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Take advantage of Photoshop’s drawing capabilities

Added on Wednesday 2nd of May 2012 04:01 am EST

by Amy Courtright
Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5
Operating Systems:
Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Although not as in-depth as Illustrator, you can still create sharp, high-quality illustrations in Photoshop. Not only that, but you can then take advantage of all of Photoshop’s filters and effects to enhance your images. So, the next time you have to draw a simple graphic, try using your favorite image-editing program.

To create drawings in Photoshop, we’ll:

  1. Explain the difference between vector art and pixel art.
  2. Discuss Photoshop’s extensive vector tools including how to use the Pen tool and custom shapes when working in shape layers.
  3. Show you how to use these tools by creating a cat graphic, and we’ll show you how to apply layer styles, such as fills and drop shadows, to it.
  4. Explain how to make your graphic a custom shape and show you a few different approaches you can use to fine-tune your illustrations using Photoshop’s brushes.

Usually when you think of an application geared toward creating illustrations, Adobe Illustrator comes to mind. However, Photoshop is also a powerful application that you can use for creating digital art. With advanced vector capabilities and enhanced brushes, you can create digital illustrations, as displayed on this month’s cover, that rival those created in more traditional drawing applications. And besides that, it’s nice to be able to create an entire project in one application. So, rather than use another program to draw your graphics and then import them into Photoshop to apply special effects, you can do it all right in Photoshop. We’ll show you how.


Vector vs. pixels

Vector-based drawings are drawings made up of resolution-independent shapes or lines. The benefit of using vector-based objects is that you can resize them without compromising the quality of your graphic, unlike pixel-based images, as demonstrated in Figure A. When pixels are enlarged, they become choppy and lose clarity. This is because pixels are small squares that make up an image. When viewed from a distance, they blend together to create a smooth image. However, when you enlarge or scale them, the individual squares become more apparent.


Tools to use

Photoshop comes equipped with a variety of vector-based tools and features. You can use all the Shape tools, shown in Figure B, to draw vector shapes. You can choose from standard shapes, such as rectangles or ellipses, or create your own custom shapes using the Polygon tool and the Custom Shape tool. Each Shape tool has its own special set of options too, so you can customize the shape for your individual needs.

Besides the Shape tools there’s also the trusty Pen tool. Using the Pen tool you can create your own vector-based graphics. When a Shape tool is selected, you can select the Pen tool from the tool options bar or from the Tools panel. You can also use the Freeform Pen tool, which you can access the same way. After selecting either of these tools, simply click the Shape Layers button on the tool options bar. By doing so, you can use these drawing tools to make resolution-independent graphics.


Draw and combine your shapes

When using any of Photoshop’s Shape tools, you can create unique graphics using the path intersection options. Not only that but by using these options you can cut down your drawing time. For example, if you want to make a simple graphic like that shown in Figure C, all you have to do is create the basic shapes with the drawing tools and join them together.


Re-create our cat graphic

To create a cat similar to ours, open a new RGB document in Photoshop. Then, click on the Set Foreground Color swatch, select a color to use for your graphic in the resulting Color Picker dialog box, and click OK. Now, select the Ellipse tool and make sure the Shape Layers button is selected on the tool options bar. Draw an oval for the cat’s body. Now, select the Direct Selection tool from the Tools panel and click and drag the top-center point of your ellipse down and adjust the handle so the oval is angled a bit, as displayed in Figure D.
Next, select the Ellipse tool again and click the Add To Shape Area button on the tool options bar. To create its head, draw a circle that overlaps the cat’s body a bit. Now, select the Line tool to add whiskers to your cat. For thin whiskers, set the weight of your line to 0.05 cm in th...


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