A digital illustration of six people created using the Pen tool.


How to use the Pen tool in Photoshop

Learn why the Pen tool is one of the most powerful features Photoshop offers for photo editing and graphic design.

What is the Pen tool in Photoshop?

The Pen tool is a simple selection tool with a wide range of applications for users at every skill level. You can find the Pen tool in the lower half of the Photoshop toolbar, grouped with the Shape tool, the Type tool and the Direct Selection tool.

Examples of shapes drawn using the Pen tool.

Draw lines and shapes.

Create a straight line by setting two anchor points. Add and move a third anchor point to create a curved line or use the Freeform Pen tool to draw lines by hand. The marks you make with the pen tool are called paths.

Fill Path panel superimposed on an abstract digital illustration.

Fill and Stroke.

To outline the path you created, right-click (for PC) or control-click (for Mac) on your path and choose the Stroke Path option. Then use the Colour Picker to select a colour. To fill a shape with a colour, pattern or gradient, choose the Fill Path option.

An example of an image with masking applied using the Pen tool.

Mask a layer.

Want to hide one portion of a layer and reveal the layers below? You can use the Pen tool to select and mask the parts of the layer you don’t want to see.

A photo of a laptop. The laptop's screen has been cut out using the Pen tool.

Make selections.

With the Pen tool you can trace the outline of one element of your image that you want to cut out or touch up separately.

What are paths?

One of the Pen tool’s most powerful functions is the ability to draw paths. When you use the Pen tool, you aren’t adding colour to the canvas. You’re creating a line path which can then be used to make a vector shape — a flexible, scalable object.

Unlike pixel-based lines and shapes, which lose definition when they’re scaled up, a vector path maintains its sharp edges at any size. Every path you draw can be found in the Paths panel, where you can edit them individually or as a group.  

Using the Pen tool in Photoshop.

There are several types of Pen tools available and all of them use anchor points to determine the dimensions of the lines and shapes they create.

Draw shapes made of straight line segments.

Use the Standard Pen tool to draw straight lines between multiple points, creating rectangles or more complex shapes.

1. Select it:

Select the Pen tool.

2. Anchor it:

Click where you want your line to begin to place your first anchor point.

3. Connect it:

Click where you want your line to end to place a second anchor point. A straight path will connect them.

A digital illustration of different shapes. A triangle shape has been created using the Standard Pen tool.

Draw a curved path between two points.

Use the Curvature Pen tool to create and fine-tune smoothly curved paths.

1. Select it:

From the Pen Tools menu, select the Curvature tool.

2. Anchor it:

Place two anchor points the same way you would with the Standard Pen tool.

3. Curve it:

Click and drag your line path with your mouse to create a curve, which will automatically adjust to maintain smoothness.

3. Release it:

When you’re satisfied with the shape of the curve, let go of the mouse button to place the third anchor point, which will set the curve of your segment.

A digital illustration of different shapes. A heart shape has been created using the Curvature Pen tool.

Draw freely using your mouse.

Use the Freeform Pen tool to draw freehand and anchor points will automatically appear. From the Pen Tools menu, select the Freeform Pen tool. Click the inverted arrow next to the shape buttons in the Options bar and enter a value between 0.5 and 10.0 pixels in the Curve Fit window. A higher number places fewer anchor points to create a simpler path.

Drag the pointer across the image to draw a path the same way you would with a pen or pencil on a sheet of paper. Release the mouse button to create a path. To create a closed path, drag the line back around to connect with the path’s starting point.

A digital illustration of different shapes. A spiral shape has been created using the Freeform Pen tool.

How do I create a shape with the Pen tool?

You can create a shape path using the Pen tool that will appear in both the Paths and Layers panels.

1. Select it:

In the Options bar for the Pen tool, select Shape.

2. Colour it:

Double-click the coloured rectangle next to the Shape option to bring up a colour menu where you can choose the shape’s colour, make it transparent, give it a gradient or pattern or create a customised colour.

3. Outline it:

Double-click the rectangle beside the Stroke option to choose a colour for the shape’s outline. If you want to alter the width of the outline, choose from the options in the drop-down menu beside the colour options.

4. Draw it:

Draw your shape line by line by placing anchor points.

Shape panel superimposed on a digital illustration of a hand. The hand has been created using the Pen tool.

How do I create a selection with the Pen tool?

You can use the Pen tool to create a path around a section of your image, then convert that path into a selection to cut it out of the image.

1. Draw it:

Use the Pen tool to trace the outline of the segment you want to select.

2. Save it:

From the Paths palette, double-click Work Path and then name and save the path you’ve created.

3. Load it:

To turn your path into a selection, go to the bottom of the Paths palette and find the Load Path as a selection option — the third icon from the left, which looks like a circle of dashed lines. Alternatively, just press Ctrl+Enter (on Windows) or Command+Return (on Mac).

Paths palette superimposed on a photo of a person sitting on a chair. The chair has been selected using the Pen tool.
Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Discover other Photoshop features.

Now that you’ve mastered the Pen tool, explore tutorials to help you to understand more Photoshop tools and functions.

An example of a psychedelic illustration.

Try a wild new style.

Learn how to use Gaussian Blur, Liquify and other brushes to create vibrant, colourful images.

A selfie of a person outdoors that has been enhanced.

Make your outdoor pictures pop.

See how you can touch up a nature photo to make the great outdoors look even greater.

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