LESSON 9 – Vector Graphics

CIOS F255 - University of Alaska Fairbanks


Photoshop is, at heart, a bitmap application, and we’ve spent most of our time exploring Photoshop’s bitmap (raster) capabilities. But in Assignment 8 we looked at type and this week we’ll explore other vector tools available to us in the Photoshop toolbox.

When you draw a vector path, you aren’t drawing a line made of pixels; you’re actually creating a mathematical formula for the line that defines its size, shape, angle, etc. with an equation.  Vector images remain crisp and sharp no matter what size you make them,  because the computer is simply multiplying or dividing the mathematical description to create a new size for the object.  Vectors are ideal for creating a logo, which may be 1 inch wide on the company stationery, and 20 feet wide on the front of the corporate headquarters building.

Photoshop began as a raster image editor. A number of versions ago, Adobe added vector capabilities to Photoshop. Although Photoshop now incorporates both raster and vector tools, the raster side is definitely its strong suit. If your work calls for extensive vector drawing, you would be better served by using a dedicated drawing application like Adobe Illustrator.

Vectors in Photoshop take the form of paths. Paths can be converted into selections, and selections can be converted into paths. Photoshop creates vector shapes through vector masks. These clipping paths are similar to other types of Photoshop masks: they control which area of the image shows.

Tools you should be using for this lesson include: pen tools, shape tools, effects


  1. Explore the work of other vector artists.  Check out some of these links for inspiration. Not all of them were created in Photoshop exclusively but they might give you some ideas.
    • desigg.com  – 55+ colorful vector illustrations
    • Bert Monroy  is a well known artist in the Photoshop community who creates photo-realistic images entirely of vectors. He uses a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop.
    • Illustrator World  – These  were created in Illustrator rather than Photoshop but are good examples of vector work. They could be scaled to any size and still remain crisp.
  2. Read from Adobe:
    1. Draw with Pen Tools –  https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/drawing-pen-tools.html#Curvature_Pen
    2. Draw straight lines and smooth curves –  https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/how-to/draw-edit-curves-curvature-tool.html  
    3. Working with Shape Tools –  https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/how-to/photoshop-vector-shape-tools.html
  3. Play the Bezier Game


Custom Shapes

Many of the special effects in Photoshop are created through using custom shapes and brushes. Custom shapes can also be used as custom paths.  Have a look at this site https://inspirationfeed.com/freebies/2500-free-custom-photoshop-shapes/   (or another free shapes site) and see if you can find a shape or brush that you like and download it (.csh file).

To install a custom shape:  

Click on the custom shape tool and then open the Presets Manager…

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.44.17 PM

In the Presets Manager, load the .csh file into the appropriate preset section (shapes, brush, etc):

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.50.04 PM

Once the file is loaded, click Done and you will see the new shapes appear in  your custom shape chooser.

Working in Vectors

Drawing with the pen tool is something we started last week with adding type on a path. This week, continue to work on perfecting your use of the curves and path options available while exploring the custom shapes picker.

More practice with drawing curves with the pen tool:

This video tutorial offers a number of great techniques to know about. Scroll through the video and focus on the ones you are interested in. Even if you don’t use these techniques this week in your design, you now know it is possible!

Sometimes you may wish to convert a shape to a path or vice/versa. Here are a couple good video tutorials on how to do this:


Advanced tips for working with vectors in Photoshop CC & new techniques:




Create a 4.5 x 6.5 inch greeting card cover  using only shape and path tools, including type. It can be for any occasion (birthday, thank you, condolences, etc.), as long as it contains the following:

  1. Shapes made with the pen tool – try using the bezier controls to create curves
  2. Shapes made with the custom shape picker
  3. Paths made with the custom path – then apply fills and strokes
  4. Text (using the text tool)
  5. No bitmap (raster) elements except fills, shadows, etc. (no photos)
Start your greeting card entirely from scratch, 4.5″ x 6.5″ at 300dpi.
Because you won’t be using any photographs for this assignment it can be very challenging! Try to think outside the box with your greeting card and use shapes that will help create the feeling you are trying to convey.  Review the design principles of balance and composition when you are putting your ideas together.

When satisfied with your design:

  1. Save your .psd file with all layers intact.
  2. Save for web an optimized .jpg of your design and upload it to the blog site.  Tell us about the challenges you faced and how you reached your final design. Explain some of the advantages of being able to draw vector shapes in Photoshop.
  3. Upload your .psd document into Blackboard under Assignment #9 upload  with all the vectors and layers intact and include a link to your blog post. Your instructor should be able to click on your vector paths and see the points that make up the paths.

ASSIGNMENT #9b – Research

Next week we will be doing advanced layers, which, if you’ve looked ahead in the book to ‘Lesson 9 Advanced Compositing’, you’ll see is a fairly complex version of all the things we’ve already touched on.

Any time you create something from scratch in Photoshop, chances are, at some point, you will need to do some research to both inspire you and to help you figure out how to accomplish something very specific. Although you can look things up in our textbook or other printed resources, you can also find a plethora of great instructional videos and tutorials on the Internet.  Not all resources are created equal and you also have to be careful what search parameters you use because the software changes with each version.

Do  a google image search for “photoshop (cycling)*  poster  ”  ( * = something you are interested in). Find a (safe for work) image of a poster (combination of text, many images, effects) that has been  made with  Photoshop  that inspires you and upload it to a post. Think about why it inspires you – is it the color, text effects, overall composition?

Secondly, find an effect you might  like to try in your poster design next week or in the future and then find a tutorial on how to do it. For example, I might like to create a poster that includes  a fire effect attached to a vector shape that will be the background for a music concert and I’ve found this tutorial for walking me through the process.


No quiz this week! 🙂


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