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How to Draw with the Photoshop Elements 11 Pencil Tool

The Pencil and Brush tools in Photoshop Elements 11 are similar, except that the Pencil tool has hard edges whereas the Brush tool can have soft, feathered edges. In fact, the edges of a pencil stroke can’t even be anti-aliased. Keep in mind that if you draw anything other than vertical or horizontal lines, the lines have some jaggies when they’re viewed up close. But hey, don’t dismiss the Pencil.

Those hard strokes can work great for web graphics because they lend themselves to producing crisp-edged images for display in a browser window. What’s more, the Pencil tool can erase itself, and it’s helpful for digital sketches.

[Credit: ©istockphoto.com/Lok Fung Image #18537999]
Credit: ©istockphoto.com/Lok Fung Image #18537999

You can do all the following with the Pencil tool:

  • Drag the mouse to draw free-hand lines.

  • Click at one point, release the mouse button, and then Shift-click at a second point to draw a straight line between the points. As long as you hold down the Shift key, you can keep clicking to draw straight lines between the last clicked point and the current click.

  • Press the Alt key (the Option key on the Mac) and click any area of color in the drawing to switch the foreground color to that hue.

To try out the Pencil tool, follow these steps:

  1. Select the Pencil tool from the Tools panel.

    You can press the N key to access the tool.

  2. In the Tool Options, choose your pencil settings.

    Options are

    • Brush Preset Picker: By default, the Pencil tool’s brush tip is the 1-pixel brush. Click the arrow and select a brush from the Brush Preset Picker drop-down panel that appears. To load another preset library, click the Brush drop-down menu at the top of the panel. You also find options to save, rename, or delete individual brushes and also save, load, and reset brush libraries from the panel menu.

    • Size: A preset brush’s pixel diameters are shown as text below a thumbnail image of the brush shape. If you want to change the size of that brush tip, drag the Size slider or enter a value.

  3. If you want to draw using anything other than Normal mode, select a mode from the Mode drop-down menu in the Tool Options.

    Blend modes alter the interaction of the color you’re applying with the color on your canvas.

  4. In the Tool Options, specify an Opacity percentage for your pencil strokes.

    If you want your background to show partially through your strokes, select an opacity of less than 100 percent by using the slider or by typing an opacity percentage directly into the text box. The lower the percentage, the more the background images show through.

    Your strokes must be on a separate layer above your images for you to be able to adjust the opacity and Blend modes after you draw them.

  5. Select Auto Erase to enable that option.

    This option erases portions of your pencil strokes. For example, the foreground color might be black and the background color white, and you might apply some black strokes. With Auto Erase enabled, you apply white if you drag back over the black strokes. If you drag over the white background, you apply black.

  6. Click and drag with the mouse to create your pencil lines.

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