Create Paths with Pen Tool in Photoshop CC

Even with all the custom shapes available, you might need to create a path that’s unique to a specific image. For that, Photoshop offers the Pen tool and its associated tools. Before you start creating paths willy-nilly, you can probably benefit from a little bit of background information about paths.

As you click and click-drag, you place anchor points, which connect the path segments that create your path. Path segments can be straight or curved. You control those curves not with diet and exercise but rather with direction lines and their control points.

A straight path segment is bordered on either end by corner anchor points, and a curved path segment is bordered by two smooth anchor points or one of each type. As you can see in the figure, Photoshop helps you differentiate between path segments and direction lines by using squares (hollow and filled) for anchor points and diamond shapes for control points.

Paths have square anchor points and diamond-shaped control points.
Paths have square anchor points and diamond-shaped control points.

Only smooth anchor points have direction lines and control points. The angle and length of the direction line determine the shape of the curve. When you create a curved path segment between a corner anchor point and a smooth anchor point, only the smooth point’s direction lines adjust the curve. When you create a curved path segment between two smooth anchor points, both points’ direction lines affect the curve.

Here’s another important way to classify paths in Photoshop:

  • An open path has two distinct and visible endpoints; think of it as a pencil line or piece of string.

  • A closed path has no beginning or end — like a circle or an unbroken rubber band.

When you use a shape tool, you’re creating closed paths. When you click-click-click with the Pen tool, you create an open path — unless, that is, your final click is back on the very first anchor point.

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