Photoshop How-To: Trace on Object without the Pen Tool

Excerpted from Deke’s Techniques on

Tracing objects in Photoshop almost always involves the pen tool in some way. You know the drill: start dragging the Pen tool for straight lines then hop skip and jump around curves. If you’re too far off the beaten path, no worries, just add another anchor point because you can always change them later by manipulating the control handles. After bumbling around the perimeter, you reach the end of the path(or beginning, actually). Taking a look-see, you realize that what should be round curves are instead sharp edges defined by enough points to fill a starry night. Cleaning up that mess will take even longer to do than tracing it in the first place.

There are other ways to trace an object, you know, and in this video Deke McCleland shows a method that creates vector-based outlines with primitive geometric shapes — circles, rectangles, and so on. At first glance, this Deke’s Technique may seem to involve more steps than if he were to use the pen tool. But considering all the sturm und drangthat goes into using the pen tool, this approach is quite straightforward. By breaking the object down into its constituent shapes, you’ll see it in a new light. You may want to dust off your old geometry texts to remember terms like “tangent,” but that’s if you want to impress your friends when you show them the impressive results.

Visit Deke’s Techniques for more Photoshop and Illustrator creative how-to projects in about 10 minutes.

Posted on: February 22, 2012

3 Comments on Photoshop How-To: Trace on Object without the Pen Tool

  1. I understand Deke was just trying to demonstrate his technique, which I have used in various forms in the past, however, it may have served less experienced users better to show it on a slightly more complex image. The lightbulb is probably outlined even faster and easier by the conventional pen method than his “geometric form” method.

  2. I picked up a couple tips on the path dialog & tool bar… Maybe I missed the part of how you masked the bottom screw-in area? Did you use the pen tool or elongated elipses for each thread? I assume the pen tool. Still gave 5 stars – nice tuturial. Thanks.

  3. This is inaccurate and sloppy. If you don’t like the pen tool in Photoshop, just place the image in Illustrator and paste your vector lines into Photoshop. Simple, accurate, and very helpful when not cropping out lightbulbs.

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