Ugh…. the Freakin’ Pen Tool!

By far the most requested tutorial on f.64 Academy is “How to use the Pen Tool in Photoshop?”  For the longest time I kept saying, “ughhh, gosh, the freakin’ Pen Tool, not another request for that.”  If you have ever used it, you know exactly what I am talking about and have probably said even worse expletives in front of “Pen Tool”.

The reason I kept putting this tutorial off is because it is probably the most difficult tool to master in Photoshop.  Trust me, this is coming from someone with over 18 years of experience pushing pixels in Photoshop.  I’d place an Anchor Point and move on to the next one and it wouldn’t be straight or the line would be so warped I’d scream out every expletive known to man.  Really, it would happen that quickly, from 0 – 60, instant Pen Tool hatred.  I even watched three or four tutorials that tried to show me how to use it.  No luck.

That is until I started doing what anyone who has been in Photoshop for longer than 6 years does, hit CTRL, ALT, or SHIFT as I made my adjustments.  If you are wondering how to do something easier in Photoshop, consult with the three wise men before heading to Google, CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT.  These are the main hotkeys that often make your life a lot easier when you are bouncing around in PS.

For example:

  1.  Pressing ALT while clicked on the Burn tool will automatically switch it to the Dodge Tool (and vise versa).
  2.  Pressing CTRL while using the Type Tool will switch you over to the move tool on the fly for fast moving of text.
  3. Pressing SHIFT while Cropping will maintain the original aspect ratio of the image.

Of all of the tools in Photoshop, the Pen Tool requires the most knowledge of hotkeys.  With other tools, you can use them for centuries without really needing to know the hotkeys.  That is not the case with the Pen Tool, the hotkeys are necessities unless you enjoy ripping your hair out and kicking the closest inanimate object to you.

In today’s tutorial, I will show you everything you need to know to get good with the Pen Tool.  However, it will take practice and LOTS of it to really get a good grip on it.  We will discuss:

  1. The most important Hot Keys to know when using the Pen Tool (see below)
  2. How to use the Pen Tool effectively and efficiently
  3. How to modify Anchor Points
  4. How to turn Pen Tool objects into Custom Shapes
  5. How to turn Pen Tool Shapes into selections
  6. How to use Vector Masks with Pen Tools

So what hotkeys do you absolutely need to know when using the Pen Tool?  

Here is an infographic that you can download and keep handy while you practice.  To download, simply Right Click and “Save Image As” to your desktop.

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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