Deke’s Techniques: Tracing an image with path outlines in Photoshop

Published by | Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques movie, Deke McClelland demonstrates how to trace a fairly complex shape in Photoshop without relying heavily on the often unintuitive Pen tool. Being able to select a complex shape—like this week’s light bulb—without relying on a complex manipulation of anchor points and control handles can be a very handy way to trace objects in Photoshop. For those of you, like me, who find the Pen tool somewhat daunting, this week’s technique is an early holiday gift from Master Deke.

Deke starts with this image from the Fotolia image library:

Light bulb image from the Fotolia image library

Then, deftly adding and subtracting ‘primitive shapes’ (namely circles and rectangles), Deke ultimately creates an accurate vector-based path outline around the entire object. Here’s a diagram of all the shapes that go into creating this combined path.

Light bulk image with Photoshop primitives

After you ingeniously apply the Combine button to your primitives, you magically arrive at this single meticulous path:

Light bulb image with Photoshop vector path

Of course, aside from just merely selecting the light bulb, having it designated by a vector-based path means that you can easily create a vector mask from it. By doing so, you can apply effects that remain constrained to the light bulb. In this week’s Online Training Library® exclusive members-only movie, Turning path outlines into a vector mask, Deke shows you how to create that mask and then apply some cool effects to create this image:

Light bulb image with vector mask applied

If you’d like to dive deeper into this light bulb project in particular, check out Chapter 27 of Deke’s Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery course. If you tend to create your vectors in Illustrator instead, Mordy Golding walks you through a similar Illustrator philosophy in the Drawing artwork vs. building artwork chapter of his Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing Without the Pen Tool course.

See you back next week with more Deke’s Techniques.

Interested in more?
• The entire Deke’s Techniques collection
• Courses by Deke McClelland in the Online Training Library®
• All courses on Photoshop in the Online Training Library®

Suggested courses to watch next:
Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
Photoshop Designers: Shape Layers
Photoshop for Designers: Layer Effects
Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing Without the Pen Tool

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