentrate on, and go with it. See Illustration 03.

When you have made your way all around the outline of the piece you’re working, click back in the first Anchor you made. You will get a “solid” path like the one in Illustration 04.

4. Fill Path & Repeat – With your solid path made, right-click and choose “Fill Path”. This will let you fill the inside of your outline with your foreground color, black, white, gray, or a pattern. This isn’t a vital step, but it will let you see what pieces of the image you’ve done at a glance. See Illustration 05.

Then, repeat steps 3 & 4 until you have created the outline of your entire image. My finished outline of the Celtic pendant is in Illustration 06.

5. Define Shape & Play – You’re now ready to define your shape. Click “Edit” and choose “Define Custom Shape”. You will be given a new window to name your shape. Then, click your Custom Shape Tool and look in the options – your newly created shape will be listed there (see Illustration 07). Choose it and try your new shape out!

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