Basic Shape Manipulation Techniques in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop has come a long way since it was originally released in 1990. While Adobe has put out their latest “monthly subscription” suite of Creative Cloud, many designers choose to stick with the last iteration of CS6.

The CS6 pack is still incredibly powerful and there's not much of a difference from CS6 to CC. However, going back in time there is a tremendous difference between CS6 and CS2 or CS3. So it's worth getting up to speed with all the new tools and techniques for the CS6/CC collection.

photoshop cs6 splash shapes

This how-to guide will focus on how to manipulate shapes in Photoshop CS6. The options bar has some new tools and there are brand new techniques for creating shapes at manual width/height values. If you're using either CS6 or CC then these tips will dramatically improve your workflow.

Creating Shapes Quickly

First is the creation of new shapes in Photoshop CS6. In older versions you would need to grab a shape tool and drag out the shape you want. This wouldn't always guarantee a perfect size but you could set the size manually in the shape options bar.

dynamic resize creating shapes cs6

In older versions of Photoshop this would be in a different location on the options bar. But now in CS6 it's even easier because you can grab any shape tool and just click on the document.

click to create new rectangle

This will open a shape creation window asking for the new shape's width and height. Now you can simply create a shape by single-clicking anywhere in a document and choosing the dimensions manually.

This will also work for ellipses and even custom shapes as well. Pretty neat huh?

Manual Shape Resizing

Now let's go back to the square we just created. I used the default size 100×100 but now I'm realizing this might be too small. So with the rectangle tool selected move back up to the options bar and find the same width/height boxes from earlier.

manual update width height shapes

With the shape layer selected these width/height values are prefilled with the shape's values. This means you can resize a vector shape by editing manual width/height values with no quality loss.

I'll simply adjust the width to be 450px and the height to 200px. The shape will change from a square to a rectangle but still keep the hard edges. In previous versions of Photoshop this would have required a free transform or drawing a completely new shape.

Similarly I want to change the shape's color from solid black(#000) to a somewhat darker grey(#333). You can do this by double-clicking the shape layer icon in the layer's palette.

photoshop update shape fill color

This will open up a color selection box where you can move around and choose the perfect color for the shape. In CS6 it's so much easier to directly manipulate shape properties and dimensions without affecting the shape's quality.

Editing Shape Paths

Once a shape has been drawn it's possible to edit the shape's original path without editing the shape itself. This allows designers to create a generic shape template and change little angles or proportions as needed.

With the rectangle shape layer selected click on the Paths palette located in the same window.

paths layer photoshop cs6

Now simply click+drag the “Rectangle 1 Shape Path” down to the little sticky note icon. When you release the path layer it should duplicate, creating a new path which you can edit free from the rectangle shape.

creating new path layer panel

By using the Direct Selection tool we can move the path's corners or even add new anchor points using the Path tool. Since we're editing a new path layer it will not have an effect on the original rectangle.

So try your hand at messing around with the shape by moving anchor points or adding new points. You can also add bezier handles onto an anchor point by ALT+clicking and dragging. The bezier handles are used to create smooth curves instead of hard edges.

custom editing path tool photoshop cs6

Create New Shape from a Path

Now let's conclude this guide with a quick & easy way to convert a path into another shape. I'll be creating a shape from the path which I customized in the last section.

With this new path layer selected(mine is named “Path 1”) go up to the menu bar and select Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.

new layer solid color shape fill

This will bring up a new dialog box with a series of options. You can give the new layer a name along with a blending mode or opacity. Then you'll be asked to choose a fill color for the shape.

create a new shape layer path

Follow through both of these menus and the end result should be a brand new shape layer created from this customized path object. And now you can manipulate this shape the same way you would an ellipse or rectangle.

The new shape size, color, or even layer effects can be dynamically manipulated with ease. Photoshop CS6 has so many additional features in regards to shape manipulation that it is without a doubt the best choice for any vector styling or UI mockup design work.