How to Draw Custom Shapes in Photoshop
Learn how to draw custom shapes in Photoshop using the Custom Shape Tool and the Shapes panel. Plus how to load hundreds of missing shapes, how to combine and merge shapes, and how to save your own custom shape presets! For Photoshop 2022.
In a previous tutorial, I showed you how to draw basic shapes in Photoshop, like rectangles, circles, lines and polygons, using the geometric shape tools. This time, you’ll learn how to draw more elaborate, pre-made custom shapes. And Photoshop gives us two ways to draw them. One is with the Custom Shape Tool, and the other is with the Shapes panel. This tutorial covers both.
Photoshop includes hundreds of custom shapes to choose from, but most of them are hidden by default. So along with showing you how to draw shapes, I’ll show you where to find all of the shapes that are missing. And once we know how to draw one shape at a time, I’ll show you how to combine and merge two or more shapes together, and how to save the result as a new custom preset.
Adobe has made lots of improvements to shapes in recent Photoshop versions. So for this tutorial, you’ll want to be using Photoshop 2022 or later.
Let's get started!
Setting up the document
To follow along, all you need is a new Photoshop document.
How to draw shapes with the Custom Shape Tool
There are two ways to draw custom shapes in Photoshop. The first is with the Custom Shape Tool and the second is from the Shapes panel. We'll start by learning the more traditional way of drawing shapes using the Custom Shape Tool.
Step 1: Select the Custom Shape Tool
To select the Custom Shape Tool, click and hold on whichever shape tool’s icon is currently visible in the toolbar (either the Rectangle Tool or the tool you used last). Then choose the Custom Shape Tool from the fly-out menu.
Step 2: Open the Custom Shape Picker
With the Custom Shape Tool active, go up to the Options Bar and choose a shape by clicking on the current shape’s thumbnail.
This opens the Custom Shape Picker showing all the shapes we can choose from. The shapes are divided into groups based on their theme.
But by default, only four groups are listed (Wild Animals, Leaf Trees, Boats and Flowers). I’ll show you how to load hundreds of additional shapes once we’ve learned how the Custom Shape Tool works.
Step 3: Choose a custom shape
Twirl open a shape group by clicking the arrow to the left of its folder icon. I’ll open the Wild Animals group. Then choose a shape from the group by clicking its thumbnail. I’ll choose the lion shape.
Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard to close the Shape Picker.
Step 4: Set the Tool Mode to Shape
Still in the Options Bar, make sure the Tool Mode ts set to Shape, not Path or Pixels.
Step 5: Choose a fill color
Then choose a color for the shape. The default color is black. To choose a different color, click the Fill color swatch.
Choose the kind of fill you need using the icons along the top of the panel. From left to right, we have No Color, a Solid Color preset, a Gradient preset, or a Pattern preset. If you choose one of the three preset options, then select a preset from one of the groups below.
Or to choose a custom color for your shape, click the icon on the far right.
Then choose a color from the Color Picker. I’ll choose a shade of purple by setting the H (Hue) to 295 degrees, the S (Saturation) to 70 percent, and the B (Brightness) also to 70 percent. Click OK to close the Color Picker.
Step 6: Choose a stroke color and size
By default, Photoshop adds a 1 pixel-wide black stroke around shapes. To choose a different color, or to turn off the stroke, click the Stroke color swatch in the Options Bar.
Then along the top of the panel, choose from the same options that we saw with the fill color. From left to right, click the No Color option to turn off the stroke. Or choose either a Solid Color preset, a Gradient preset or Pattern preset.
Or click the icon on the far right to open the Color Picker and choose a custom color. But I’ll leave the stroke set to black.
In the Size box next to the color swatch, enter a width or thickness for the stroke. I’ll set mine to 10 px. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it.
Step 7: Choose the stroke type and alignment
If you click the Stroke Options box next to the size value:
You’ll find a few more options you can set before drawing the shape. At the top of the panel, set the stroke’s type to either a solid, dashed or dotted line. The default is solid which is usually what you want. And in the bottom left of the panel, set the stroke’s alignment to either inside the shape’s edge, outside the edge or centered on the edge. The default is centered.
You can also change the stroke’s cap type and corner type from here, but the defaults are usually fine.
Step 8: Draw the shape
To draw your custom shape, click on the canvas to set a starting point, keep your mouse button held down, and drag away from that point. As you drag, all you will see is the shape’s path outline.
How to draw the shape at the correct aspect ratio
By default, Photoshop lets us draw the shape freely with the aspect ratio unlocked, which can make it look warped. So to force the shape into its correct aspect ratio, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard as you drag.
How to reposition the shape as you draw
To reposition the shape on the canvas as you draw it, press and hold the spacebar on your keyboard. With the spacebar down, drag to move the path outline into place. Then release the spacebar to continue drawing the shape.
How to complete the shape
Release your mouse button to finish drawing the shape, at which point the fill color and stroke appear.
Step 9: Resize or rotate the shape
Photoshop automatically places a transform box around the shape so we can resize or rotate it if needed.
How to resize the shape
To resize the shape, click and drag any of the transform handles (the little squares). Hold the Shift key as you drag a handle to maintain the shape’s correct aspect ratio as you resize it.
To resize the shape outward from its center rather than from the opposite side or corner, hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key as you drag a handle. Holding Shift plus the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key will lock the shape’s aspect ratio and resize it from the center.
How to rotate the shape
To rotate the shape, hover your mouse cursor just outside one of the transform handles. When the cursor changes to a rotate icon (a curved double-sided arrow), click and drag to rotate the shape around its center. Hold Shift as you drag to rotate the shape in 15 degree increments.
I’ll rotate my shape back to its original angle.
Step 10: Accept the shape and close the Transform command
Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard when you're done to accept it and close the transform box.
The shape layer
In the Layers panel, the new shape appears on its own shape layer. And since I chose the lion shape, Photoshop named the layer
How to edit the shape’s fill and stroke
Even though we’ve already drawn the shape, we can always go back and edit the fill color and stroke options as long as the shape layer is selected in the Layers panel. And there's a few places to do it.
From the Options Bar
You can go back to the Options Bar and change the fill or stroke using the options we looked at before drawing the shape.
From the Properties panel
Or you can change the fill or stroke from Photoshop’s Properties panel.
For example, I don’t like the stroke around my shape. So to remove it, I’ll click the Stroke color swatch in the Properties panel.
Then I’ll choose the No Color option at the top, just like we saw earlier in the Options Bar.
And now the stroke is gone, leaving the shape with just its fill color.
Other options in the Properties panel
Along with the fill and stroke options in the Properties panel, you can use the Transform section at the top to enter a specific Width or Height for the shape. Just make sure the link icon is selected before entering a value to keep the shape’s original aspect ratio.
I’ll change the width to 800 px, and then I’ll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it. Since the link icon was selected, Photoshop automatically changed the height to keep the aspect ratio the same.
And the shape instantly resizes on the canvas.
Click the Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical icons to flip the shape’s orientation.
Or rotate the shape by entering a value into the Angle box.
Click the arrow to the right of the box to choose from a list of angle presets.
How to bring back the transform box around the shape
To bring back the transform box if you need to further resize, rotate or reposition the shape, select the Path Selection Tool from the toolbar, located directly above the shape tools.
The transform box should appear around the shape as soon as you select the Path Selection Tool. If not, click on the shape to select it.
Resizing or rotating the shape
Drag a handle to resize the shape. Hold Shift as you resize it to keep the shape’s original aspect ratio. Or rotate the shape by clicking and dragging just outside one of the transform handles. Hold Shift to rotate the shape in 15 degree increments.
Repositioning the shape
To move the shape around the canvas while the transform box is visible, click on the shape with the Path Selection Tool, keep your mouse button held down, and drag it into place.
Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard when you’re done to close the transform box.
How to center the shape on the canvas
Here’s an easy way to center the shape on the canvas. Click on the shape with the Path Selection Tool so that not only is the transform box visible but so is the path outline around the shape.
Then in the Options Bar, click the Path Alignment icon.
In the bottom right of the panel, change Align To from Selection to Canvas.
Then at the top of the panel, click the Align Horizontal Centers and Align Vertical Centers icons. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to close the panel.
Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) again to close the transform box around the shape. And the shape is now centered on the canvas.
How to delete a shape
To delete your shape, make sure its shape layer is selected in the Layers panel. Then press the Delete key on your keyboard.
You can also delete the shape by dragging its shape layer onto the trash bin at the bottom of the Layers panel.
The Shapes panel in Photoshop
That’s the basics of how to draw shapes using the Custom Shape Tool. But the most recent Photoshop versions, beginning with Photoshop 2020, now include a dedicated Shapes panel. And the Shapes panel has a few advantages over the Custom Shape Tool.
Not only does the Shapes panel hold all of our custom shapes, but it also gives us a faster way to add those shapes to the document. And the Shapes panel is where we load the hundreds of missing shapes that are included with Photoshop, which we’ll do next.
Where to find the Shapes panel
The Shapes panel is not part of Photoshop’s default workspace. So to open it, go up to the Window menu in the Menu Bar and choose Shapes.
The Shapes panel opens in the secondary panel column to the left of the main column. You can show or hide a panel in this column by clicking its icon.
Photoshop’s default shapes
The Shapes panel holds the same default shapes that we saw earlier in the Custom Shape Picker. Twirl any group open to view the shapes inside it.
Changing the shape thumbnail size
By default, the Shapes panel displays the shapes as large thumbnails which take up a lot of room. To view smaller thumbnails, click the panel's menu icon.
And choose Small Thumbnail from the menu.
The Recents bar
The Recents bar above the shape groups gives you quick access to your recently used shapes. Of course, nothing will appear in the Recents bar until you start adding shapes to your documents.
You can hide the Recents bar if you don’t use it by clicking the Shapes panel menu icon and choosing Show Recents to turn it off. Reselect it from here if you want to turn it back on.
How to load Photoshop's missing shapes
To load all of the missing shapes that are included with Photoshop, click the Shapes panel menu icon.
Then choose Legacy Shapes and More.
A new Legacy Shapes and More group appears below the default groups.
The 2019 Shapes and All Legacy Default Shapes groups
Twirl the group open and inside are two more groups, 2019 Shapes and All Legacy Default Shapes.
2019 Shapes holds hundreds of new custom shapes that were added in Photoshop 2020. Use the scroll bar along the right to scroll through the list. Or to view more shapes at once, click and drag the bottom of the Shapes panel downward to expand it.
The All Legacy Default Shapes group holds the classic shapes from earlier Photoshop versions.
Using the new shapes with the Custom Shape Tool
Once the missing shapes have been loaded in the Shapes panel, they will be available for use with the Custom Shape Tool the next time you open the Custom Shape Picker in the Options Bar.
How to draw shapes with the Shapes panel
The Shapes panel holds our custom shapes, but it also lets us add shapes to our document without needing to use the Custom Shape Tool. Here’s how to add a shape to your document from the Shapes panel.
Step 1: Choose a shape in the Shapes panel
In the Shapes panel, choose the shape you want to draw. I’ll open the Playing Cards group, found in the 2019 Shapes group, so I can choose the heart shape. I’ve switched to the Large Thumbnail view just to make things easier to see.
Step 2: Drag the shape into the document
Then to add the shape to your document, simply click and drag the shape’s thumbnail from the Shapes panel and drop it onto the canvas.
Release your mouse button and Photoshop instantly draws the shape. And it draws it at the correct aspect ratio.
In my case, the shape was filled with purple and given a 10 pixel black stroke because those were the settings I chose earlier in the Options Bar when we were using the Custom Shape Tool.
Step 3: Resize, rotate or reposition the shape
To resize the shape, click and drag any of the transform handles. When you add a shape from the Shapes panel, its aspect ratio is automatically locked as you resize it so there’s no need to hold the Shift key as you drag. Holding Shift will unlock the aspect ratio if you want to resize it freely.
Hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key as you drag to resize the shape from its center.
Rotate the shape if needed by clicking and dragging just outside any of the transform handles. Hold Shift as you drag to rotate the shape in 15 degree increments.
To reposition the shape on the canvas, click on the shape and drag it into place. I’ll move mine into the center.
Then to accept it and close the transform box, click the checkmark in the Options Bar.
The shape layer
In the Layers panel, the shape appears on its own shape layer, just as it would if we had drawn it with the Custom Shape Tool. And because I chose a heart shape, Photoshop named the layer
Step 4: Choose a fill and stroke for the shape
There are a few ways to change the shape's fill and stroke.
From the Layers panel
The easiest way to choose a new fill color is to double-click on the shape layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel.
Then choose a new color from the Color Picker. I’ll choose a shade of red. Click OK to close the Color Picker when you’re done.
And Photoshop fills the shape with the new color.
From the Properties panel
Or with the shape layer active in the Layers panel, go to the Properties panel and click the Fill color swatch.
Then choose from the same options we saw earlier. Use the four icons in the upper left of the panel to choose (from left to right) either No Color, a Solid Color preset, a Gradient preset or a Pattern preset. Or click the custom color icon in the upper right to choose a fill color from the Color Picker.
To change the stroke, click the Stroke color swatch in the Properties panel.
Then choose from the same options we had for the fill color. I don’t want a stroke around the shape, so I’ll remove it by clicking the No Color option in the upper left.
The Properties panel also gives you access to the other stroke options, including the stroke size, line type (solid, dashed or dotted line) and alignment (outside, centered or inside), as well as the cap type and corner type.
From the Swatches, Gradients or Patterns panel
Another way to choose a new fill color for the shape is from the Swatches, Gradients or Patterns panel. These panels were added along with the Shapes panel back in Photoshop 2020.
The Swatches panel holds all of Photoshop’s color presets. The Gradients panel holds the gradient presets. And the Patterns panel holds the pattern presets. All three panels are grouped together next to the Color panel.
If your shape layer is active in the Layers panel, you can fill the shape with any of these presets just by clicking on one to select it. Here I’m selecting the pink swatch from the RGB group in the Swatches panel.
And because my shape layer was active, the shape is instantly filled with the new color.
Dragging and dropping presets onto the shape
But what if your shape layer is not active? For example, I’ll click on my Background layer in the Layers panel to select it and deselect the shape.
In that case, you can click and drag a preset from the Swatches, Gradients or Patterns panel directly onto the shape. I’ll open the Gradients panel and I’ll twirl open the Pinks preset group.
Then I’ll drag one of the gradients from the panel onto the shape.
And the shape is instantly filled with the gradient.
Back in the Layers panel, notice that Photoshop automatically selected the shape layer when I dropped the preset onto it.
Adding more shapes from the Shapes panel
By default, Photoshop places each new shape on its own layer. And normally, new layers are added above the currently selected layer. But when we drag and drop shapes from the Shapes panel, where the new layer ends up in the stacking order depends on what we drop the shape onto in the document. And the fill and stroke of the new shape also depend on where we drop it. That may sound confusing, so let me show you what I mean.
At the moment, I have my shape layer selected in the Layers panel.
Dragging a new shape onto the background
If I drag another heart shape from the Shapes panel and drop it onto an area where the white background is showing:
Then instead of adding the new layer above my original shape layer, Photoshop adds it directly above the Background layer. That’s because I dropped the shape onto the background.
In the document, the new shape appears behind the original shape. And notice that instead of filling the new shape with the same gradient as the original shape, Photoshop instead used the purple fill and 10 pixel black stroke that I chose earlier in the Options Bar.
Dragging a new shape onto an existing shape
But if I drag another heart shape from the Shapes panel and drop it onto my original shape:
This time, Photoshop adds the new shape layer directly above the original shape layer. So whichever layer you drag the shape onto, Photoshop will place the new shape layer directly above it.
And in the document, not only does the new shape appear in front of the original shape, but it also takes on the same gradient fill as the original, with no stroke around it.
So just remember that if you want your new shape to share the same fill and stroke as an existing shape, make sure to drop the new shape directly onto the existing shape. Otherwise, you’ll get the fill and stroke that were set in the Options Bar.
And to see what those fill and stroke settings were, select the Background layer in the Layers panel (or any layer other than a shape layer).
Then with the Custom Shape Tool (or any of the shape tools) selected in the toolbar:
You’ll see the fill and stroke settings that you’re using as the defaults in the Options Bar.
How to copy and paste a shape’s attributes
You can copy and paste the fill and stroke from one shape layer onto another.
For example, let’s say I want my second shape, the one with the purple fill and black stroke, to share the same gradient fill and no stroke as the other two shapes. So in the Layers panel, all I need to do is right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on one of the shape layers that has the fill and stroke settings I want to copy:
And choose Copy Shape Attributes from the menu.
Then I’ll right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the shape layer where I want to paste them:
And choose Paste Shape Attributes from the menu.
All three shapes now share the same fill and stroke.
A faster way to select your shapes
Once you start adding multiple shapes to your document, selecting individual shapes from the Layers panel can become a hassle. A faster way is to select shapes just by clicking on them with the Path Selection Tool. But we first need to make one quick change to the tool’s behavior in the Options Bar.
Select the Path Selection Tool in the toolbar.
Then in the Options Bar, change the Select option from Active Layers to All Layers.
And now with the Path Selection Tool active, you can click on any shape in the document to select it.
How to select multiple shapes at once
To select two or more shapes at once, hold Shift as you click on the shapes with the Path Selection Tool.
I’ll click on the shape in the upper left to select it. Then I’ll hold Shift and click on the shape in the lower right. And now both shapes are selected. We can tell they’re both selected by the path outline that appears around each shape, and by the transform box surrounding both shapes together. I’ve hidden the Shapes panel (by clicking the panel’s icon) so it’s not blocking the shapes from view.
The Layers panel also shows both shape layers selected.
Editing all selected shapes at once
With multiple shapes selected, any changes you make to the shape properties will affect all selected shapes at once.
Here in the Properties panel, I’ve changed the fill to blue and the stroke from No Color to black.
The change is instantly applied to both selected shapes.
If I change the stroke’s alignment from centered to outside, and the stroke type from a solid line to a dotted line:
Again the change is applied to both shapes.
And if I set the stroke back to No Color:
The stroke disappears around both shapes. To deselect the shapes when you’re done, press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard.
When to edit shapes individually
But if you need to change any of the options in the Transform section of the Properties panel, like the size, angle or orientation, you’ll want to do that to each shape individually.
I’ll click on the shape in the upper left to select it. And in the Properties panel, I’ll change its width to 400 pixels, with the link icon enabled so Photoshop will change the height automatically. Then I’ll do the same thing with the shape in the lower right, clicking on it to select it and changing its width to 400 pixels.
Then with both shapes resized, I can rearrange them on the canvas.
Deleting multiple shapes at once
To delete multiple shapes at once, hold Shift and click on each shape with the Path Selection Tool to select it. Here I’ve selected both of my smaller shapes.
Then press the Delete key on your keyboard to delete them. And now I'm back to just my original shape.
How to draw multiple shapes on the same layer
By default, Photoshop places each new shape on its own shape layer. To add a shape to an existing shape layer, hold the Shift key on your keyboard and then drag a shape from the Shapes panel onto an existing shape.
Here I’m holding Shift while dragging a butterfly shape (found under 2019 Shapes > Insects and Arachnids) onto my existing heart shape.
Release your mouse button and the new shape appears as it normally would.
But in the Layers panel, we see that instead of adding a new layer, Photoshop combined the two shapes on the same layer.
Shapes on the same layer share the same fill and stroke
All shapes on the same layer share the same fill and stroke. I’ll drag my new shape into the upper right of the canvas so it’s easier to see that both are sharing the same gradient.
The gradient extends from the bottom of the heart to the top of the butterfly as if they were one larger shape.
And if I add a black stroke to the shape layer, then because the shapes are overlapping, the stroke appears around the combined area of the shapes.
Selecting shapes on the same shape layer
Even though the shapes are on the same layer, you can still select the shapes individually by clicking on them with the Path Selection Tool.
And you can resize or rotate the selected shape without affecting the other(s).
How to subtract one shape from another
One benefit to having both shapes on the same layer is that you can combine them in interesting ways. For example, you can use one shape to cut a hole through the other.
I’ll drag my butterfly shape into the center of my heart shape. Then I’ll resize the butterfly by dragging the transform handles, holding Shift as I drag to lock the aspect ratio, plus the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key to resize the shape from its center.
Aligning the two shapes
To make sure the centers of the two shapes are perfectly aligned, with my butterfly shape still active, I’ll hold Shift and click with the Path Selection Tool on the heart shape so that both shapes are selected at the same time.
Then in the Options Bar, I’ll click the Path Alignment icon, and then the Align Horizontal Centers option. I could also click Align Vertical Centers, but in this case I just want to align them horizontally.
With both shapes aligned, I’ll hold Shift and click on the heart shape to deselect it, leaving just the butterfly selected.
Subtracting one shape from another
Finally, to use the butterfly shape to cut a hole through the heart shape behind it, I’ll click the Path Operations icon in the Options Bar:
And I’ll choose Subtract Front Shape:
I’ll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it and close the transform box. And now the heart has a cut-out of the butterfly.
It may look like a white butterfly in front of the heart, but that’s only because we’re seeing the white background behind it. If I turn off the Background layer in the Layers panel by clicking its visibility icon:
We see the checkerboard pattern through the butterfly shape, which is how Photoshop represents transparency.
The shapes are still separate
The only problem is that even though one shape is cutting a hole through the other, we still have two separate shapes. If I select the heart shape and reposition it on the canvas, the butterfly shape does not move.
And if I resize the heart shape, the butterfly does not resize. That’s because they are two separate shapes and only one shape is selected.
How to merge the shapes
But if you’re happy with the result, you can merge the shapes into one.
Drag around the shapes with the Path Selection Tool to select them.
Then go up to the Options Bar, click the Path Operations icon, and choose Merge Shape Components.
Photoshop will warn that merging the shapes will turn your live shape into a regular path. That means you won’t be able to edit the shapes individually once you merge them. But if you’re okay with that, click Yes to accept it.
And now you can resize, rotate or move the shapes as one. If I reposition the shape on the canvas, both the heart and the butterfly now move together because they are no longer separate shapes.
How to edit a merged shape
Since we’re no longer working with a live shape, we can’t change the shape's options in the Properties panel. But we can still access those same options in the Options Bar. Here I’m adding a 4 pixel black stroke.
And the stroke appears not only around the outside of the shape but also the inside where the hole was cut through it.
To enter a specific size for the merged shape, use the Width and Height boxes in the Options Bar. Make sure the link icon is selected before entering a new size to keep the original aspect ratio.
Or to resize a merged shape using the transform handles, go up to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform. It may say Free Transform Path depending on which tool is selected in the toolbar, but the command is the same.
Drag a handle to resize the shape. Hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) as you drag to resize the shape from its center. Or rotate the shape by clicking and dragging just outside a handle.
To accept it and close Free Transform, click the checkmark in the Options Bar.
How to save a merged shape as a custom preset
Finally, here’s how to save your merged shape as a new preset so you can reuse it without needing to redraw it.
Step 1: Create a new shape group
First, if you have not done so already, create a new shape group to hold your presets. In the Shapes panel, click on the group at the bottom of the list to select it. If you’ve been following along, it’s most likely the Legacy Shapes and More group. Our new group will appear below it.
Then click the New Group icon.
Name the group. I’ll name it
My Shapes. Then click OK.
The new group appears below the others. If you already made a group to hold your presets, make sure the group is selected.
Step 2: Select the shape
Click on the shape with the Path Selection Tool to select it.
Step 3: Save the shape as a new preset
Then go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choose Define Custom Shape.
Name the shape. I’ll name mine
Heart with Butterfly. Then click OK.
And back in the Shapes panel, the shape appears as a new preset in the group. You can drag the preset into the document the next time you need it.
And there we have it! That’s how to draw custom shapes in Photoshop using the Custom Shape Tool and the Shapes panel, how to load the missing shapes, how to combine and merge shapes, and how to save your own custom shape preset.