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Photoshop Tidbit: Compound Vector Shapes

The flexibility of shape layers.


As my first attempt at writing a tutorial I figured I’d start small and share a simple little tidbit using shape layers. I used to try and achieve this effect by using masks but that was too final for me. I wanted the freedom to play around with the shapes, and come back later and mess with them some more if I wanted to.

1. Choose the rectangle tool from the tool box (of course you can choose whatever shape you want but for this example I’ve used the rectangle tool) and make sure you’re using the shape layer option.



2. Draw your initial shape

3. Select your secondary shape (in this case I chose the Ellipse tool)

4. Choose one of the compound shape options (in this example I chose subtract from shape layer)

5. You’ll notice the crosshair cursor has a small minus sign next to it. Ensuring the initial shape layer’s still selected, draw your secondary shape. Based on the operation I chose I now have a circle cut out of the square I originally drew.

6. Now you can transform and place the secondary shape wherever you want (Ctrl+T on PC Cmd+T on Mac).
step 6

7. Duplicating the shape is as easy as holding Alt on PC (not sure what it is on a Mac, sorry) while dragging the layer and it inherits the operation of the original secondary shape. In this case I duplicated the cutout edges.
step 7

8. From here on, the possibilities are endless. I just did this while I was messing around but I’m sure you can do some much cooler stuff with it.
step 8



What I love about using this method is the flexibility to move and transform the individual components that affect the final shape nondestructively and with vector shapes so they’re scaleable.

The Illustrator equivalent uses the pathfinder palette.

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.


3 thoughts on “Photoshop Tidbit: Compound Vector Shapes

  1. Angel says:

    Very cool… In your next tutorial can you talk about clipping masks in Illustrator. Being a novice, I’m having trouble mastering that.

  2. Hey Thanks Angel!
    yeah I’ll do one up for ya. Anything in particular you wanted to know about them?

  3. AJ says:

    Didn’t work for me. I got to the point where you said transform and it selected both components. I wish you would be more specific.

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