Exploring Paths in Photoshop CC

Excerpted with permission from
Photoshop CC Bible (Wiley)

By Lisa DaNae Dayley, Brad Dayley © 2013


Understanding paths can help you in many aspects of Photoshop, from drawing vector art to creating highly accurate masks.The following sections take you through some examples of creating and using paths.

Creating a Path

There are many reasons to create paths in Photoshop. You can use paths to generate highly accurate masks or vector art, or to define the flow of text. The first example we look at is creating a basic path using the following steps:

  1. Select the Ellipse tool.
  2. Set the mode to Path in the Options bar of the Ellipse tool.
  3. Draw two circles by pressing and holding down the Shift key as you create them, as shown below.

    Selecting the Ellipse tool from the Toolbox with the mode set to Paths enables you to add circles to the current path.
  4. Use the Path Selection tool to select both circles, and then click the Exclude Overlapping Shapes option in the Path Operations menu of the Options bar of the Path Selection tool to remove the center of the inner circle from the path area.
  5. Click Merge Shape Components in the Path Operations menu of the Options bar of the Path Selection tool to combine the paths, as shown below.

    Using the Exclude Overlapping Shapes option on the two paths removes the inner area from the path shape area.
  6. Use the Pen tool to add the points shown below.

    Using the Pen tool, you can create a simple handle by adding four path points.
  7. Use the Path Selection tool to move the new path so it touches the existing circles.
  8. Use the Convert Point tool to adjust the corners for the handle so they are round by dragging the direction points, as shown below. Click each corner to convert the corner to a smooth anchor, and then drag away from the corner to add and shape the curves.

    Using the Convert Point tool converts the corners to smooth anchors and enables the line segments in the handle to become curves.
  9. Select both the handle and the circles, and then select Merge Shape Components in the Path Operations menu of the Options bar of the Path Selection tool to combine the paths, as shown below.

    Using the Merge Shape Components option creates a single path from the two selected paths, completing the magnifying glass shape.

Converting Paths to Vector Shapes

Using paths to create vector shapes enables you to add elements to an image that can be resized and shaped and still maintain perfectly crisp edges. In this example, we convert the path from the previous example into a vector shape using the following steps:

  1. Select the path using the Path Selection tool.
  2. Right-click the selected path to open the menu shown below.
  3. Select Define Custom Shape from the menu to open the Shape Name dialog box.
  4. Name the shape and click OK to add the new shape to the Custom Vector Shapes menu. You can view the Custom Vector Shapes menu by choosing Edit > Preset Manager and then selecting Custom Shapes in the Preset Type drop-down menu.

    Converting a shape to a path is as simple as right-clicking it and selecting Define Custom Shape from the shortcut menu. The new shape is added to the Custom Vector Shapes list.

    Creating a Clipping Mask

    Using a path to create a clipping mask will enable you to create a clipping mask in an image with crisp, clean lines. The shape of the clipping mask can be easily adjusted by adjusting the points in the path. In this example, we create a clipping mask that you can save with the file to mask any area outside of a specific object when you print the file:

    1. Open an image in Photoshop.
    2. Use the Pen tool to create a path around an object in the image, as shown below.
    3. Select Save Path from the Paths panel menu. Photoshop doesn’t enable you to make a clipping path until you have saved the path with a new name. Name the path “Initial Points”.
    4. Select Duplicate Path from the Paths panel menu. Name the new path “Adjusted Points” and then select it in the Paths panel.
    5. Convert the anchor points to curved points and then adjust them using the handles to fit the perimeter of the object, as shown in below.

      Use the Pen tool to create a path around an object in the picture. The object is the only thing included when you apply the clipping mask.
    6. Select Clipping Path from the Paths panel menu, as shown in Figure 17.35, to launch the Clipping Path dialog box.

      Use the Save Path dialog box to give the path a meaningful name. The working path is changed to the “Adjusted Points” name in the Paths panel.
    7. Select the “Adjusted Points” path in the Clipping Path dialog box, shown below, and set the flatness. In this case, we set the flatness to 5 device pixels to maintain adequate sharpness while still supporting most printers. Flatness determines the number of lines used to draw the curve. A lower flatness value results in a greater number of straight lines used to draw the curve and consequently a more accurate curve. Flatness values can range from 0.2 to 100.

      Select the path and flatness when creating the clipping path.
    8. Click OK to make the path a clipping path.
    9. Save the file in a format that supports clipping masks, typically PSD, EPS, or TIFF. The file is created with the clipping path data.

    Creating Vector Masks

    Using a path to create a vector mask will enable you to create a mask that can be easily fine-tuned to fit a specific area of an image. You can also resize the path to create additional clipping masks that maintain crisp edges. In this example, you can use the following steps to create a vector mask that will be added to a layer to mask part of the image:

    1. Open an image in Photoshop.
    2. Use the vector tools to create a path around an object in the image, as shown below. In this case, the path is a simple ellipse around the dog’s face.
    3. Select the working path in the Paths panel.
    4. Select Save Path from the Paths panel menu. Photoshop doesn’t enable you to make a vector mask from the path until you have saved the path.

      Create a path around the area of the image that you want to include in the vector mask.
    5. If you are using a background layer, convert the background to an unlocked layer by double-clicking it, and then select it in the Layers panel, as shown below.
    6. Select the saved path in the Paths panel so Photoshop uses the selected path to create the vector mask.
    7. Open the Properties panel if it is not already open.
    8. Click the Add Mask icon in the Paths panel. A mask is added to the Properties panel.
    9. Select the Add a layer mask option in the Masks panel to add the vector mask to the image. The layer mask is added to the layer, and a copy of the layer vector mask is added to the Paths panel.

      Using the selected path to create a vector mask on a layer in the image.