How To Work with Shapes in Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter CampFireJack
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May 9, 2021
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If you’re a photographer and use Adobe Photoshop specifically to edit, crop and save out your photographs, you most likely don’t touch many of the tools the application has to offer. I’ve been working with Photoshop for years and years and I swear that it sometimes feels like I have only scratched the surface. There’s always something new and there’s always someone who knows more. That’s what I like to say.

Anyway, even if you are a photographer who just edits photos right now, there may come a time when you need Photoshop for something more. Let’s pretend you’d like to make some business cards for yourself or that you’d like to make some pamphlets as an advertisement for your services. If this were the case, you’d certainly need to transition from photo editing to some light graphics work. Not to fear. Photoshop excels at producing graphics. And since you’re already familiar with the interface already, learning new things shouldn’t be difficult at all.

In today’s post, I’d like to talk about shapes inside of Adobe Photoshop. I’d like to discuss how you can create them and how you can work with them. They’re a bit different than what you might expect, in that multiple shapes can be contained on the same layer. Of course, they can float around on their own layers as well, but the fact that they can sit on one layer all together usually throws people for a loop. I’ll explain all about that below.

I’ll first show you the shape tools and then I’ll draw some shapes to help further anything I’d like to discuss. To make this post exciting, I think I’ll use a photograph of a flower as half of a pretend postcard I’ll be creating. Hopefully this will show you just how seamless the transition from photo editing to graphic design can be made.

Today’s Demo Photo & Postcard​

Okay, I’ve already got the perfect flower picked out. Here it is.


I’ll cut out part of the flower and use that as half of the postcard I’ll be putting together. I won’t be finishing the postcard in this post as I’m only doing this as a layout idea for where you might want to use the shape tools.

This is what the postcard looks like.


Adding Some Graphics​

I may be going a bit overboard here, but I wanted to show you that there may be times that you not only need to use your photography in a graphics project, but that you may also need to use shapes as well. In this version the postcard, I added four custom shapes. Like I said, I may be going overboard here, but I think you’ll get the idea.


In the white area between the shapes and the title would go all the information regarding the show itself. Now that the hypotheticals are finished, I’ll get going with a few sections on how to use the shapes themselves.

Creating a Shape​

Now, I want to let you know that I’ve already written a fairly comprehensive post on shapes and how to use them. I’ll sort of pick up here where that one left off, so I encourage you to read that post before going any further. That is, of course, if you don’t know anything about working with these things. If you’re already pretty knowledgeable, then by all means, read on. Here’s that post.

A Closer Look at the Shape Tools in Adobe Photoshop

What I’ll be doing down below will be isolated to working with shapes only. What I shared above was merely to give you an idea of where you might apply these concepts.

I’ll kick things off by selecting the Custom Shape Tool in the left vertical toolbar.


When I activate that tool, a few different options in the options bar up top appear. I’ll first make sure (working left to right) the drop-down is set to Shape. Then, I’ll choose the background color of the shape and then the color of the stroke I’d like to apply. After that, I’ll choose the width of the stroke and finally, I’ll choose the shape itself from the Shape drop-down. Here’s the options bar squeezed in as best as I could get it.


Regarding the stroke, there are quite a few different options available to us. If I click the Stroke options drop-down that sits just to the right of the width field, I’ll see that I can change how the stroke appears, from a solid line to a dashed one to a dotted one. I can also alter how the ends of the stoke appears. If I’d like to go even further than that, I can click the More Options button, make a few changes and then save those changes as a preset. So it’s fairly expansive. Take a look.


Once everything is set, I can go ahead and draw a shape. I’ll do that with one custom shape and then I’ll choose another and draw two more.


As I drew these, I noticed that each one was being drawn on its own layer. Photoshop did this automatically. It created a new layer every time I clicked and dragged to create another shape.

Here are the layers in the Layers panel.


Shape Attributes​

Once I make my attribute selections from the options bar up top, those attributes will stay and will be applied to each and every shape I create thereafter, as long as an existing shape layer is selected from the Layers panel before I draw the next shape. So basically, if I want to create another pink flower shape that’s just like the ones I just created, all I would have to do is click on one of the existing layers and then draw my new shape. If I didn’t want to apply those same colors and stroke, I would click somewhere else in the Layers panel to deselect the existing shapes and then head back up to the options bar to set new attributes.

If I wanted to change the attributes of an existing shape, I would click to select that shape in the Layers panel and then head up to the options bar and change whatever I’d like to change. The moral of this story is that selecting or not selecting existing shapes in the Layers panel makes a difference when drawing out new shapes.

Copying Shape Attributes From One Shape to Another​

Once I choose colors and stroke attributes for one shape and then draw that shape out, I can easily copy and paste those same attributes to any existing shape or shapes I want. To accomplish this, all I’d need to do is to right-click on the shape I want to copy from in the Layers panel and then select Copy Shape Attributes from the menu that appears.


After that, I’d select the layer or layers I’d like to paste those attributes to in the Layers panel. Finally, I’d right-click on one of those selected layers and select Paste Shape Attributes from the menu that appears.

Merging Shapes into One Layer​

If, for some reason, I wanted to contain all of the shapes I drew on one layer (as opposed to separate layers), all with the same attributes, I could easily merge everything with just a few simple steps. As I said above, as I drew my shapes out, they created their own layers. If I merge them, they’ll reside on one layer and will all be the same color and will have the same stroke applied to them. And being on the same layer, I could change the attributes for all shapes on that layer just by making changes in the options bar.

To merge the shapes, I’ll head up to the Layer > Merge Shapes menu item and click.


When I do that, all but one shape layer will disappear. I’ll be left with one layer that contains all the shapes.


For this example, I shifted one of the smaller shapes over so it was overlapping the other small one. I wanted to show you what would happen if I did that and then merged the shape layers. Take a look at the result.


While merging shapes into one layer like this does make things easier when assigning colors and strokes, it makes things slightly more challenging when it comes to moving those shapes around. Because they’re all contained on one layer, I can’t simply click and drag them with the Move Tool any longer. I now have to use the Path Selection Tool to first click on the actual shape in the workspace to activate it and then click on it again and drag it where I’d like to move it to. This next screenshot shows how all the shapes become highlighted when just one is clicked on. It also shows how the anchor points of the selected shape become visible when the shape is selected by this tool. Also, you can see how I dragged this shape down to disconnect it from the one above.


Separating a Shape From a Merged Layer​

Just as I can merge shapes into one layer, I can also separate those shapes into their own layers again. It’s actually quite easy to do. In this next example, I’m going to separate the larger shape from the others and move it onto its own layer. To do this, I’ll first select the shape with the Path Selection Tool.


Then, once the layer is selected, I’ll head up to the Layer > New > Shape Layer Via Cut menu item and click.


This will create a new layer with this particular shape on it all by itself.


As you can see, working with shapes is quite a versatile experience. Shapes are used in all types of projects and it’s very beneficial to become familiar with how they work. It’s not a difficult process at all. It just takes some getting used to. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below or in the discussion forum. Thanks for reading!


May 9, 2021
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Tips for Duplicating Shapes in Photoshop​

This is such a great tip that I just had to share it here. If you’ve ever been faced with the task of duplicating a bunch of shapes and then arranging them in the file you’re working on in Photoshop, you know how time consuming that can be. What if there was a better way to complete these tasks than by recreating each one and positioning them by hand? Well, there is and I’m about to show you what I’m talking about.

Okay, I’ve already opened a file in Photoshop and I’ve set up some guides.


My goal is to draw one shape in the upper left corner and then duplicate that shape across the rest of the image. Here’s the shape.


You know that for me to use the Rectangle Tool to draw 15 more shapes would be a real hassle, so I’m going to do this the easy way.

To duplicate this shape, I’ll hover my mouse over it and then I’ll hold down the Alt button on my keyboard, click and drag to the right. When I do that, the shape will automatically duplicate itself and I’ll be able to snap the duplicate into the next box over.

Now, if I wanted to lock the shape into a straight line as I drag, I could hold down the Shift key on my keyboard as well. So that would be Shift+Alt and then click and drag.

What’s really cool here is that I could just as easily duplicate multiple layers at a time. To duplicate these two shapes, I’ll select both of them in the Layers panel by holding down the Ctrl or Command buttons on my keyboard and then by simply selecting the layers. Then, to duplicate them and drag them, I’ll follow the same exact instructions I just gave above. Here’s the top row all filled in.


If I wanted to fill in the next row down, I could continue following the same instructions. I’ll select all four shape layers in the Layers panel and then hold down the Alt button on my keyboard, click and drag downward. I’ll do that three times to fill in all the boxes.


How cool is that? At this point, I could hide the guides by using the Ctrl+; keyboard shortcut and then I could use some clipping masks to transform the entire image.

I hope you can see the value in this type of shortcut. If you have any questions, please ask!


May 9, 2021
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How to Create a Clipping Mask For Multiple Layers in Photoshop​

I’m going to continue on with my previous entry on this topic here. In that entry, I explained how to duplicate a bunch of shapes in Photoshop the easy way. In this entry, I’d like to show you how you can just as easily create a clipping mask that will show the background photo through the shapes. Where there isn’t a shape, nothing will show. This is basically how you can turn an image into a shape. It’s very cool.

Okay, I’ve got the shapes all set up. They’re aligned with the guides that were previously set up. What I’ll need to do now is to group all of those shapes together so the clipping mask affects the entire group as opposed to just the shape that’s directly below it. If you’ll recall, clipping masks are limited to affecting only the very next layer, so if that layer is a group, everything inside of the group gets affected. To group the shapes, I’ll select all of them in the Layers panel and then I’ll use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+G or Command+G. After I do that, I’ll unlock the bottom image layer and drag that to the spot right above the group. Here’s what the Layers panel will look like.


Next, I’ll need to create the actual clipping mask itself. I’ll go up to the Layer > Create Clipping Mask menu item and click.


Watch what happens when I do this. Check out what the image turns into.


How’s that? If I wanted to add a colored background, I could simply add another layer and fill that layer in with any color I wanted. If you forgot what the shapes that I arranged on this image looked like, you can check out my previous post. It’s all there.

Do you have any questions regarding how to create clipping masks in Adobe Photoshop? If so, please ask below. Thanks!


May 9, 2021
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Creating, Altering, Copying & Merging Shapes in Adobe Photoshop​

Working with shapes in Adobe Photoshop is a lot of fun. I should know; I’ve been doing it for a very long time. There’s a lot that can be done with shapes to create all types of graphics, but in order to go that far, you need to learn the basics.

I just wrote a post that talked about shapes. I covered some of what you’ll need to know to get your feet off the ground in this respect. If you’d like to take a look at this post, please do so by clicking through below.

How To Work with Shapes in Adobe Photoshop

What I’d like to cover in this post is simple. I’d like to explain how to create a shape, apply attributes to it, copy those attributes to another shape that’s already been made, merge multiple shapes on their own layers to one shape layer, and then finally, how to separate merged layers so they’re on their own layers once again. Each step I explain is very straightforward. There are no curve balls in any of this.

How to Create a Shape

– Click on any of the shape tools in Adobe Photoshop to activate that tool.

– Go up to the options bar up top, above the workspace, and apply the color, stroke color, stroke attributes and custom shape, if applicable.

– Draw the shape in the workspace.

How to Apply Existing Shape Attributes to Future Shapes

– Click to select an existing shape in the Layers panel.

– Draw a new shape.

The attributes that have been applied to the existing shape will be applied to the future shape if the existing shape is selected in the Layers panel. If no shape is selected, attributes will need to be applied to the future shape independently.

How to Copy Shape Attributes Between Shapes

– Right-click on an existing shape layer in the Layers panel.

– Click on the Copy Shape Attributes menu item to select it.

– Right-click on the target shape layer in the Layers panel.

– Choose Paste Shape Attributes in the menu that appears.

How to Merge Shape Layers into One Layer

– Select the layers you’d like to merge in the Layers panel.

– Go to the Layer > Merge Shapes menu item and click.

How to Separate Merged Layers

– Use the Path Selection Tool to select a shape.

– Go to the Layer > New > Shape Layer Via Cut menu item and click.

Once this is done, the selected shape should be in a layer of its own.

Obviously, working with shapes goes much further than this, but what I shared above should give you a running start. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help. Thanks!