View Full Version : PS paths

11-07-2012, 07:13 PM
I'm having some trouble wrappin my head around PS paths, anyone have any good links / how to's they'd like to share?

11-08-2012, 02:58 PM
A Path is a vector object that can be used to make selections, or as a target for a stroke or fill, and possibly other purposes. A default path called the "work path" will be created as soon as you start using the Pen Tool (P). All uses of the Pen Tool will add to this path until it is deselected in the Paths palette. If you deselect it and start using the Pen tool again, the work path will be overwritten. If you want to save that path, just drag the work path in the palette to the New Path icon, and it will be renamed and saved. At any time you can click the New Path button to create a new path, and whichever path you have highlighted in the palette will be the one you're working with. Okay, on to use of the Pen tool.

The Pen creates Bezier (pronounced BEZ-ee-ay; it's a French name) curves or splines, sometimes known as B-splines. These splines are made up of anchor points, each of which has up to two control handles, and the anchors are connected by the curve itself. The curve's shape is controlled by the angle and length of the control handles. In a Bezier spline, the line will always pass through the center of the anchor point, and the handles will always be tangent to the curve as it passes through the point. But that's quite enough theory. How do you actually draw something with the thing?

It takes some practice to get used to drawing with splines. With a Bezier, the trick is to put your anchor points in places where the line needs to change direction, and to use as few as possible. In the following images, I'll trace a photograph, so you can see where I place my anchors and what I do to get the shapes that I want.

In this image, all I need is an oval, and I want all of my points to be symmetrical, so I just click-drag out my lines and adjust them as I go so that the curve follows the mouth of the cement mixer:


I only selected one anchor point here, so you can only see the handles influencing that portion of the curve. The others look pretty much the same.

In the next image, my shape is a bit more complex. Notice that the anchors are only in the corners, and that I've broken the tangents so that the curves have a different trajectory leaving the anchor than they do entering it. Also notice that there are only handles on two of the points. The others are "cusp points," which means that the anchor does not influence the direction of the curve. Also notice that one point has only one handle. That was my starting point, and I did a simple click to start, then click-dragged to finish it, so it only got one handle. In order to break a tangent, click-drag to make the point and pull out its handles, then hold down the alt key. The handle furthest from the cursor will stay put, but the one nearer the cursor can be dragged around independently.


The nice thing about these vector lines is that you don't have to get them right from the first click. You can use the Direct Selection Tool (a) to select a point and move it. Once selected, that point's handles will appear, and you can manipulate them also. Again, to break the tangents, just hold down alt while dragging a handle. If you need to turn a smooth point into a cusp or vice-versa, you can use the Convert Point tool, which is in the Pen tool's flyout.

The best way, in my opinion, to learn how to use the Pen tool is to trace some images with it. Use it to make paths that you use to cut an object out of its background, and you'll quickly learn where to place your points and how to manipulate them for best effect. Start with something simple, like a piece of fruit, then do a car, and then something more complex like that cement mixer. If you want to really go nuts, get After Effects and start doing it with video; that's called rotoscoping, and it's one of the most essential tasks necessary when creating visual effects for film and TV (which is what I do for a living). And, of course, the Pen is the primary tool in vector illustration programs like Inkscape and Illustrator.

The photograph of the cement mixer is my own. The full image is available here: http://www.bryanray.name/photos/CementMixer.jpg

11-08-2012, 05:00 PM
Thanks, I would like to use this for rivers, per ascensions tutorials but so far my rivers look nothing like a river LOL. I'll give it a shot tracing a few simple items and see if that helps me out. I really appreciate the effort you put into the reply. Good journeys

11-08-2012, 05:24 PM
Ah, then you may want to try out the Freeform Pen tool, which will let you lay down a path as if you were using the Brush. I still highly recommend learning to use the regular Pen tool, though, as it's very handy. I use it a lot when making outlines of ship's hulls for my Traveller game and for making furniture for interior maps.

11-08-2012, 05:33 PM
Ah Traveller, I think I have an original box set somewhere around the house. Well if the kids haven't run off with it LOL. I'd like to become proficient with the freeform and the pen tool, just that I'm real old school and all this new fangled digital stuff gives me headaches :P

11-08-2012, 10:25 PM
Well, the Pen's nothing more than a flexible curve ruler, then!

11-08-2012, 11:32 PM
Speaking of rivers, you can also use the pen tool to place the name of the river on a curved path that follows the river.

1) Make your path along the river using the pen tool. Drag in the direction of the river as you place your points.
2) When you're done making the path, choose the arrow tool (called direct selection?) and click on your control points you just made to reveal the bezier control handles. Adjust the handles up or down (you can pull them longer/shorter too) to fine tune your path.
3) When your path is to your liking, choose the type tool. Click on the path, but before you start typing choose your font, text color, size, and any special features like bold, italic, small caps, etc. I would recommend choosing left justification and clicking on the very beginning of the path.
4) Type your text. If your path is too short, type the rest of the text anyway. Even though you may not be able to see it, it's there.
5) When you're done typing the text, choose the arrow tool again and select control points to move them or further adjust them. You might move the last control point to lengthen the path and reveal any text that was hidden previously by the too-short path. You can also use the arrow tool to push and pull text along the path, and even to flip it to the other side of the path.
6) To make changes to the text, choose the text tool, click on the path and select the text by dragging your mouse or by using the arrow keys on your keyboard while also holding down the shift key. Once the text is highlighted, you can then make changes to the font and appearance of the text.
7) You can move or rotate the whole path and text using the move tool or free transform function.

11-09-2012, 08:09 PM
Midgardsormr hey thanks that's a good way to think about approaching the pen tool.

ManofSteel Thanks for the reply, I'll give this a try also, maybe next week when I have some time to dedicate to working with this.

11-09-2012, 11:07 PM
You're quite welcome! See the political map of my Planet Eben (in the Finished Maps forum) for examples of curving text on a path (rivers).

11-11-2012, 06:16 AM
here's a suggestion for getting better at doing natural looking rives with the pen tool - load up real world maps (google maps etc) int photoshop, and trace those out. after you a dozen or so yiu'll get a better feel for how they go down :)

11-13-2012, 09:17 AM
Coyotemax This is a good idea, will give it a shot, thanks