Drawing custom shapes with the Shapes panel in Photoshop

Drawing Custom Shapes with the Shapes Panel in Photoshop CC 2020

Learn how to draw custom shapes in Photoshop with the new Shapes panel, and where to find hundreds of new shapes now included with Photoshop CC 2020!

Written by Steve Patterson.

If you're a fan of vector shapes, you'll love Photoshop CC 2020. Not only does CC 2020 introduce the new Shapes panel, but it also includes hundreds of brand new custom shapes!

In this tutorial, I show you where to find the Shapes panel, how to access over 380 new shapes, and how to draw shapes by dragging and dropping them into your document. We'll also compare the Shapes panel to Photoshop's Custom Shape Tool and learn why drawing shapes with the Shapes panel is so much easier. And you'll learn simple tricks that let you combine shapes in different ways, including how to draw multiple shapes on the same layer, how to subtract one shape from another, and how to intersect shapes, all using the Shapes panel.

To follow along, you'll need Photoshop CC 2020. If you're already using Photoshop CC, make sure that your copy is up to date.

Let's get started!

The document setup

To follow along, all you will need is a new, empty Photoshop document like the one I'm using here:

A new Photoshop document
An empty Photoshop document.

Drawing shapes with the Custom Shape Tool

Before we look at the new Shapes panel and the new ways to draw shapes in Photoshop CC 2020, I should point out that the traditional way of drawing shapes using the Custom Shape Tool still works.

The only problem with using the Custom Shape Tool is that at first, you'll be limited to the default shapes. You won't have access to all of the new shapes included with CC 2020 until you load them in from the Shapes panel. Let's take a quick look at using the Custom Shape Tool.

Learn more: What's the difference between vector shapes and pixel shapes?

Step 1: Select the Custom Shape Tool

To select the Custom Shape Tool, click and hold on the Rectangle Tool's icon in the toolbar until a fly-out menu appears, and then choose the Custom Shape Tool from the menu:

Where to find the Custom Shape Tool in Photoshop
Selecting the Custom Shape Tool from the toolbar.

Step 2: Choose a custom shape

Then in the Options Bar, open the Custom Shape Picker by clicking on the current shape's thumbnail:

How to open the Custom Shape Picker in Photoshop
Clicking the shape thumbnail.

And here we find the new default shapes included with Photoshop CC 2020. The new shapes are grouped into sets, and each set is represented by a folder.

To open or close one of the default sets, click the arrow to the left of its folder. I'll open the Wild Animals set:

How to open or close a shape set in Photoshop CC 2020
Clicking the arrow to open a shape set.

And then choose a shape by clicking its thumbnail. I'll choose the Lion shape:

Choosing one of the new custom shapes in Photoshop CC 2020
Choosing one of the Wild Animal shapes.

Step 3: Set the Tool Mode to Shape

Before you begin drawing your shape, make sure the Tool Mode in the Options Bar is set to Shape and not Path or Pixels:

Setting the Tool Mode for the Custom Shape Tool to Shape
Setting the Tool Mode to Shape.

Step 4: Draw your shape

And then simply click and drag inside the document to draw the shape. To maintain the shape's original aspect ratio, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard as you drag.

You can draw the shape from its center by holding the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key after you start dragging. And to move the shape as you draw it, hold down your spacebar, drag the shape into place, and then release your spacebar and continue dragging:

Drawing one of the new custom shapes in Photoshop CC 2020
Dragging out one of the custom shapes in Photoshop CC 2020.

Release your mouse button to complete the shape, at which point Photoshop fills it with color:

A shape drawn with the Custom Shape Tool in Photoshop CC 2020
Photoshop fills the shape when you release your mouse button.

And in the Layers panel, the new shape appears on its own shape layer. We know it's a shape layer by the square path outline in the lower right of the layer's preview thumbnail:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the new shape layer
The Layers panel showing the shape layer.

Step 5: Resize the shape with Free Transform

Once you have drawn your shape with the Custom Shape Tool, you can resize it by going up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choosing Free Transform Path.

Free Transform Path is the same as the standard Free Transform command. It just has a different name when working with shape layers:

Choosing the Free Transform Path command in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Free Transform Path.

Then click and drag any of the handles to resize the shape as needed:

Resizing the shape with Free Transform in Photoshop
Dragging the transform handles to resize the shape.

Click the checkmark in the Options Bar to exit the Free Transform Path command when you're done:

How to exit Free Transform Path in Photoshop
Clicking the checkmark in the Options Bar.

Step 6: Choose a different color for the shape

To change the color of your shape, click on the Fill color swatch in the Options Bar:

How to change the fill of a shape in Photoshop
Clicking the Fill color swatch.

And then in the Fill Type dialog box, click on a new color. Or use the icons along the top of the dialog box to switch between Color, Gradient or Pattern fills. The icon in the upper right opens Photoshop's Color Picker where you can select a custom color for your shape:

Choosing a new shape color in Photoshop
Choosing a new shape color.

Photoshop instantly updates the shape with the new color:

The shape is filled with the new color in Photoshop
The shape is filled with the new color.

How to delete a shape

To delete a shape, select the shape layer in the Layers panel and then press the Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) key on your keyboard.

Or click and drag the shape layer down onto the trash bin. And that's the basics of drawing shapes with the Custom Shape Tool in Photoshop:

How to delete a shape layer in Photoshop
Dragging the shape layer into the trash.

The new Shapes panel in Photoshop CC 2020

New in Photoshop CC 2020 is the Shapes panel. Along with being the new home for all of your custom shapes, the Shapes panel is also where we can load hundreds of additional shapes included with Photoshop CC 2020.

Where do I find the Shapes panel?

To open the Shapes panel, go up to the Window menu in the Menu Bar and choose Shapes:

How to open the Shapes panel in Photoshop
Going to Window > Shapes.

The default shape sets

In the Shapes panel, you'll find the same default shape sets that we saw earlier with the Custom Shape Tool. Click on the arrow to the left of a folder to twirl a set open or closed, and then click on a thumbnail to select a shape:

The default shapes in the Shapes panel in Photoshop CC 2020
The new default shapes in the Shapes panel.

How to change the shape thumbnail size

To change the size of the shape thumbnails, click on the Shapes panel menu icon:

Opening the Shapes panel menu in Photoshop
Clicking the menu icon.

And then choose Small Thumbnail or Large Thumbnail from the menu. You can also choose Small List or Large List to view the names of the shapes along with their thumbnails:

The thumbnail size options for the Shapes panel in Photoshop
The thumbnail size options.

Your recent shapes

Along the top of the Shapes panel is a row showing your recently-used shapes. Click on any thumbnail in the row to reselect the shape:

The recently-used shapes in Photoshop's Shapes panel
The recently-used shapes.

Or if you would rather hide the recent shapes, click on the Shapes panel menu icon and then click on Show Recents to deselect it:

The Show Recents option in Photoshop's Shapes panel
The Show Recents option.

How to load more shapes in Photoshop CC 2020

Along with the new default shapes, Photoshop CC 2020 also includes hundreds of additional shapes, all of which are brand new in CC 2020. And it includes all of the shapes from previous versions of Photoshop.

To load more shapes, click on the Shapes panel menu icon:

Opening the Shapes panel menu in Photoshop
Clicking the menu icon.

And then choose Legacy Shapes and More:

How to load legacy shapes and more in Photoshop CC 2020
Choosing Legacy Shapes and More.

A new Legacy Shapes and More folder appears below the default folders:

Opening the Legacy Shapes and More folder in Photoshop
The Legacy Shapes and More folder.

Twirl the folder open and you'll find two new folders inside it. The first contains all of the new shapes in CC 2020, and the second holds all of the legacy shapes from earlier Photoshop versions:

The 2009 Shapes and Legacy Shapes folders in Photoshop's Shapes panel
The new and legacy shapes folders.

In the 2019 Shapes folder, you'll find sets for leaves and trees, lakes and hills, people, animals, buildings, vehicles, games, dinosaurs, and more. Use the scroll bar along the right to scroll through the list:

Scrolling through the new shape sets in Photoshop CC 2020
Scrolling through all of the new shape sets.

Using the new shapes with the Custom Shape Tool

Once you have loaded the additional shapes in the Shapes panel, these shapes will be available from the Options Bar the next time you use the Custom Shape Tool:

The new shapes are now available for use with Photoshop's Custom Shape Tool
The new shapes are now ready for use with the Custom Shape Tool.

How to warp images into different shapes with the Warp Tool

How to draw shapes with the Shapes panel

Drawing a shape from the Shapes panel is easy. In fact, it's faster and easier than drawing with the Custom Shape Tool.

Step 1: Drag and drop a shape from the Shapes panel

Simply click on a shape's thumbnail in the Shapes panel and then drag and drop it into your document:

How to drag and drop a shape from the Shapes panel in Photoshop
Dragging and dropping a shape from the Shapes panel.

Release your mouse button and Photoshop instantly draws the shape. A nice feature with the Shapes panel is that shapes are automatically drawn with the correct aspect ratio, so there's no need to hold Shift like we do when drawing with the Custom Shape Tool:

A shape added from the Shapes panel in Photoshop CC 2020
The shape instantly appears.

Step 2: Resize the shape with Free Transform

Another benefit of using the Shapes panel is that Photoshop automatically places the Free Transform box around the shape. Just drag the handles to resize the shape as needed:

Resizing the shape with the Free Tranform handles in Photoshop
Resizing the shape with the Free Transform handles.

Then click the checkmark in the Options Bar to commit the changes and exit Free Transform:

Clicking the checkmark to close Free Transform and commit the shape
Clicking the checkmark.

And in the Layers panel, the shape appears on its own shape layer:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the new shape layer
The Layers panel showing the new shape.

Step 3: Choose a color for the shape

To change the color of the shape, double-click on the shape's preview thumbnail in the Layers panel:

Double-clicking on the shape layer's thumbnail in Photoshop's Layers panel
Double-clicking on the shape layer's thumbnail.

And then choose a new color from the Color Picker:

Choosing a new shape color from Photoshop's Color Picker
Choosing a new shape color from the Color Picker.

Click OK to close the Color Picker and apply the new color:

The new shape color from the Color Picker
The new color from the Color Picker.

Choosing shape colors from the Swatches panel

Or in Photoshop CC 2020, another way to change a shape's color is from the Swatches panel. The Swatches panel is grouped in with the Color panel, as well as the Gradients and Patterns panels which are also new in CC 2020.

In the Swatches panel, twirl one of the swatch sets open to choose a color:

Choosing a color from the Swatches panel in Photoshop CC 2020
Choosing a color in the Swatches panel.

And then simply drag the color from the Swatches panel onto the shape. Make sure you drag directly onto the shape, otherwise you'll add the color to the wrong layer:

Dragging a color from the Swatches panel onto the shape in Photoshop CC 2020
Dragging a color from the Swatches panel onto the shape.

Release your mouse button and the shape is instantly updated with the new color:

The color of the shape has been changed from the Swatches panel
The result after dragging the color onto the shape.

Learn more: Create your own color swatches from images!

Filling the shape with a gradient or pattern

You can also drag and drop a gradient from the Gradients panel or a pattern from the Patterns panel onto the shape.

For example, I'll switch over to the Gradients panel and I'll twirl open one of the new gradient sets:

Choosing a gradient in Photoshop's Gradients panel
Choosing a gradient in the Gradients panel.

Then I'll drag and drop one of the gradient thumbnails onto the shape:

Dragging and dropping a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the shape in Photoshop
Dragging a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the shape.

And Photoshop instantly fills the shape with the colors from the gradient:

The result after dragging a gradient onto the shape in Photoshop
The result after dragging the gradient onto the shape.

Learn more: How to fill a shape with a photo!

How to draw multiple shapes on the same layer

By default, Photoshop places each shape on its own separate layer. But the Shapes panel also lets us combine shapes in different ways. One way is that we can draw multiple shapes on the same layer. This is handy when all shapes need to share the same fill.

To add a new shape to an existing shape layer, first press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard. And then with the key held down, drag and drop another shape from the Shapes panel directly onto an existing shape.

By dragging directly onto the shape itself, you're telling Photoshop which shape layer you want the new shape to be added to:

The result after dragging a gradient onto the shape in Photoshop
Dragging and dropping a second shape from the Shapes panel.

Use the Free Transform box and handles to resize and reposition the new shape as needed, and then click the checkmark in the Options Bar to accept it. Or press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard:

Moving and resizing the second shape in the Photoshop document
Moving and resizing the second shape.

While it looks like we have two shapes in the document, the Layers panel is not showing two separate shape layers. Instead, because I held my Shift key as I added the second shape, both shapes are now part of the same layer:

The new shape was added to the same shape layer in Photoshop
The second shape was added to the original shape layer.

How to select individual shapes on the same shape layer

To select one of the shapes, first make sure your shape layer is active in the Layers panel. Then choose the Path Selection Tool (the black arrow) from Photoshop's toolbar:

Choosing the Path Selection Tool in Photoshop
Choosing the Path Selection Tool.

And then click with the Path Selection Tool inside the shape you need. Control handles (little squares) will appear around the shape's outline, letting you know that the shape is selected.

Here I've selected the larger shape. I can now move the shape around or resize it with Free Transform (press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac)) without affecting the other shape:

Using the Path Selection Tool in Photoshop to select individual shapes on the same shape layer
Use the Path Selection Tool to select individual shapes on the same layer.

Changing the fill color of the shapes

All shapes on the same shape layer share the same fill.

So for example, if I drag a different gradient from the Gradients panel onto either of the shapes:

Dragging a gradient from the Gradients panel onto one of the shapes in Photoshop
Dragging a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the smaller shape.

The gradient is applied not just to that one shape but to both shapes on the layer:

All shapes on the same shape layer share the same fill in Photoshop
All shapes on the same layer share the same fill.

How to delete an individual shape

To delete one of the shapes, select the shape with the Path Selection Tool and then press Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) on your keyboard.

How to subtract one shape from another

Along with adding new shapes, you can also use the Shapes panel to subtract one shape from another. Use this feature when you want to cut a hole through a shape.

First press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard. And then with the key held down, drag a shape from the Shapes panel onto an existing shape.

I'll drag another Heart shape onto my original one:

Dragging a shape from the Shapes panel to subtract it from an existing shape in Photoshop
Dragging a shape onto an existing shape while holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac).

And this time, Photoshop uses the new shape to cut a hole through the original one:

The second shape cuts a hole through the original shape
The second shape creates a hole through the first shape.

Use the Free Transform box and handles to resize and reposition the second shape as needed:

Resizing and repositioning the second shape with Free Transform in Photoshop
Resizing and repositioning the second shape with Free Transform.

And then click the checkmark in the Options Bar to accept it.

Clicking the checkmark to close Free Transform and commit the shape
Clicking the checkmark.

Again, both shapes appear on the same shape layer in the Layers panel. Use the Path Selection Tool from the toolbar to select, edit or delete the shapes individually:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing both shapes on the same layer
Both shapes again share the same layer.

How to intersect two shapes

Finally, one more way we can combine shapes with the Shapes panel is by intersecting them. In other words, the fill from the shapes will only be visible in the area where both shapes overlap.

Start by adding an initial shape. I'll use my Heart shape:

Starting with an initial shape added to the Photoshop document
Starting with an initial shape.

Then in the Shapes panel, choose a different shape.

I'll try one of the new Dinosaur shapes (because who doesn't love dinosaurs?):

Starting with an initial shape added to the Photoshop document
Choosing a different shape.

To intersect one shape with another, press and hold Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) on your keyboard. And then with the keys held down, drag the new shape from the Shapes panel onto the existing shape in the document:

Dragging one shape onto another to intersect them in Photoshop
Dragging one shape onto another while holding Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac).

Release your mouse button, and the fill color of the shapes is only visible where both shapes overlap:

How to intersect two shapes in Photoshop
The fill appears only in the overlapping area.

Where to go next

And there we have it! So now that you know how to use the Shapes panel, try the next tutorial where I show you how to place an image inside a shape!

Or check out our Photoshop Basics section for more tutorials. And don't forget, all of our Photoshop tutorials are available to download as PDFs!