photoshop creative

How to create shape-based illustrations in Photoshop, part 1

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by The Photoshop Creative Team
May 23, 2014

Use Photoshop’s preset shapes mixed with home made ones for a creative, illustrative composition


Begin by creating a new white canvas, File>New>A4. Next select the Custom Shape Tool from the side tool bar. If you can’t see it then click and hold down on the Shape tool visible and then select it from the sub menu.


We want to ensure all of Photoshop’s preset shapes are loaded, so in the top bar click onto the Shape drop down menu, click onto the black arrow situated top right and select All.


Select the heart shape, holding down Shift to keep perspective draw a large heart which we will we use as our guide to place other image within. We are going to build up our image with a mixture of preset shapes and some of our own hand drawn ones.


We will begin to build our shape by placing some preset shapes on the pasteboard to use later. Ensure each shape drawn is on it’s own layer, hold down Shift to keep perspective and don’t worry about the colours of the shapes for now just get them on the canvas.


Label up each layer in the Layers Palette so it is easier later to move items around. Open up the vector scan.psd from the disc, and select the Pen tool from the Tool bar (Elements users go to step 9), set it to Shape in the top bar.


Now we want to trace the sketches to make vector silhouettes. Zoom in to one of the sketches, click your mouse along the edge of the object to place the first anchor point. Click to place the next anchor point and you will see the shape begin to form.


To create a curve, click, hold and move the mouse. Alt click onto each anchor point when placed to finish it off, if you don’t do this the line will shoot off in unwanted angles when you place the next pointer.


Keep tracing the edge of the sketch, to finish the shape just place the final anchor point on top of the first one made. Now you have a solid shape in the Layers Palette. Repeat this process tracing all of the sketches provided.


If you loose visibility of the sketch whilst tracing, simply lower the Shapes opacity. In Photoshop Elements the Pen tool is not available, so use the Magnetic Lasso tool to trace the sketches or download some ready made vectors from a free online website such as


Add some details to your vector shapes when tracing by layering up colours. Keep the Opacity low when drawing, use one main colour for the base and then trace inner details with white like shown.


When your done tracing all of the individual parts, Shift click the layers that make up that shape and press Cmd/Ctrl+G to group them. When your tracing the sketches ensures that each shape is on an individual layer.


Once you have traced all of your vector shapes on individual layers, ensure you save the file and then drag and drop each Shape into the main heart canvas. Now it’s time to alter colours, sizes and create our final piece of artwork.


To resize a Shape press Cmd/Ctrl+T to activate Transform (in Elements you just need to hover over one of the corner edges then rotate or drag in to resize). In both programs holding down Shift will keep the Shape’s perspective.

  • Roberta Kelley

    Which disk is the vector scan.psd on? Step 6 says: Open up the vector scan.psd from the disc, and select the Pen tool from the Tool bar