Photoshop offers a wide array of tools to create shapes and lines on a canvas. This tutorial covers the basics: selecting a shape or line, shape layers vs. fill pixels, filling shapes with colors, and drawing lines. 

Selecting a Shape or Line

In order to create a new or select an existing shape or line, click the rectangle tool in the tool bar, as shown to the right:

The Tool Options Bar should appear with different shape tools, as shown below:

The standard shapes available include:

  • Rectangle
  • Rounded Rectangle
  • Ellipse
  • Polygon
  • Line
  • Custom

Click on any of them to change the shape tool. Alternatively, one can also click and hold on the rectangle tool in the tool bar to find the same options on a drop-down menu.

Once a shape tool is selected, drag the mouse over the canvas to create a shape.

Options for Creating a Shape: Shape Layers vs. Fill Pixels

There are three options from which to choose when creating a shape: Shape Layers, Paths, and Fill Pixels. This section will not deal with Paths. These options are displayed in the Tool Options bar whenever a shape tool is selected.

Shape Layers

Shapes created using the Shape Layer option are automatically created in a new layer known as a vector layer. Essentially, this means that the shape can be resized, edited, and altered without losing any quality and without worrying about altering other parts of an image. With the Shape Layers option selected, one can also create a shape using different Photoshop "styles."

Styles can include textures, patterns to fill shapes, and more.

The downside of Shape Layers is that while using brushes or erasers, users may frequently encounter error messages of the sort shown here:

Photoshop does not allow users to edit shape layers in this way without first rasterizing the layer, which will mean that the advantages listed above to using shape layers—easy editing, resizing and a choice of styles—are no longer accessible. So if you decide you want to erase a shape or brush over it, make sure you are finished with those kinds of edits!

Fill Pixels

Shapes created using the Fill Pixels option are created on whatever layer is currently selected rather than an automatically-created new layer. Fill Pixels shapes are also instantly erasable and can be brushed over with the Brush Tool.

So which is better?

There is no easy answer to this question. Shape Layers and Fill Pixels have opposite advantages and disadvantages: shapes created using Fill Pixels cannot be easily re-sized or filled with a style or another color, while shapes created using Shape Layers cannot be easily erased or drawn over, and layers can pile up fast. The best solution is to experiment and figure out what works best for you.

Filling Shapes with Color

Shapes creating using both the Shape Layers and Fill Pixels options are filled with the currently selected foreground color, visible in the left-hand corner as a small box at the bottom of the toolbar.

The fill colors of shapes created using the Shape Layers option, however, can easily be changed by double-clicking on the color of the layer. The new color selected should automatically fill the shape.

Drawing Lines

In order to draw a line or arrow, click on the shape tool and select the line from the Tool Options bar. In order to change the width of the line, simply increase the weight of the line.

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