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Shape Layer Basics

Pete Bauer Articles Jun 29, 2005

Shape layers and the Shape tools, introduced in Photoshop 6, are Photoshop's way of simulating vector artwork. They can be a great way to simulate the crisp, clean edges of true vector art, such as that produced in Adobe Illustrator.

Shape layers are new layers added to the Layers palette and filled with the foreground color (or a pattern if you change it). The layer is completely filled with color, edge to edge, top to bottom. The "shape" is formed by using a layer mask, created as a path, to show a portions of the
filled layer.

Do this:
--Open a new document. Choose 800x600 from the preset list in the New dialog box.

--Pick a bright foreground color.

--Select the Pen tool.

--In the Options Bar, click on the left-most of the three buttons near the left edge. This sets the Pen to create a shape layer rather than a work path.

(The cursor rests on the button in the following image.)

image 1

--Click-drag, move the cursor, click-drag, move the cursor, click-drag, move the cursor onto your original point, click. That should create a rounded shape with several anchor points.

--Open the Layers palette and take a look. Just as you see in the image above, you should have a background layer and above it, a layer named Shape 1. To the left in the Layers palette for that layer is a thumbnail indicating that the layer is filled with color and showing the color. To the right of that thumbnail, separated by a link icon, is a thumbnail of the layer mask. It shows the shape of the path that defines what's visible on the layer.

--Hold down the Shift key and click on the layer mask thumbnail. That temporarily disables the layer mask, enabling you to show the entire content of the shape layer. (As in the next image, you see a layer filled with color.)

--Shift-click again to restore the mask.

--Close, don't save.

image 2

That's how shape layers work. Remember, too, that you can create shape layers using the Shape and Custom Shape tools. The Custom Shape tool has a variety of prepared shapes, and you can load (and download from the Web or purchase) additional sets of shapes.

For some background on vector artwork and how it works, check this link.


Pete Bauer

Pete Bauer is the Help Desk Director for NAPP, as well as a Contributing Writer for Photoshop User and Mac Design magazines. His books include "Special Edition Using Adobe Photoshop 7" (with Jeff Foster), "Special Edition Using Adobe Illustrator 10," "Sams Teach Yourself Adobe Illustrator 10 in 24 Hours" (with Mordy Golding), and "Special Edition Using Adobe Illustrator 9." Pete writes documentation for a variety of computer graphics related products, as well as testing software for a number of companies. As a computer graphics efficiency consultant, Pete specializes in customized training programs. He is based in Columbus, Ohio, and can be contacted via Email.

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