Home » Blog » Draw with Pen tools in Photoshop

Draw with Pen tools in Photoshop

Several Photoshop video tutorials and a book I recently read on self-portrait photography (here) all mentioned the pen tool as the best and most accurate way of making selections for masks and for extracting image elements for composites, even if a little more time-consuming than the wand tools. I decided to investigate, but my ‘suck and see’ approach to trying out the pen tool was unsuccessful, ending with a mess of lines on my image. Therefore, some structured research and experimentation was necessary.

Things that will help on the way to mastery:


  • Use as few connections as possible to outline a selection – makes editing easier and it is all that is required.
  • Make selections on the inner edge of the shape to avoid picking up background areas.
  • The tool needs practice – there is little automatic about it – it is learning to draw in Photoshop.


  • Paths hold the vector (lines/shapes) information created by the pen tool – these are automatically created an appear under a separate tab to the layers information. Like layers paths can be renamed and reused.
  • Drawing dots with the pen tool results in a series of joined (at the dot) straight lines. Dragging when making dots creates a curved point, with wings. The circles on the end of the wings are dragged to alter the curves.
  • To alter lines already drawn, use the selector tool (white arrow) – this can be accessed directly from the pen tool by pressing the cmd key while using the pen.
  • I struggled with the convert point tool (a pen tool option) that allows curve to be changed to a point – useful if a sharp change of direction is needed in an outline. Alt while using the pen activates this. Or after the initial drawing, select the point then use alt while clicking a wing-circle, which breaks the curve and creates a point.
  • To convert a point back to a curve, use the convert point again, but instead of clicking on the wing-circles, click onto the point itself (this technical took some finding!)

Worked example:

Before – 

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 09.12.38


After – 

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 09.12.25


Adobe [website]. Drawing Pen Tools. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/drawing-pen-tools.html [accessed 7.3.16]

Adobe [website]. Edit paths. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/editing-paths.html [accessed 8.3.16]

YouTube. Phlearn channel. How to use the pen tool in Photoshop. Available from: https://youtu.be/6WJj6iNr6K0 [accessed 8.3.16]

Comments here