the pen


The Photoshop Pen Tool - page 2


pen fly out menuThe Pen Tool is one of the tiles in the Tool Palette that has fly-out options for choosing other tools. There are quite a few. Following are portraits and descriptions of the members of the Pen Tool family I use constantly, plus two cousins that are indispensable. The descriptions may contain terms or concepts you don’t yet understand but pay attention anyway — it will be developed soon enough.

pen toolThe mighty Pen itself - creates corner or smooth points to define a path.

add point toolAdds additional points to an existing path.

subtract point Subtracts existing points from a path.

convert pointConverts one type of point to another.

select point Use to select a specific point, path segment or curve handles. Hollow arrow selects points, solid arrow selects segments, multiple segments or entire paths.

grabber hand toolI always work at least 100% magnification when drawing paths to fit a photo element. The hand tool is used to drag a new section of the image into a convenient spot in the window.

zoom toolZoom in for detailed work on an intricate shape; zoom out for the big picture.

There are two tools not on this list: the Freehand Pen and the Magnetic Pen. I never use the former because, as I said, I’m not using it as an illustrator would who creates shapes out of his imagination - I’m fitting a path to a very concrete shape. I don’t use the Magnetic Pen because most of the time I am working on photos for which the Magnetic Pen is ill–suited. The Magnetic Pen seems to need significant edge contrast to find the spot to lay down new points. As a product photographer, I am often photographing neutral colored objects on neutral colored backgrounds (so that the background color won't contaminate the color of the product). The magnetic pen tool really doesn’t do what I need for something like distinguishing the sole of a white athletic shoe from its soft shadow shot on light gray paper. Or a light beige computer monitor with a white seamless background. I use the manual tools for jobs like these.

Now this is all a bit daunting - nine tools to manage. Let me share something delightful with you - the Adobe software team has felt your pain! This tool is an absolute marvel of design. It’s made to be used! Would you believe me if I told you Adobe has made it possible to access all nine of those tools with just three modifier keys? It’s true. Let me explain. In the rather clumsy form required by a cross platform application, please rember that the Command and Option keys refer to the Mac OS, while Control and Alt refer to the Windows™ operating system. Again, please don’t get frustrated if you don’t immediately grasp what’s happening — there will be plenty of illustrations on the next page. Just try to absorb for now.

The actual Pen Tool will need to always be selected in the tool palette. Assuming that a path already exists, either fully or partially complete:

What does this mean to a busy professional? It means that, like the controls of a well designed automobile, Photoshop allows us to keep our eyes on the “road” 99% of the time, with only occasional glances at the controls for orientation. I am right handed, so I keep my right hand on the mouse (or, closer to heaven, the Wacom cordless stylus), my left thumb on the spacebar, and my left index and middle fingers hover over the control/command and alt/option keys. My eyes seldom leave the screen. I slip into a trance–like state of concentration, placing points and dragging out handles. Woe to the innocent intruder who interrupts my concentration!

You have been very patient and attentive. It's time to move to page 3, actually using the Pen Tool.

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