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The Pen Tool

Without doubt, the Pen Tool is the most sophisticated selection tool in the Photoshop armoury. A bit difficult to master, knowledge of this tool will stand you in good stead in other programs such as Illustrator, Freehand, QuarkXPress etc.

The Pen Tool creates paths using Bézier curves - simple curves that can be made to fit any shape: they're easilty editable after they have been drawn, so you needn't worry about getting the curve perfect first time round - it can always be adjusted later.

The problem is the Pen Tool has the steepest learning curve of all, but here we'll try and get to grips with mastering this essential tool for perfect selections.

First off, which Pen Tool? The flyout shows five, and that's without the Path and Direct Selection Tools. Well the one you'll use most is the top one, the Pen Tool. You can probably ignore the Freeform Pen Tool (unless using a graphics tablet) and the rest will become self-evident.

Pen Tool palette

Path/Direct Selecton tool

First, make sure Paths is selected in the Options bar.

1. To draw straight lines with the Pen Tool, simply click each point. If you want to constrain a line to horizontal, vertical or 45°, hold down the Shift key before clicking the next point.

Pen Tool - options bar

Using Pen Tool 1

2. If you click and then drag before releasing the button, you'll get a curve. This is the essence of the Pen Tool; curves are defined by the anchor points (the dots where you click) and the handles that set their direction and strength. Using Pen Tool 2
3. Every time you click and drag, you get a curve; and the point clicked in the previous step shows how the curve operates on both sides of the point. But if you just click without dragging, you make a corner point. Using Pen Tool 3
4. Because we clicked and didn't drag in Step 3, when the next point is drawn (with a click and drag), the curve coming out of the back of it joins the previous one with a hard corner rather than a smooth curve. Using Pen Tool 4
5. The handles operate as tangents to the curve, not crossing it but acting like a surface off which the curve bounces. The points should be placed at positions where the curve changes direction (This is important - don't overdo your clicks!) Using Pen Tool 5

6. Sometimes the handles do appear to cross the curve - but only in cases where the curve is S-shaped, as occurs here. The handles are still really tangents to each side of the curve.

If you've clicked and dragged on a point, making a smooth curve, you can turn it into a corner point instead by holding down Alt and clicking on the point again. You can then click and drag on the same point again to make a new curve from that corner.

Using Pen Tool 6
7. When you click on the starting point again (a tiny circle will appear next to the cursor), the path will be completed and the anchor points ill disappear ,showing just the path's outline. You do not have to close a path, it can be left open-ended if you want to "Stroke" it with a painting tool. Using Pen Tool 7

8. A path can be adjusted by moving the Anchor Points, the Handles or by dragging on the curve itself. Hold down Alt with the Pen Tool active, or select either the Path Selection Tool (to select the entirte path) or the Direct Selection Tool for individual points.






Using Pen Tool 8