Arbitrary shape tool in Photoshop

In the last lesson we learned how to work with shapes and shape layers in Photoshop. We looked at how using five tools from the Shapes group (Rectangle, Rectangle with Rounded Edges, Ellipse, Polygon, and Line) to add simple rectangles and ellipses to the document, as well as draw stars, lines and directional arrows.

It is good to have tools in the program that allow you to draw circles and squares, but what if we need to draw a figure of a more complex shape? What if we assume we need to add a heart to a wedding photo or an invitation, draw a dog or cat for the pet store logo? How about images on your drawings of flowers, leaves, snowflakes, musical notes or a copyright icon?

In fact, Photoshop works with all these and other shapes and allows us to add them to an image with the same ease with which we added circles and squares. In the program, all these shapes of a more complex shape are called arbitrary shapes, and we can draw them using the Custom Shape Tool, which we will learn in this lesson.

Arbitrary tool

The Freehand tool is located on the toolbar in the same section as the other Shapes group tools. By default, the Rectangle Tool is displayed on the screen, but if you click on it and hold the mouse button down for a few seconds, a pop-up menu will appear with a list of other tools that are also available in this section. The Freehand tool is at the bottom of the list:

Click on the Rectangle tool icon and hold the mouse button down, then select the Freehand tool from the menu that appears.

If you have already selected one of the tools of the Shapes group, then you can quickly switch to the Arbitrary shape tool on the settings panel, where six icons representing the Shapes group of tools are presented. The Arbitrary shape tool icon is the last one to the right (it looks like a blob):

If you already have another tool of the Shapes group active, then you can choose the Free Shape tool in the settings panel

Choosing the shape of an arbitrary shape

After choosing the tool “Arbitrary shape” we need to decide on the shape of the shape we want to draw. A preview window will appear on the settings panel to the right of the Free Shape tool icon, which will display a thumbnail of the shape that is currently selected:

The preview window displays the chosen arbitrary shape.

To select another shape, click on the preview window. This action will lead to the opening of the Arbitrary Shapes palette, where all the shapes currently available for selection will be displayed. In fact, Photoshop works with a much larger number of arbitrary shapes than the limited number that is initially presented in the palette. How to load other arbitrary shapes into the palette, we will look further:

To open the Arbitrary Shapes panel, click on the preview window.

To select a shape, simply click on its thumbnail, then on the key Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to close the palette. Or double-click on the thumbnail of the shape, as a result of which the shape is selected and the palette closes itself. I will choose a heart shape:

Choosing a heart shape from the Arbitrary Shapes palette

Choosing a color for the shape

After choosing the shape of the shape, you need to choose a color for it. This can be done by clicking on the color swatch icon to the right of the word “Color” in the settings panel:

Click on the color swatch icon to select the desired color for an arbitrary shape.

The program will immediately open the color palette, where we can select the desired color. Since I decided to draw a shape in the shape of a heart, I will choose red. To close the color palette, click OK when you select the desired color:

From the color palette, choose the color for the shape in the shape of a heart

Selecting the “Layer-Layer” option

As I mentioned in the last tutorial, Photoshop allows us to draw shapes of three types using the Shapes group of tools. We can draw vector shapes that are independent of resolution and can be scalable without loss of quality (we would draw this type of shapes in Illustrator). We can also draw outlines that are just the outlines of the shapes, or we can draw pixel shapes that the program fills with colored pixels. In most cases, we draw vector shapes, and to be able to do this, we need to select the Shape Layers option in the settings panel. This is the first icon in a group of three icons located closer to the left edge on the settings panel:

To draw vector shapes, select the “Layer-shape” option on the settings panel

To draw a shape, click in the document window to define the starting point and then hold the mouse button down and drag the mouse away from the starting point. As the cursor moves, the program will display to you the thin outline of the future shape:

Click to define the starting point and then drag the cursor to draw the shape.

Release the mouse button to finish drawing the shape, and the program will immediately fill the shape with the color you selected in the settings panel:

Photoshop will fill the shape with color when you drop the mouse button.

Drawing shapes with the correct proportions

Please note that my heart shape looks a bit distorted. It is wider and shorter than I expected to see. This happened due to the fact that, by default, Photoshop does not try to maintain the correct proportions (or differently the aspect ratio) of the figure in the process of its image. I’ll press the key combination Ctrl + Z (Win) / Command + Z (Mac) to cancel the action and try to draw the shape again.

To draw a shape with the correct proportions, position the cursor in the document window and, while holding the mouse button down, begin to draw the cursor and draw the shape as usual. At the same time, press the Shift key and continue to hold it down as you move the cursor. As soon as you press (and hold) the Shift key, you will see that the outline of the shape has the correct proportions:

To draw a shape with the correct proportions, hold down the Shift key while moving the cursor

When the size of the drawn shape suits you, release the mouse button, and then release the Shift key (make sure you release the Shift key last). The program will again fill the shape with the selected color:

Release the Shift key only after you release the mouse button.

I will press the Ctrl + Z (Win) / Command + Z (Mac) key combination again to cancel the action, and then select a shape of another shape by clicking the shape preview window in the settings panel to open the shape palette. This time I will focus on the image of musical notes:

Click on the thumbnail of musical notes to select the figure

In order to draw musical notes, I set the cursor in the document window to determine the starting point and then, while holding the mouse button down, drag the mouse away from the starting point. As soon as I start to stretch the cursor, I will press and hold down the Shift key to fix the correct proportions of the shape and continue to draw the image:

As the cursor moves, I will hold down the Shift key., to keep the proportions of the figure right

Then I will release the mouse button to finish the drawing process, and Photoshop will fill the shape with the same color that I selected for the previous shape:

The new shape will be filled with the same color as the previous one.

Next, we will learn how to change the color of the drawn shape and how to load all the additional shapes of arbitrary shapes available in Photoshop!

Change the fill color of the drawn shape

What if I want my new figure to be different in color from the previous one? I could just choose a different color on the settings panel before drawing a new shape. However, we can also easily change the color of an already drawn shape. Each new drawn arbitrary shape is located on a separate layer of shapes on the layers panel, and each shape layer has its own color swatch icon that displays the current fill color of the shape. In order to change the color, you just need to double-click on the color swatch icon:

To change the current color of the shape, double-click on the sample color icon of the shape layer.

Photoshop will reopen the color palette, where we can select a new color. I will choose purple:

From the color palette, choose a new color for the shape.

Click OK when you’re ready to close the color palette, and so Photoshop will change the color of the shape for us:

We can change the color of the vector shape at any time.

Download additional sets of shapes

As I already mentioned, Photoshop works with a much larger number of arbitrary shapes than the limited number that was originally provided to us. We just need to load additional shapes into the palette. We can do this by opening the shapes palette in the settings panel and clicking on the small arrow in the upper right corner of the palette:

Click on the small arrow in the upper right corner of the shapes palette.

This action will lead to the opening of a menu with various parameters, at the very bottom of which there will be a list of additional sets of shapes installed in Photoshop. Each of these sets is a collection of figures united by a common theme, for example, “Animals” (Animals), “Music” (Music), “Nature” (Nature), etc. Some of the sets appeared only in the version of Photoshop CS5 (it is this version using me), but most of the sets are available in any recent versions of the program:

All these additional sets of figures are installed in the program, but they need to be loaded into the palette manually.

If you know which set of shapes you need, you can select it by clicking on the corresponding set name in the list. However, it is easier to load all the sets of figures at once. We can do this by choosing the name “All” (All) at the top of the list of sets:

Choose the name “All” (All) to load all additional sets of forms

After that, a dialog box will appear, and you will need to decide whether to replace the current random shapes with new ones or add new shapes to the existing ones. Select “Append” in the window, which allows you to save the original shapes and add new ones to them:

To load new shapes while saving the original shapes in the palette, select “Append”

And now if we open the shapes palette by clicking on the preview window on the settings panel, we will see a variety of new shapes from which we can choose the ones we need. I expanded the shape palette a bit so that more thumbnails were visible. To view all the figure miniatures, use the scroll bar on the right side of the palette:

All additional shapes available in Photoshop are now loaded into the shapes palette.

Below are some examples of shapes that we can now draw in the program:

The shapes palette now reflects all the additional shapes available in Photoshop.

Despite all the variety of ready-made arbitrary figures provided in the program, it may happen that even after loading all the sets, we will not be able to find the image we need for the special design we are working on. And in this case, Photoshop will be an indispensable assistant for us, because it allows us to create any shape ourselves. To learn how to create your own collection of arbitrary shapes, save and continue to use it, study our lesson “Creating your own arbitrary shapes”!

And here we are done! We looked at how you can add a complex shape to a document using the Arbitrary shape tool. In the next lesson we will learn the difference between vector shapes, contours and pixel shapes!

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