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Creating Curved Lines With the Pen Tool

Last updated Mar 14, 2003.

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One of the most compelling reasons to use vector paths is that they enable you to draw precise, smooth curves called Bezier curves. Bezier curves take some practice to get used to, but learning how to properly draw using bezier curves will not only help you to draw using the pen tool in Photoshop, but many other applications—such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and even Quark XPress—utilize bezier curves as well. To draw a path with bezier curves, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new image.

  2. Select the Pen tool from the toolbox.

  3. Click on the screen to insert an anchor point.

  4. Click somewhere else, but before letting go of the mouse button, drag the mouse around. You'll see Bezier handles (lines extending out from the anchor point you created with small dots at each end) appear. As you continue to hold down the mouse button and drag, the Bezier curve changes shape, as shown in the following figure:

  5. Figure 9Figure 9 Creating a Bezier curve with the Pen tool



    When drawing with bezier curves, the important thing to keep in mind is that you should drag towards the direction that you want the path to curve.

  6. Click on the first anchor point you created to create a closed path, as shown in the following figure:

  7. Figure 10Figure 10 Closing the path by clicking on the first corner point


    Additionally, you can change the shape of your path using the Bezier handles. To adjust the Bezier curve of the bottom line, follow these steps:

  8. Using the Direct selection tool, click the anchor point on the left side of the path, as shown in the following figure:

  9. Figure 11Figure 11 Modifying a Bezier curve



    Depending on if you clicked and dragged, or just simply clicked, when you clicked on the first anchor point in step 5, you may or may not—respectively—see bezier handles appear for that first anchor point. If you don't see bezier handles—as is shown in the screen shot above—you'll need to perform an extra step. This is the same step you'll need to follow whenever you want to add bezier curves to an anchor point that lacks them (called a corner point):

    1. Click and hold on the pen tool in the toolbox. From the optional tools that appear, choose the Convert Point tool—as shown in the following screen shot:

    2. Figure 12Figure 12 Selecting the convert point tool


    3. Then, simply drag the corner point that you selected in step 6. As you drag, you'll notice bezier handles extending out from that—now—anchor point, as shown in the following figure:

    4. Figure 13Figure 13 Adding bezier curves to a corner point


      Modifying bezier curves is, thankfully, easy to do.

  10. First, make sure you have your direct selection tool selected and you have an anchor point selected—as you did in step 6.

  11. Then, drag the bezier handle left, right, up, or down to change the shape of the curve, as shown in the following figure:

  12. Figure 14Figure 14 Modifying a path's curve with a bezier handle


    The direction of the curve handles determines the angle, or the total amount of bend, in the curve. The length of the curve handles determines the radius, or location where the bend will occur.

    When you've achieved the exact shape you want, release the mouse button. You can then apply a fill, as discussed earlier.