Creating a Custom Shape in Photoshop

Introduction: Creating a Custom Shape in Photoshop

In this Instructable I will be showing you how to create and save your own usable custom shapes for use in Photoshop.

For those unfamiliar with the custom shape tool, it allows you to insert a shape in a cookie cutter fashion into your document. Some of the shapes that come with the Photoshop software include arrows, hearts, stars and other basic shapes. The picture above shows where our finished product will end up. The second picture shows what the finished product in the menu looks like saved and ready to be used on projects.

My drive to learn this skill came from the sheer annoying repetitiveness of drawing an entire shape that I use over and over again in Photoshop projects.

This Instructable is targeted towards anyone with a basic knowledge of computers. Since these instructions tell exactly where and what buttons to use for each step no prior Photoshop knowledge is necessarily required. However if you have at least a small amount of exposure to Photoshop then the process is quite a bit easier.

What you need:
  • Computer
  • Photoshop installed on the computer you are using (I am using Adobe Photoshop CS5 for PC.)
  • Desired picture/shape saved on computer and/or access to the internet in order to obtain one.
In total this process should take around 1 hour depending on the complexity of the image and your skill level.

Note: For any of the pictures if something is too small to read you can click on the lowercase i in the upper left hand corner of the image to get more options for viewing sizes.

Alright let's begin!

Step 1: Import Image Into Photoshop

  1. Select the image that you are going to convert into a custom shape.
  2. Go to File-->Open and navigate to the folder containing your image and double click your image. (Only if you already have your desired image saved somewhere on your computer.)
  • Also if you want to use an image from the internet you can just create a new document (go to File--> New) and copy and paste the image from the source into the window.

Step 2: Select Your Proper Tools and Settings

Now that our image is in the Photoshop program we can begin working with it to create our custom shape.
  • I chose my image for its relatively simple geometry, allowing easier explanation throughout this tutorial.
  1. Select the pen tool by either clicking the Pen tool button ( circled on the left in the first picture) or pressing the P key.
  2. Click the shape layers button on the pen tool bar which is the button on the left in the second picture.
  3. Check that the create new shape layer button is selected (should be by default) which is the button in the middle of the second picture.
  4. Set the layer color by clicking on the colored box next to the word color, and choose a color from the color gradient, any darker color is fine.

Step 3: Draw the Main Outline of the Shape

Now with your settings from the previous step in place we can begin drawing the image. This entire process is essentially tracing our background image in order to get a shape that we can save.

1. Click once on the outside edge of the background image as shown in the first picture.
  • NOTE: My color is set to white purely for visibility in this step in the tutorial. You do not need to change your color.
2. Move around the edge and continue clicking to add points like in the second picture (Do not click and drag as it complicates things quite a bit.)
  • It is completely your preference how far apart you space each point, naturally the closer you go the smoother it will look, and vice-versa with placing them farther apart.
3. Press the Enter key to finish the shape once you have made it back to your starting point.
  • You will notice that you cannot see the background image anymore.
4. Change the layer opacity
  1. Direct your attention to the layers window, as shown in the fourth picture, which should be located in the lower right hand corner of the screen.
  2. Make sure the shape 1 layer is selected, change the opacity value so the overlaying image you just created is transparent, I suggest a value of around 30%
  • The third picture is showing what the change should look like from 100% opacity to 30%
  • Note: Also I changed my color back to black from white so I could have more contrast as I was working.
  • Doing this will allow us to see the other features of the background image that we want to trace.
5. Subtract out the inner part of the shape.
  1. Next make sure that the shape 1 layer is selected in the layers window, and click the subtract from shape area button on the top tool bar (this is the button that almost resembles a Tetris piece)
  2. Repeat steps 1 through 3 for the inside of the background images black outline as shown in the last picture.
  • This essentially cuts out the inside of the shape and leaves us with the outside border.

Step 4: Draw the Eyes and Mouth

Now we will move our attention to the inside of the background image so that we can trace the mouth and eyes. At this point many of the steps are the same as previous procedures. They are just performed in different areas of the image.

1. Draw the mouth
  1. Select the Pen tool once again.
  2. Click on the shape 1 layer in the layers window if it is not already selected.
  3. Select the add shape to area button so that we are adding the black area of the mouth to our shape.
  4. Place a point on each corner of the mouth in the same fashion you just did for the outside edges of the image.
  5. Press Enter to finish the mouth part of the shape.
  • The first picture corresponds to all of Step 1
2. Draw the Outside of the Eyes
  1. With the Pen tool still selected, click on the shape 1 layer to make sure it is active
  2. Select the add to shape area button
  3. Begin going around the outside edge of one of the eyes placing points in the same fashion as you did for the main body of the shape(as shown in picture 2).
  4. Press enter to finish the shape.
3. Draw the Inside of the Eyes
  • Follow the same procedure as you did for subtracting the inside area from the main body
  1. Keep the Pen tool selected
  2. Select shape 1 layer
  3. Select subtract from shape area button.
  4. Place points around the inside wall of the eye to leave only the black part of the eye remaining in our shape. (as demonstrated in the third picture)
  5. Press enter to finish the shape.
4. Adding the Pupil
  • For the pupil you may either use the exact same method we have been using or use the ellipse tool to put in a perfectly round pupil which is shown below.
  1. Click on the custom shape button on the side bar and select the ellipse tool.
  2. Carry out all the steps of making sure shape 1 is selected and the add to shape area button is selected.
  3. As shown in the last picture click and drag starting roughly where the red cross is so that the circle lines up well with the background image.
    • Once you place the circle you cannot easily move or adjust it.
  4. Once you have a satisfactory pupil press Enter to complete the shape.
5. Repeat Steps 2-4 to complete the opposite eye

Step 5: Convert Image Into a Custom Shape

Almost there! Just a little farther and you will be finished creating your custom shape. Only a couple clicks remain until your shape is ready for use.
  • At this point if you accurately placed your points for your shape you probably can only see the background image that we started with, as shown in the first picture.
1. Adjust the visibility
  1. Look to the layers window
  2. Select the shape 1 layer and change its opacity back to 100%
  3. Click the image of the eye to the left of the thumbnail on the background layer (As shown in picture 2)
  • This will turn off the visibility of the background image and leave you with only your final shape that we just finished tracing. (shown in picture 3)
2. Save shape
  1. Select the shape 1 layer
  2. Go to Edit--> Define Custom Shape as shown in picture 4
  3. Type in your desired shape name
  4. Click OK
  • The custom shape is now saved into the shape library of your Photoshop.

Step 6: Use Your New Custom Shape

Now that you have saved your new custom shape it is time to use it!
  1. Click on the custom shape tool as indicated on the left in the first picture.
  2. Click into the drop-down menu (in the middle of the top toolbar) that is titled shape
  3. Scroll down until you see your shape and then click to select it.
Final step.....

Go Crazy!! Use your new shape to your heart's content
  1. Click and drag to create your shape
  2. Repeat over and over again to make an instant collage like I did in the second picture.
Congratulations! You can now create your very own useable custom shapes in Photoshop! Try testing out your skills by seeing how complex of custom shapes you can create.

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    Machie AdamJ
    Machie AdamJ

    4 years ago

    totally the longest way of doing it in history.

    Use the selection tool, select the sections of the image you wish to convert to a shape, right click and click 'make workpath', then click 'edit define custom shape'