Photoshop Shapes: What they are and how to use them

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Photoshop Shapes: What they are and how to use them

Photoshop Shapes are vector images that you can size up or down without degrading the image quality. The best thing about using Shapes is that it saves you time. For example, few people can draw a perfect circle (especially with a mouse). If you click, drag, and draw a vector image, as opposed to drawing them by hand with one of the pen tools, you can draw a Custom Shape in mere seconds.


You start by selecting the Shapes tool. The default is the rectangle shape, so look for a square on the toolbar, (currently seventh icon from the bottom between the Path Selection and the Hand tool). You can choose from the Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, Line, or Custom Shape tools.

Photoshop custom shapes

Photoshop provides several libraries of custom shapes. These are not the same as your personal custom shapes, which you can create with the Pen tool yourself. These are also, not the same as the many thousands of custom shapes available to download from the Internet. Photoshop Shapes have a .csh extension, so look for files that end with this format.

The Custom Shape tool has a library of vector shapes to get you started: Leaf Trees, Wild Animals, Boats, and Flowers. If you have any previous versions of Photoshop on your computer, you can import all the shapes from those Shape collections and multiply your library. Click the gear icon (top right corner of the Shape submenu, then navigate to the Adobe > Photoshop > Presets > Custom Shapes folder.

Select All from the list of files and click the Load button. The All file includes 12 more categories of shapes: Animals, Arrows, Banners, Frames, Music, Nature, Objects, Ornaments, Shapes, Symbols, Talk Bubbles, and Tiles. If you don’t want or need access to all of these Shapes, just import or load the individual files that apply.

01 select shapes to drag draw vector imagesJD Sartain / IDG

Select Shapes to drag draw vector images

How to use and edit Photoshop Shapes

To locate and use Photoshop Shapes, choose the Shapes tool from the main toolbar, right-click to see the submenu, then cursor down to the shape you want to use. Notice that the menu across the top changes based on which shape you choose. For example, if you select the Polygon, choose the number of sides you want from the Sides field box (top, far right). Or, if you choose the Custom Shape tool, the Shapes dropdown (also top, far right) displays dozens of vector options.

The top menu also displays the Fill, Stroke, Width, Height, and Shape editing options (such as Combine Shapes, Intersect Shapes, etc.), Alignment options, Stack Layers options (such as Bring to Front, Send to Back, etc.), the Path options (under the Gear icon), and last, the Align Edges feature, which aligns vector shape edges to the pixel grid. Experiment with these features to change or enhance your Photoshop shapes.

Notice that when a shape is selected, the box handles (called anchor points) appear in multiple locations around and throughout the shape. Use these points to edit or re-draw the shape. For example, click the anchor point on the right side of the leaf stem and drag the handle down and to the right. Repeat the process on the left side of the leaf stem.

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