[ General/Basics ]

For today’s hands-on tutorial I want to show you guys how to use the Pen Tool and the Paint Bucket. These tools can be based on vector lines or paths, which means resizing it won’t pixilate the graphic images or mess up the resolution. It is also useful when it comes to tracing images, and that is what we will be doing today.

Before we get stuck into it, look at the diagram I made below so that you can understand how the Pen Tool works more. What I will be calling dots and points are anchors, an anchor is where it starts, stops and where you can adjust or manipulate the Pen Tool line if selected. The selected anchor will be filled in with grey and the unselected will be plain white. You will find that once you first start using this tool you might be confused about how to get to the next anchor when you are curving, keep in mind that if you don’t stroke straight away after each start and end point you may need to chop it by holding down ALT to start a new selection and path without the curves twisting and turning in weird ways. Sometimes clicking and dragging is fine but if you find it looking a bit messy use the ALT method.


You can find the Pen Tool in the Tools Palette on the left hand side. Please download the files Here before we begin bringing colour and life to a hand drawn, scanned picture.

TIP: You can simply Press P on your keyboard to select the Pen Tool, instead of looking for it.

So first thing I want you to do is select the Pen Tool. You’ll notice that in the top panel you can select between Shape Layers, Fill Paths or Fill Pixels. For this tutorial we will only be working with the Fill Path, so select that. What this does is allow us to use strokes to outline the Pen Tool lines. Open the SOP_PENTOOL_BEAVER image in Photoshop, go to File > Open and browse for the picture or simply drag and drop the picture into Photoshop. Make a New Layer above the beaver layer, you can rename the later as Trace or just leave it as is. Make sure you are on the Trace Layer, now it’s just a matter of connecting dots in the right place. For now do this using just two dots, so two points in which you want to trace at a time.

Once you have set two points like in the image above, Right Click while your on the Pen Tool still and select Stroke Path. You will get an option that will allow you to stroke with varies of different tools, select the Brush Tool (You might want to set the brush diameter to 3, which is what I am using in this tutorial) and hit Ok.

The next part is a bit more tricky because we need to curve the line now, to do this make to points with the Pen Tool, the start point and the end point of the line. Go back to the tools panel and hold down on the Pen Tool so that it gives you more choices to choose from, select Convert Pen Tool. Now using this tool grab the end point of the line and drag it up or around, you’ll see that we are now bending and curving the line, do this till it fits what you are tracing.

You can also leave it on the Pen Tool but as soon as you hit the mouse key and drop that second anchor, hold it down and drag.

Again Right Click when you are done and select Stroke Path.  Do this to each line until you have traced the whole picture.

TIP: To delete the paths just Press Del after you have stroked it.

Your beaver should start looking like the image below.

Now we want to start Filling in the colours (sorry about the spelling guys, I’m australian so I forget sometimes and I add in an “ou” instead of “o”). So select Paint Bucket, choose a color and simply click on the areas you want to fill in. You might want to use what you learned in the previous tutorials like the Smudge Tool to blend in some of the traces you have made in the nose area of the beaver.

Your finished work should look similar to the one below, just remove the beaver sketched layer and there you have it. You have just traced, added color and turned your beaver into a graphic.

Too easy yeah? I really want to show you everything there is to know, so hopefully I’ll see you in the next tutorial.

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  1. ptech
    on April 28th, 2010

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  2. MarkSpizer
    on May 3rd, 2010

    great post as usual!