Photoshop – How to Create Custom Shapes

Are you either a beginner at PS, or are you familiar with most tools yet do not understand how to create custom shapes? If you are either of these two, this is the blog (tutorial *cough, cough*) for you.

It is 2008, so let’s do the Zodiac Tiger!

That is the shape we are going to create, and although it is pretty darn small, the nice thing about creating a vector shape is that it can be resized without becoming distorted or pixelated; one of the greatest benefits of vector vs. raster.

The two tools we are going to focus on for this session will be the Pen Tool (p, shortcut key) and the Direct Selection Tool (a).

[If you are going to make a shape over an img, make sure it is not in gif format.]

Start off with the pen tool, and click a corner, and drag out a little bit. You will see a small box (an anchor) with two lines (handles) coming out from the sides. Do not worry about the exact location of the anchor point or the exact way the handles are lined up; you will be able to adjust everything once you have that particular shape set. Also, if you really do not like what you have chosen as an anchor/handle, ctrl+z is your undo method. You will want to place your anchors mainly at corners and areas of extreme angles depending on how well you want your shape to work.

I chose the colour red to show my work in progress here as we go along. You will see that at some point—depending on the shape you want to make—you can get slightly worried because you cannot see where to click for sure.
Have no worries, just click around a bit where you think your shape goes, and it will follow along the path you create.

Once you have your first part of the shape defined, make sure to completely follow your path back to the originating anchor; a small circle will hover below your mouse as you come close to the originating anchor.
[Sorry, no screenshot because I am unable to display the cursor + the circle below it.]

As I said earlier, you do not need to worry about your initial anchor/handle settings because you can always go back and adjust them. Let’s go ahead and do that now so you know what to do later on. To make this a bit easier, let’s drop the opacity to zero so all you can see are the anchors, handles, the path and the image you are shaping.

With the direct selection tool, you are able to adjust the anchor positions and handles to make your path follow the img from below. KEY NOTE: Make sure that when you have selected an anchor that you press the alt key so you are adjusting a single handle, not both. And after you have done this for one handle for an anchor, you do not need to do it again for the other handle on the same anchor. If you added a few too many anchors for one spot, you can easily remove the anchor by selecting the Delete Anchor Point tool (hold mouse down over the Pen Tool), and click the anchors you want to delete. However, you may also add anchors with the Add Anchor Tool; just click the path, and an anchor appears. As you can see here, I have adjusted the anchors and handles, and it all seems to line up around the original img below.

Now that we have done this, we need to be certain that we finish the rest of the zodiac in the same shape. What we will do here is select the shape we have made (the gray box within the shape layer on the layer tab), press p, and then select add to shape area (+).

Then we do the same thing all over again: create the path around the bottom portions; and then adjust the anchors/handles as needed.

Once you have it all set up and looking good, go ahead and choose Edit > Define Shape (alt+e > o).

Then you will be able to create your shape’s name. .

Of course, you are most likely making a shape you will want to use over again and again or share with others on a Web site. If that is the case, you will need to create the custom shape set. Select Edit > Preset Manager (alt+e > m), and then press ctrl+7 (custom shapes from the drop-down menu). Select the particular shape(s) you want to save (a black box will appear around the shapes you want to use—use ctrl/shift to select multiple shapes).

Then select Save Set, and voilà, your shape set has been made!

And here is some food for thought before closing your custom shape’s founding file:
After doing all of this it might be good to make a new file, and take a look at your custom shape. Make the file somewhat bigger than the original, and draw the shape you created within it. Look at the edges to see if they are all good, crisp and clean. If not, go back to your original shape, adjust them as you see fit, and re-save the shape + custom shape set (the new shape will always succeed the primary one, so delete the first one).

If you would like to download the shape I made for this tutorial blog, here it is!

Comments and questions are expected, so do not hesitate to share them!


Please forgive me for not mentioning this when I originally created this blog, I am going to toss this in just in case if you have encountered this issue and are wondering how to do it. I am talking about combining multiple shapes from multiple layers, and how to make them a single shape to create a csh file.

Let’s take the zodiac example and say we want to combine it with China.

What you should do is click either of the shapes in the layers tab, and then Ctrl+click the shape box in the layers tab (a dashed box appears above the mouse). Press Ctrl+c, select the other layer, and then press Ctrl+v.

Then you should see the shape you copied with anchor points surrounding it, and also take notice that the shape has been added to the second shape layer.

You have successfully combined your two shape layers into a single shape, and now you can save that one layer as a custom shape! If you have more than two layers to be combined, do the same steps, and keep pasting everything to the same layer.

One Response

  • Sagar

    Thank you. One important point is that the copying and pasting has to be done in the parths layer